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Limerick Ketch Ilen Will Sail To London In The Spring

27th January 2022
The Ilen in Greenland in 2019 (left), and her route to London (right) in 2022, planned for late April.
The Ilen in Greenland in 2019 (left), and her route to London (right) in 2022, planned for late April

The last timber-built sailing trading ship in Ireland, the 56ft Ilen, will set off from the river port of Limerick on the Shannon in April, bound for the great river city of London on the Thames in England writes Gary Mac Mahon.

With fair winds, the Ilen should arrive at St Katharine Docks in the maritime heart of London beside Tower Bridge at the beginning of May, where she will be berthed until 14th May, with a possible transit of Tower Bridge in prospect.

The voyage’s purpose is to celebrate the centuries-old cultural and trading relationship between the two port cities. It will be the culmination of a series of voyages undertaken by the Ilen in 2021 – the Kingship Voyages – to many of the Irish towns and cities that have grown from medieval walled settlements built on tidal river estuaries. Limerick and London are both highly evolved metropolitan bastions of maritime and riverine heritage, and they share a long history.

Shared situation. Limerick’s great estuary comes in from the west, while London’s come in from the east.Shared situation. Limerick’s great estuary comes in from the west, while London’s come in from the east.

The word “trade” itself seems to be a cognate of the word “track” – as in the track of a sailing ship. Thus a voyage like this aboard a heritage sailing ship is an ideal way to explore and bring to broader attention the way in which, in times past, inter-community trade followed swiftly in the effervescent wake of maritime cultural exchange.

PROSPECTS & PARTICIPATION

The Ilen network will be inviting leading and representative groups and individuals from both cities to share in this venture. The multiple historical, cultural, social and commercial strands interwoven within the Limerick to London Cultural Voyage 2022 are many and their unfurling, unravelling and interweaving offer exciting and productive possibilities for many involved.

In May, the Ilen will offer a highly visual and culturally redolent platform in the heart of London to celebrate Angloe-Irish relationships and enjoy exploratory conversations on prospective commercial and cultural collaborations and exchanges.

Enquiries at [email protected], and more details from the Ilen Marine School, www.ilen.ie

The Limerick ketch Ilen is now back home after spending Christmas and New Year in Galway. She availed of the remarkably good weather to make the return passage south, and this photo was taken at Carrigaholt in the Shannon Estuary on January 22nd. Photo: Gary Mac MahonThe Limerick ketch Ilen is now back home after spending Christmas and New Year in Galway. She availed of the remarkably good weather to make the return passage south, and this photo was taken at Carrigaholt in the Shannon Estuary on January 22nd. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

Published in Ilen, Shannon Estuary
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Ireland's Trading Ketch Ilen

The Ilen is the last of Ireland’s traditional wooden sailing ships.

Designed by Limerick man Conor O’Brien and built in Baltimore in 1926, she was delivered by Munster men to the Falkland Islands where she served valiantly for seventy years, enduring and enjoying the Roaring Forties, the Furious Fifties, and Screaming Sixties.

Returned now to Ireland and given a new breath of life, Ilen may be described as the last of Ireland’s timber-built ocean-going sailing ships, yet at a mere 56ft, it is capable of visiting most of the small harbours of Ireland.

Wooden Sailing Ship Ilen FAQs

The Ilen is the last of Ireland’s traditional wooden sailing ships.

The Ilen was designed by Conor O’Brien, the first Irish man to circumnavigate the world.

Ilen is named for the West Cork River which flows to the sea at Baltimore, her home port.

The Ilen was built by Baltimore Sea Fisheries School, West Cork in 1926. Tom Moynihan was foreman.

Ilen's wood construction is of oak ribs and planks of larch.

As-built initially, she is 56 feet in length overall with a beam of 14 feet and a displacement of 45 tonnes.

Conor O’Brien set sail in August 1926 with two Cadogan cousins from Cape Clear in West Cork, arriving at Port Stanley in January 1927 and handed it over to the new owners.

The Ilen was delivered to the Falkland Islands Company, in exchange for £1,500.

Ilen served for over 70 years as a cargo ship and a ferry in the Falkland Islands, enduring and enjoying the Roaring Forties, the Furious Fifties, and Screaming Sixties. She stayed in service until the early 1990s.

Limerick sailor Gary McMahon and his team located Ilen. MacMahon started looking for her in 1996 and went out to the Falklands and struck a deal with the owner to bring her back to Ireland.

After a lifetime of hard work in the Falklands, Ilen required a ground-up rebuild.

A Russian cargo ship transported her back on a 12,000-mile trip from the Southern Oceans to Dublin. The Ilen was discharged at the Port of Dublin 1997, after an absence from Ireland of 70 years.

It was a collaboration between the Ilen Project in Limerick and Hegarty’s Boatyard in Old Court, near Skibbereen. Much of the heavy lifting, of frames, planking, deadwood & backbone, knees, floors, shelves and stringers, deck beams, and carlins, was done in Hegarty’s. The generally lighter work of preparing sole, bulkheads, deck‐houses fixed furniture, fixtures & fittings, deck fittings, machinery, systems, tanks, spar making and rigging is being done at the Ilen boat building school in Limerick.

Ten years. The boat was much the worse for wear when it returned to West Cork in May 1998, and it remained dormant for ten years before the start of a decade-long restoration.

Ilen now serves as a community floating classroom and cargo vessel – visiting 23 ports in 2019 and making a transatlantic crossing to Greenland as part of a relationship-building project to link youth in Limerick City with youth in Nuuk, west Greenland.

At a mere 56ft, Ilen is capable of visiting most of the small harbours of Ireland.

©Afloat 2020

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