Former boat builder now operates on smaller scale

A skilled craftsman who served his time in the BIM boatyard in Killybegs in the early 1970s is using his expertise and creativity to build model fishing trawlers.
Frankie Kennedy is now working on a model of the Rós Inbhir, a 50-foot trawler built in 1953 in Killybegs Boatyard. It will be a present for his brother-in-law Myles Cunningham’s 70th birthday. Her skipper, Hugh Cunningham, (Myles’ father) was tragically killed on the boat more than sixty years ago when he was overcome by carbon monoxide.
“The scale is half an inch to one foot so it’s 25 inches in length,” Frankie explained.
It’s Saturday morning and he’s busy in his workshop above the garage of his home on the hill overlooking Killybegs harbour.
“I’m currently into my 16th career but I hope to have more time to spend on the boats when I retire next March,” he laughed.
Frankie works as a relief postman in Killybegs while he also takes the post to Dungloe at 5am each morning before collecting the evening post from Ballyshanon and Bundoran. The early morning starts mean early bed times so he’s not getting too much time for his hobby at present.
“There were over 200 of us working in the BIM boatyard when I started in 1974. I served my time as a shipwright joiner and after that served my time as a fitter. I was only in the boatyard for eleven years when it closed down,” he recalled.

Former cinema projectionist

Jobs as a projectionist at the local cinema in Killybegs, a sales rep, insurance broker and managing a hardware shop in the town were just a few of the jobs that followed before he took up employment with An Post seven years ago.
His wife, Eileen, is the post mistress in Killybegs. The couple have three sons Colin, Ronan and Aidan.
It was also a scale model of the Rós Inbhir which ignited Frankie’s passion for building model fishing trawlers ten years ago.
“I was asked to make one for Myles’ 60th birthday so I thought that I would give it a try. He got me the plans of the 50 footer and I got stuck into it,” he said.
That finished model was securely boxed with fixed stand included.
“Back then I used to glue the timber together and then shape the hull of the boat but I always thought that I would like to plank one – the way we used to make them in the boatyard. It’s a bigger job as you have to get the frame sorted out but I have drawings for all the old boats and I’ve managed to get it to this stage,” he said.
The planks – which are 8 by 3 millimetres – have been painstakingly moulded to fit the frame.
“I borrowed the wife’s steamer out of the kitchen and I’ve been steaming the planks to bend them around the corners,” he explained.
The hull is made out of parana pine which he has stripped from the drawers of an old wardrobe.
“You can’t get it (parana pine) any more and the only reason I have it was that I built a wardrobe forty years ago and I pulled it out this year to put in an IKEA one. The front of the drawers are all parana pine. There’s a nice pink grain to it,” he said.
Recycling is a recurring theme with Frankie’s work. The steel wheelhouse on a previous model was made out of a damaged fridge door while the nets are created from washing machine net bags. Masts, buckets, life buoys and other deck items are crafted on his miniature lathe.


Exact replica

“I try to do an exact replica. I light up all the navigation lights and when it’s on display in a case it looks well. When you light up the wheelhouse you can see the ship’s wheel and seat inside,” he said.
Each boat takes, on average, 100 hours work and he’s hoping to be able to make a few more once he retires.
“People seem to be interested in my work. I’ve made a few replicas of boats owned by people’s parents. A made a couple for the Deacy’s down in Cork while I did the Laura Dawn, a 65 footer, for local plumber Gary Gallagher. It was his father’s (Patsy) boat,” he said.

Prostate cancer

Frankie was forced to down the tools five years ago when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“That knocked me back a bit and I haven’t done anything since until this one. It’s a form of therapy I suppose,” he said.
The original model of the boat was painted but he’s leaving the hull with a varnished finish this time around.
“I painted it in the colours that I saw from photographs but I discovered afterwards that it was varnished when it was first launched out of the boatyard,” he said.
“I heard that it has been converted into a sailing boat and could still be in the water,” he added.
Last week, Frankie was asked by a cousin to make a model of an old sailing ship from the 1900s.
“I’ve never done sails before but sure we’ll give it a go once I retire,” he smiled.



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