The Mary Patricia was built in 1939 by Skinners of Rathmore, Baltimore and re-named the St Mary around 1960 when she changed hands. She is 37 feet long and could carry 14 tons of sand. After the 1970’s when dredging sea sand was banned she was used for ferrying cattle, and harvesting mussels.
Cormac Levis, Maritime Historian, describes her significance as follows:
Historical references to sandboats operating off the south Irish coast date back to 1283. The practise of fertilising land by liming with sand was common along much of the Munster coast, reaching its peak just before the Famine (sea sand contains a high proportion of shell fragments rich in calcium carbonate i.e. lime). By that stage the provision of sand had become a big industry, but demand declined sharply after the Famine. West Cork was one of the very few areas, if not the only area, where sandboats continued to operate right down to the late 1950s. They were of a distinct genre and purpose-built for the carriage of sea sand and the St.Mary, commissioned locally in 1939, was the last one built. During the course of my research on these boats, over many years, I have scoured the coast from Kinsale to Castltownbere for sandboat remains and I am certain that the St.Mary is the last remaining, re-buildable, purpose-built sandboat in the area and, almost definitely, in the entire country. This is our last opportunity to preserve the one remaining example of a boat type that, although largely forgotten, is a major part of our maritime heritage.
The importance of this project lies not only in its preservation of unique material evidence of our past, but also in its maintenance of traditional wooden-boat building skills that are fast disappearing. A preliminary inspection of this craft has already revealed the use of construction methods and techniques no longer practised in modern-day boatbuilding. Its re-building will give many people a rare opportunity to learn these skills and techniques from the few remaining, local shipwrights.
This project is part-funded by the Heritage Council.