St. Boden’s Boat, Culdaff
The Blessing of the Fleet at Bunagee pier, Culdaff, Inishowen took place last month (August, 2019). There was a large attendance and the sun blazed in the sky. This pier has a special place in the hearts and minds of local fishermen.
The patron saint of the parish is St. Boden and he promised that no harm would come to any boat launched at Bunagee. His feast day is July 22nd. The Bell of St. Boden – as used in the monastery – is still held in the parish and is used on special ceremonial occasions.
Boden worked on the missions in Scotland. His stone boat is preserved in Culdaff river on the north side of the bridge. It is 4 ft 9 in long by 3 ft wide, tapering to a point, and 2 ft 7 in high. Up until the early 1800s, large vessels were able to sail up the estuary as far as the bridge, so Boden berthed his boat at what may have been a crude landing place used by fishermen and traders near the site of the bridge at the heart of the village. The Culdaff boat is similar to a stone boat at Clogher Head, Co. Louth, believed to be the boat of St. Denis. Both boats are said to have carried their respective owners from Scotland, a mere 40 miles away.
References to stone boats as used by saints are found in early Christian histories throughout Ireland. Manus O’Donnell recorded a story in the sixteenth century about a flagstone on which Colmcille was born, almost 1,500 years ago. The flagstone was found floating on Lough Akibbon, between Letterkenny and Dunlewey, and Colmcille’s family brought it ashore. His mother Eithne gave birth on the stone, which according to tradition is still at Gartan.
Powers of Flotation
Saints are credited with the power of flotation at several places in Ireland. At Loop Head, at Kilcredan, (“the Church of the Believer”), the saint who erected the church was said to have sailed around the Head on a flagstone until it floated ashore at what is now the site of the church. In mythology, the stone boat is a common feature so it is not surprising that it appeared also in the Christian tradition. In Sweden, archaeologists discovered a stone boat some years ago.
There is a pool in Culdaff river called the Lionadh (“the reflux of the tide”, now filled in or perhaps silted) where cows came to cool themselves in hot weather. In 1890, William J. Doherty, an engineer born in Buncrana, visited the site and described three rough-hewn steps that went down to the pool where a turas (pilgrimage) was made and where St Boden is said to have regularly prayed. Rev. Edward Chichester, Rector of Culdaff, has a lengthy description in his writings of celebrations that took place here. This is just one of the many forgotten places of pilgrimage in Inishowen, now lost in the mists of time.
(By way of digression, I feel I must mention Ruadh, a mythical woman, who sailed across the Atlantic in a bronze boat with a tin sail, in order to seek out Badurn, who lived in south Donegal and was King of Ireland – see ATLAS OF DONEGAL, p. 390.)
P.S. A group of Americans arrived in Inishowen today (11.9. 2019) and visited Corvish, Carndonagh, having read of the Corvish stone in this blog.