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An exhibition ‘The Strakes and Skins’ has been launched at the Public Record Office (PRONI) in Belfast, as part of an Ulster University project on maritime heritage.

The Strakes and Skins exhibition details the work of dedicated enthusiast Harry Madill, who spent decades recording a vanishing way of life in Irish and Canadian coastal communities through their traditional boats.

Harry donated his archive of drawings, photographs and recordings to Dr Wes Forsythe of Ulster University’s School of Geography and Environmental Science in Coleraine.

Recognising its importance, Dr Forsythe established a digitisation project to make the material more accessible. The archive now rests at PRONI and can be accessed via their website at

Funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the project also involves partners at National Museums NI, Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, and Ulster Maritime Heritage.

The launch event provided an opportunity for boat-builders, heritage practitioners, project participants and relatives to come together to celebrate Harry’s achievements and view the new exhibition. After an appearance at the Red Sails festival in Harry’s hometown of Portstewart, it returns to Belfast for the Maritime Festival in Titanic Quarter on 9-10 September.

Dr Wes Forsythe, Project Lead, said:

“Harry Madill had the foresight to record traditional boats around our coast before they submitted to the elements. He has left us with an invaluable record of these boats and one which has a living legacy in the current fleet of traditional craft that have drawn on his work to ensure these boats can still be seen around our shores.”  

David Huddleston, Acting PRONI Director, said:

“I am delighted that PRONI was entrusted with the task of cataloguing and preserving Harry Madill’s maritime archive and making it available to the public.  Harry’s archive is an unparalleled trove of information on our traditional fishing and sailing craft.  The information within it will now be freely available through the PRONI catalogue and will fascinate anyone with an interest in maritime heritage including those who wish to build traditional boats.  The project was an excellent example of a collaborative partnership and a celebration of our maritime heritage and our coastal communities.”

Sally Montgomery, Northern Ireland committee member at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, commented:

“It is fantastic news that thanks to the National Lottery players, we have been able to support the Madill Archive project to ensure that this important maritime heritage is preserved for years to come. More people can learn about traditional boats in our coastal communities as the exhibition tours maritime events across Northern Ireland this summer alongside access to the collection both digitally and in person at the Public Records Office Northern Ireland.  We know that heritage in Northern Ireland can play a huge role in bringing people together and this partnership work is a fantastic example of that.”