Aghnagar Bridge

The Best Boat in the World

By Seán O’Laoghaire (a retelling of a Seán Ó Conaill story)


There were two brothers called Conall and Eoghan, who lived in Ballinskelligs and were great boat builders. They built boats all over Ireland and some other parts of the world. Every boat they built was better than the last one, and that would be considered the best in the world, until the two brothers went to work again.

They were at home in Ballinskelligs after building a fine boat for the King of Greece, when they got the call to go to King Bulgar in Reencaheragh in Portmagee. The two brothers didn’t think anything about it only got ready and early the next morning they headed off on their fairly short journey to Portmagee.

On their way they were stopped by a neighbouring woman whose sister, Máire, worked at the castle of King Bulgar. She had a note in an envelope to give to the sister, the boys took it without a care, and Eoghan put it into his pocket.

They got to the castle and made arrangements to build the very best boat in the world for Bulgar. Their tools were sent for, the best timber brought out from the Oak forest in Valentia Island and a hoist was prepared. While all this preparation was going on, Eoghan went off to find Máire and give her the note. They started chatting and a nice friendship was struck up between the two of them.

Aghnagar Bridge
Aghnagar Bridge

Time moved on and the boat building began. It was big, fine and was by far the most impressive boat in the world. The King could see all the building and craftsmanship from his window and confided in the two loyal men that were always by his side, that he would always have the best boat in the world. The King had planned that once the boat was ready he would kill the two brothers,so that they would never build another ship again. 

He didn’t realise that Máire was on her knees, behind him. She was cleaning out the fire place and she took in the whole conversation and plans for the two boys’ death. As soon as Máire was able, she told the two lads what the King had planned for them and they immediately came up with a plan.

As the completion of the boat was getting closer and the boat could easily be seen, it looked very majestic on its hoist up off the ground. The King was getting his two henchmen ready to slay the two great craftsmen.

Then, one morning the King looked out and saw that work had stopped. All the men were walking away, leaving the two brothers at the boat, standing there, looking at something. The King was unsure what was happening.  Was it finished? Was this it? Was this the time that he would have the best boat in the world?

He poked his head out the window and asked one of the men what was happening.

“A problem with some part of the boat,” he was told.

A problem, he thought to himself.  King Bulgar ran down to Conall and Eoghan.

“What is the problem? Is the boat alright?”

“Tis a small problem, but a problem all the same!”

“Can you fix it? What is wrong with it?”

“There’s a small bend, hardly noticeable, in the keel of the boat.”

“Well, if it’s hardly noticeable why is it a problem then?”

“We don’t like putting our name to something, unless it’s absolutely perfect.”

Aghnagar River
Aghnagar River

Bulgar was now worried. After all this time and money being spent on the boat and maybe no boat to show for it? He ran to the end of the boat and asked to see this bend; the two brothers guided him well and when he got to the right place, they released the pulley and dropped the boat from the hoist. The keel took the head off the King and that was the end of him!

The two brothers were now afraid that the people of Reencaheragh would take revenge for killing their King and were ready to do battle to escape. They didn’t realise that Bulgar was horrible to everyone and the people were overjoyed to see the end of him! They were so happy, they brought the two up on their shoulders and brought them over the road, singing, dancing and laughing all the way.

Aghnagar River
Aghnagar River

They got to a river and let the two brothers and Máire down to walk their way home. As they walked home, Máire took the note out of her pocket and showed it to the two boys. It read, “take good care of these two lads, as I’m thinking I’d like to marry Conall! – your sister Peig”

Soon enough, the two brothers married the two sisters and had even more stories to tell. The boat was left rot in Reencaheragh, as it now had a “Mí-ádh” about it, and it was left as an offering to Manannán Mac Lir (the legendary sea-god of the Tuatha Dé Dannan). That river and place is now called Aghnagar/Annaghar, from Abhainn na Gáire (river of laughter).


Permission to use photographs granted to author by Marcus Gunther.

The author

Seán O’Laoghaire (Seán an Seanchaí) is a jack of all trades, but they are tied up in story. He not only tells stories, but, like a “Gabha Scealach” (Storysmith), he moulds them, forges them and creates fascinating new designs with them; they can be functional as well as playful and satirical.


  1. It is great to bring old tales to a new audience. Sean O Laoghaire’s story on The Best Boat in the World based around Portmagee gives the tale a new home. Marcus Gunther’s moody photographs bring the story to life in its Kerry setting.

    This is a story to be heard. It would be great to have an oral telling on Stories told in two or three minutes .. at a very maximum less than five minutes .. must be the next step. And beyond that a visual recreation. And now with the sophistication of modern equipment it should be possible to do that in each of Kerry’s eight districts.

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