The goals of the wind- and motor-driven crafts all around them – let the boat do the work and relax – play out in reverse for this small group that takes to the big lake three times a week from spring to fall. Their intent: be old-school and Irish.
The goal most definitely is not to relax. A workout “makes us all cry,” says Julie Solger, president of the Irish Currach Club of Milwaukee. “And it’s wonderful.” Asked if she’s Irish, she scoffs. “Not a lick. Puerto Rican and German.”
In the old days, fishermen used sealskin coated in tar to cover the wooden frames. Now, the boats are draped in canvas. Magie Brady, one of the early members of the Milwaukee crew, compares currach racing to American tractor pulls: making sport out of the vessels that many have used to make a living.
The sport migrated decades ago to the East Coast, where a batch of Irish immigrants started clubs, often building the boats from scratch. In 1989, two local Irishmen, Tadhg McInerney and John Gleeson, started the Milwaukee team, which now has five currachs.
The team’s continued existence owes mostly to women. At a recent practice, the gals outnumbered the lads 12 to 2. Shannon Richmond heard about the sport at her book club. She’s Irish and had paddled canoes and kayaks. “I thought that would be enough experience,” she says. “I was wrong.”
But the rigor of the sport and serenity of the water keep her coming back, along with the club’s unofficial motto: “Will Row For Beer.”