“My 12.20pm flight departs through slate grey rain clouds, and descends into a warm, welcoming afternoon in Cork. As before our schedule is tight. Culture Night, our deadline, is only three days away. After a quick stop at the hotel I head straight to Meitheal Mara to meet up with Ben and Brian.
Keen to see the crowd at Meitheal again I was disappointed to walk into an uncharacteristically silent and deserted yard. Culture Night is a big weekend in Meitheal Mara’s calendar, as it marks one of the dates for the famous Dragon boat races. All hands were making preparations down by the Lee.
It was good to see Ben and Brian once again, and our vessel which had now lost its brick orange colour and instead taken on a shade of pale straw. This was not the only visible change. As we had anticipated the timber was cracking. Splits, some fine some alarmingly large, were radiating out from the heartwood at each end of the vessel. In some regard I was glad to see our Pallasboy replica displaying the same problems with drying that confronted our fellow pre-history maker. Moisture held within Green timber starts to release the moment the tree is felled. The art of producing a workable stable timber is in managing this changing moisture content. This is best achieved by first planking the trunk, then either air or kiln drying the timber boards produced. By working the wood in its green state, and removing large amounts of structural timber, we were causing it to dry at an uneven and unbalanced rate.
It was decided that if we were to go ahead and carve deeper into the vessels interior we would risk causing irreversible structural damage, as the splits would surely expand. Much time and effort had gone into getting us to this point, and although we were obviously disappointed not to match the shaping on the original Pallasboy, the possibility that all of the work done so far could be ruined was too great a risk to take.
I set to work adding definition to the sides of the interior, and taking the internal depth down to 20cm (8 inches) rather than the originals 30cm (12 inches). Each of the vessels ends would have a gentle carved slope of around 10cm (4 inches) thick leading down to the interior floor. This would replace the near vertical carved drop seen on the original Pallasboy.
As the afternoon came to an end the sky’s darkened, and quite suddenly, and unexpectedly, the heavens opened. Rain cascaded from the boat yard roof in deafening torrents, creating small streams that weaved around the wood stacks. I was back in Ireland.”
“There was much discussion about the cracking of the timber since the last phase of crafting. We had stored the vessel in the boat yard, in the shade, upturned and covered in damp hessian fabric, which was soaked on a number of occasions. However this was not enough to stop the timber splitting. On the day Mark returned we wondered what state it would have been in if we had submerged it in a pool of water in a bog and taken it back out again to continue crafting. Could this have been a practical measure employed in the Iron Age during crafting? The original vessel did appear to have been finished and in use for some time. The interior had a rougher finish but it is unlikely that more work was intended. Cracks had begun to show during its use and repairs were made. Maybe the occasional stint under water was the norm if usage was infrequent? A similar practice was apparently used in the case of dug-out canoes (this was all news to me!). In the case of the Pallasboy Vessel the similarities with other ritual depositions are plain to see but it could be argued that there are a limited number of ways to submerge something in water whatever the reason.
I was on site for the deluge of rain in the latter part of the afternoon of day 6 but I was not going to be as present over the following days due to my responsibilities project managing Culture Night for Cork City. I was sorry that I couldn’t be around but it was a nice touch that our replica would be installed in Cork Public Museum on the night (18th September). In my absence archaeologist and photographer Muireann Ní Cheallacháin and photographer Eoin O’Conaill would cover for me recording the action each day.”
Brian Mac Domhnaill
A monochrome view of the day’s events by visiting archaeologist and photographer Muireann Ní Cheallacháin: