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Traditional Ketch Ilen Back in Limerick And Now Looking Towards London

7th April 2022
Looking good – The Ilen team of Aodh, Eugene & Mike with their ship looking spic and span after her Spring refit at Oldcourt.
Looking good – The Ilen team of Aodh, Eugene & Mike with their ship looking spic and span after her Spring refit at Oldcourt

The restored 56ft trading ketch Ilen of 1926 vintage and Conor O’Brien fame has been blithely passage-making to and fro at speed – despite the unsettled weather – along the southwest coast in recent weeks, as Ilen Marine School Director Gary Mac Mahon and his colleagues prepare their ship for her “Culture Voyage” to London.

After a high-profile period of being hospitably wintered in Galway Docks, where her squaresail yard provided the structure for some industrial-grade Christmas tree lighting at the height of the festive season, Ilen zapped southward in the mad March days towards her re-birth home of Liam Hegarty’s boatyard at Oldcourt on the Ilen River above Baltimore.

vGoing about her business – the Limerick trading ketch Ilen will be London-bound in late April. Photo: Gary Mac MahonGoing about her business – the Limerick trading ketch Ilen will be London-bound in late April. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

Welcome aboard! Ilen’s hospitable saloon looking its best at the conclusion of the recent refit.Welcome aboard! Ilen’s hospitable saloon looking its best at the conclusion of the recent refit.

There, a fortnight of very concentrated survey and re-fit programme was put in hand, and with April upon them, the job was done. Despite the restlessness of the Atlantic – particularly in the Blaskets area – it was expedient to have the ship back in Limerick at the earliest opportunity, and now she is returned to her home port after a 23-hour passage quayside to quayside, with the benefits of the ketch’s big stove much appreciated.

Looking good – Ilen back in Limerick this week. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon   Looking good – Ilen back in Limerick this week. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon  

Departure for London in the latter half of April will allow a comfortable time window to be berthed at the beginning of May in St Katharine’s Dock beside Tower Bridge, with the dock authorities providing an accessible location for Ilen to stay until May 14th. There, she will act as the focal point for a series of events celebrating the positive links between ancient port cities.

Geography re-imagined – the logo for the Ilen’s London expedition.Geography re-imagined – the logo for the Ilen’s London expedition.

Published in Ilen
WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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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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