The logboats of the river Boyne in Drogheda - an expert assessment

Following my apparent discovery of a logboat in the river Boyne in Drogheda, it has since emerged that this boat was previously reported to the National Monuments Service in 2020. However, there is a second boat nearby, as confirmed by logboats specialist, archaeologist Dr. Niall Gregory.

I was delighted to meet Irish logboats expert Dr. Niall Gregory at the river Boyne on Wednesday evening to show him the site of the logboat I had spotted by drone a few days previously, and to show him the location of a possible second sumberged vessel, which he was able to confirm is the remains of a logboat. Dr. Gregory had been informed of the 'find' by Dr. Stephen Davis of University College Dublin.

My drone photo of the first logboat has been featured widely in Irish media this week.

 

There was a lot of publicity surrounding my apparent discovery of the first logboat after I published information about it, accompanied by drone photos and video footage, on Tuesday. It has since been revealed to the media that my "discovery" was not, in fact, mine! The boat had previously been reported to the National Monuments Service in 2020. But I'm not disappointed about this at all. In fact, I am delighted that public attention has been drawn to a fascinating aspect of our history and archaeology.

Here is the text of the media statement from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media:

The Department is aware of the reports of a discovery. The logboat appears to be a vessel that was discovered and reported to the National Monument’s Service (NMS) in 2020. An inspection of the boat was carried out at the time along with another known logboat located in this stretch of the Boyne. Only the floor and part of the side walls of the vessel survive but from initial analysis it looks to be medieval or post medieval in date (circa 400-1650AD).  This logboat is one of 12 logboats known to have been found in the Boyne over the last 200 years.

The National Monuments Service will continue to monitor the condition of this logboat and other wrecks in the area and in this regard an inspection will be carried out of the boat when conditions and tides suit in the coming weeks.

The statement does not mention who the original discoverer was. I would like to speak to them and give them credit for making this extraordinary find!

On Wednesday at low tide, Dr. Gregory made a thorough examination of the first logboat (the one featured in the media reports), but shortly after he had arrived at the scene I brought his attention to a second wooden item in the river that I had seen using my drone that I thought might also be something interesting. It was located less than 200 metres from the first one, so Dr. Gregory was more than happy to have a look at it.

The second object I spotted with my drone was brought to Dr. Niall Gregory's attention.

 

At low tide, he was able to ascertain that it was indeed ANOTHER logboat. However, although it is larger than the first one, it is also upside down, and there is some damage to it. Dr. Gregory was able to make an examination of it, but due to the fact that it was fully submerged even when the river was at its lowest level, he was unable to make the same comprehensive evaluation as with the first one, which was only partly submerged at low tide.

Dr. Gregory taking measurements of the first logboat, watched on by volunteers from Drogheda Coast Guard who were doing an exercise in the river at the time.

 

Dr. Gregory spent about an hour and a half at the scene at low tide, taking measurements, drawings and photographs of both boats. I am delighted to present a summary of his findings here on the Mythical Ireland blog.

First Boat

It measures 3.6m in length and circa 60cm in width and 30cm on height. This boat, most probably of oak, survives in a moderate condition, with the side of the boat at the stern's (back) port quarter (left side at the back) surviving to its full height.

Recording and examining the logboat at close range! Photo © Dr. Niall Gregory.

 

Similarly the side survives to full height near the starboard bow (right side at the front). Both bow and stern are nearly complete. The hull shape comprises of parallel-sided boat, with originally squared ends. In long-section/profile it is flat-bottomed on interior and exterior, with external rounded rise to the ends. The cross-section of the boat displays a flat bottom externally that rounds up to vertical sides, which appear to follow, to some extent, the shape of the parent tree trunk from which it was made. This gives the impression of tumblehome at the top edge of the sides – a nautical characteristic in which the top outside of the boat of the round back in on itself or towards the boat's interior.

A drone photo showing Dr. Gregory measuring the Boyne logboat.

 

Internally the cross-section profile rises from a flat floor to vertical sides. Some features of note are a 2cm diameter hole set at approximately 45 degree angle through the stern and of unknown function. It does not display any wear, so it would not have retained a moving fixture. Both the bow and stern on interior rise early from the floor (approx 50 to 60cm from either end) to give the impression of transverse ribs carved from the solid, but level out, giving a 'lip' to provide shelf-like ends. These most probably functioned as locations to keep items dry from any water splashed on to the boat's floor and prevent them from rolling/falling off the 'shelf' and onto the wet floor.

The logboat is positioned on the eastern end of a gravel island, one of a number that become visible in the Boyne at low tide.

This boat is considered as a general purpose / private use boat. It would have been used in the local area and was not designed for any distance travel or speed and attributes of cargo carrying etc. Having said this it may have been used to carry items across the river, but this was not its original design purpose. It was very much a working boat, used by one individual, carrying out his own enterprise, perhaps fishing.

My "discovery" shot of the logboat, captured by drone last Monday afternoon.

 

Dugout boats are notoriously difficult to date, as their hull size and shape transcends any chronological sequence or progression. However, the features on it would infer a medieval or post-medieval date, but without dating such as radio-carbon dating, this remains speculative.

Second Boat

When I mentioned the second object I had spotted with the drone to Dr. Gregory, he expressed an interest in viewing it up close. I led him to its location, less than 200m to the east and close to the northern river bank. Here is his assessment of it.

Over 4m long over 1m wide at its widest point, this boat was difficult to examine as it was upside down, covered inorganic growth and there was a rising tide. It was largely examined by feel.

It is largely incomplete, with much of both bow and stern ends gone. It has a very flat bottom both internally and externally, that continues to either surviving end. This demonstrates a continuity in length beyond what survives. The sides internally and externally, which survive to an incomplete height of about 20cm, flared up and out from angled junction with the floor.

Dr. Gregory assessing the second logboat, watched on by Coast Guard volunteers.

 

Based upon the corpus of Irish dugout boats, this style of dugout boat was originally a minimum length of 8m, but much more likely to have been at least 10m long and probably longer. The corpus of such boats displays a pointed bow or rounded point, which usually a squared vertical stern, that may have consisted of a separate transom (vertical board to close off the open end) fitted in place.

A closer view of the second (submerged) logboat taken by drone.

 

All the diagnostic elements state that this was originally a substantial boat designed to carry cargo or goods along the river – perhaps even livestock. Unlike thee first boat, this was a commercial boat or used for commercial enterprise, with bow to separate the waters a fluidly as possible, thereby seeking to combat any adverse river currents and make propulsion as efficient as practical.

I am grateful to Dr. Gregory for his expert view on the two vessels. It gives us a fascinating insight into these ancient remnants. Logboats were in use in Irish rivers and lakes over an extraordinarily long period of time. A logboat found by anglers in the river Boyne about 2km upstream of the two logboats featured in this blog was later dated to the Neolithic, making it around 5,000 years old! The youngest examples of Irish logboats date to the late 18th century AD.

Dr. Gregory preparing to make his measurements of the Boyne logboats in Drogheda.

 

At the time of writing this blog, the two boats featured in this blog had not yet been added to the National Monuments Service Wreck Viewer. 

I will post further updates to this fascinating story as they occur.

Video

Below is video footage of Dr. Gregory undertaking his examination of the first Boyne logboat:

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This page was last updated on 29th April 2021 @ 4:58 PM