A working fishery from the 1700s until early 2000s, Carrick-a-Rede had a crane on the island for at least 100 years prior to its destruction in 2014.
The former crane weathered the elements on the ‘rock in the road’ for over a century, however, storms during winter 2014 spelled the end for its old timber frame. Breaking away from the rusted steel mount, the perished timber washed away.
‘It was probably as much old age as anything else. The lower part came loose and got swept away,’ explained Frank Devlin, National Trust Countryside Manager for the Causeway Coast and Glens, who was soon tasked with constructing a new crane. ‘The oldest parts on the crane were 100 years old. It had been patched up over the years but the current crane is a total replacement of the original.’
Operated by a hand-powered winch, the crane (technically ‘derrick’) is the large wooden apparatus fixed to the cliff-face at Carrick-a-Rede Island and is used to lift and lower a fishing boat up and down into the water.
Without the crane, Carrick-a-Rede’s fishing industry wouldn’t have been the success that it was.
‘The crane is integral to the fishery,’ said Frank. ‘There’s no other way to land fish on the island. It would be complicated and impractical to row a boat back to Ballintoy every day’.
Since the boat couldn’t be left on the sea (it would be dashed against the rocks during swells and storms) it was hoisted ashore and docked on dry land.
The simple wooden rowing boat carried sheets of heavy nets and a crew of at least three. Propelled through the water by oars and manpower, nets were cast and gathered high above sea fields of migrating salmon. Although a passive form of fishing, since the fish trap themselves by swimming into an enclosed space created by the net, it required great skill to set the net correctly, and an intuitive knowledge of winds, tides and the sea.
The parts of the timber and steel frame which hadn’t been obliterated by the storms was dismantled and laid out in Frank’s shed, forming the closest thing he had to technical drawings.
‘I drew up a plan based on my own estimations,’ laughed Frank. ‘It was like a giant Mechano set. I just had to follow the instructions in my head which was easy for me to do, but might have posed a bit of a challenge for the other rangers working on the project’.
‘Getting the main upright post – the piece that fits into a steel socket in the rock – was pure “guestimation” – I didn’t have any measurements as the bottom part had fallen off in the sea!’
‘That the National Trust rangers can take on challenges like this and successfully preserve a little piece of local history is proof of the talent among the team. It was a really fun thing to do’.
Relying on his knack for “guestimations”, Frank supposes that the project took over 300 hours of research and labour from start to completion.
‘The crane really is the final link in the journey for visitors,’ said Frank. ‘Having it reinstalled at Carrick-a-Rede will help people make sense of the fishing industry that was so important to us here on the causeway coast.’