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The Ilen Project has produced a short video (below) of its 2019 Salmon’s Wake Voyage, a sailing trip undertaken this summer from Ireland to Greenland.

It recounts ocean voyaging, navigating ice fields, coastal sailing off West Greenland and the way of a big timbered traditional Irish sailing ship going about her community business.

The video was shot and edited by Ilen project manager, Gary McMahon.

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The 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien trading ketch Ilen of Limerick has had an exceptionally busy first season in 2019 in her restored condition as achieved by the Ilen Boat-Building School of Limerick, and Liam Hegarty’s Oldcourt Boatyard in West Cork.

This ambassadorial sailing ship has continued her 2019 community work - work which began last April on first departing Limerick Docks in full seagoing commission. Intertwined with many other objectives, the Ilen Project’s theme for this year was Salmon’s Wake, a concept whereby the ship’s voyaging shared 2019 with the International Year of the Salmon.

ilen bowsprit2In from the sea, in from the Arctic – the much-travelled Ilen of Limerick makes her first visit to Cork City. Photo: Dermot Lynch

An international and local awareness around the declining numbers of Wild Salmon had prompted many communities around the North Atlantic to reflect on this reality - and to explore what the causes and effects might be. With a voyage along the salmon migratory routes to West Greenland, the Ilen was able to provide a central theme for the many salmon studies. 

"This ambassadorial sailing ship has continued her 2019 community work"

Yet it is indicative of how busy the Ilen has been – and still is – that in her first year of operation in her restored condition, the Greenland Voyage has only been a highlight – albeit a very significant one – in a complex and varied programme to provide a productive first year of operation.

ilen cork harbour welcome3The Port of Cork welcomes Ilen with (left to right) Peter O’Shaughnessy (HR, Port of Cork), Colin Healy and James Lyons of Sailing into Wellness, Deirdre Power of the Ilen Project with the traditional gift of Port of Cork ship’s plaque, and Henry Kingston, Port of Cork Engineering Manager. Photo: Dermot Lynch

Ilen’s dedication to community educational initiatives has thus seen her visit up to twenty ports, complete two transatlantic crossings, cruise the West Coast of Greenland, and engage with hundreds of individuals and with numerous educational and care organisations across Ireland.

ilen training group4 Neil Creedon (left), Deputy Principal of Terence MacSwiney Community College, Knocknaheeny, Cork, with (centre) James Lyons of Sailing Into Wellness and (right) Deirdre Power, Educational Facilitator of the Ilen Project, with students of Terence MacSwiney College aboard Ilen in the Port of Cork. Photo: Dermot Lynch

Even with the swift arrival of Autumnal weather, her mission continues, and recently she sailed into Cork City Centre – her first visit to the city, as Kinsale provides her south coast berth - to join in with Cork Mental Health Festival, where she was warmly welcomed and lauded for her work with youth and recovery groups. This was a joint visit by the Ilen Project and its partners Sailing into Wellness. Both organisations share a common community mission, and also find project expression in sailing ships upon the coastal waters of Ireland. – (Gary MacMahon - Ilen Project)

ilen port of cork5In the heart of Cork - a very different place from Nuuk in Western Greenland, yet Ilen has been in both ports during her extensive 2019 voyaging. Photo: Dermot Lynch

Published in Port of Cork
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The long story of the re-birth of the 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien trading ketch Ilen of Limerick was acquiring an almost wraith-like aspect until in 2019 – the restoration job completed – she undertook the very tangible 5000 miles Salmons Wake voyage to Greenland for inter-cultural exchange, research into salmon migration, and data-acquisition on climate change. Project Director Gary MacMahon – whose unflinching faith has kept this extraordinary concept moving ahead – was skipper for the outward passage from Ireland, whiled seasoned voyager Paddy Barry – who was aboard throughout the time away from Ireland – brought Ilen home safely across the restless North Atlantic in unsettled early Autumn conditions.

gary macmahon2Gary Mac Mahon aboard Ilen in Nuuk – his sustained vision resulted in the restored Ilen’s successful voyage to Greenland. Photo: Chelsea Canavanpaddy barry mountains3A man of the sea and the mountains and the ice – Paddy Barry safely skippered Ilen home from Greenland across a restless Autumnal North Atlantic

Published in Sailor of the Month

This past summer’s successful Salmon’s Wake voyage by Limerick’s 56t traditional ketch Ilen to Greenland worked productively in many ways in high mountains, on the sea, and in ports where the crew interacted with Greenlanders on several cultural programmes.

But for Project Manager and skipper for the outward voyage Gary Mac Mahon, a particular aspect of Ilen’s fascinatingly varied sailing across oceans, along the coast of Greenland, and off the coast of Ireland, is that it has been done in a trading ketch of traditional Irish type, the only one currently sailing.

ilen mountain greenland2Seen from the heights of Tilman Peak, Ilen is the distant dot barely perceptible at the centre of this image. Photo: Paddy O’Brienilen sailing greenland3An “obsolete” yet still relevant type – the 1926 ketch Ilen in Greenland in 2019, setting her traditional square sail complete with distinctive Salmons Wake logo. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

Here he reflects on this aspect of Ilen’s busy year, and makes links to previous sailors of “obsolete” craft:


“Let past times become pastimes”- James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, (1939)

“The venturesome pastime of sailing relatively small obsolete wooden traditional vessels towards remote parts in the pursuit of climbing, or just communing with lonely coastal mountains, is very much the business of a small group of individuals writes Gary Mac Mahon.

These individuals were favoured or perhaps inflicted with a singular character, and while often perceived misanthropically, were rather just the individual expression of an inscrutable humanity.

1913 conor obrien4Conor O’Brien at the helm of his 1870s-built ketch Kelpie off the coast of Ireland in 1913. After Kelpie was lost in 1921, during 1922 in Baltimore he had the 42ft traditional ketch Saoirse built, and in 1923-25 sailed round the world south of the Great Capes with her
For this piece reflecting on the origins of the Ilen Project, I have plucked out two from a very small group, and they are mountaineer and round-the-world voyaging pioneer Conor O’Brien of Foynes (b.1880), and mountaineer/sailor Bill Tilman (who latterly lived in the mountains in North Wales, b.1898). Both were men of extraordinary fortitude and energy who shared a rich capacity for writing, ocean voyaging, mountaineering and the maintaining of big timbered sailing boats.

Both these men seemed at variance with the epoch they were inescapably thrust into, exemplified by their singular and similar life choices, but specifically for this specialized role: the nostalgic retrieval of boat forms of times past for deployment in the pursuit of adventurous pastimes. A not uncommon if atavistic response from individuals in the face of a world which would otherwise change too fast.”

1950s bill tilman5The legendary Bill Tilman at the helm of his traditional Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter Mischief, voyaging and mountaineering in High Latitudes in the 1950s

Published in Ilen
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The Limerick ketch Ilen returned safely from Greenland to berth at an Irish quayside for the first time in more than two months when, at 0400hrs this morning, skipper Paddy Barry and his crew brought the 56ft 1926-built “little ship” safely alongside the facilities beside the Trident Hotel in Kinsale writes W M Nixon. This will be Ilen’s base for the Autumn as – with command now passing to James Lyons - she works with the Sailing into Wellness Programme and sail-training projects with trainees from the Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick.

2019 has been an achievement-filled and extraordinary busy year for the much-loved restored vessel, for in addition to sail training courses earlier in this, her first full season, she has now completed a voyage of around 5,000 miles to and from Greenland, a voyage which included extensive intercultural and educational exchanges with the people of that enormous Arctic island.

ilen at trident hotelIlen alongside at the Trident hotel in Kinsale

Ilen Project Director Gary Mac Mahon of Limerick and his supportive colleagues and donors deserve every congratulation for the achievements of all involved, while Ilen’s current crew in particular deserve special credit for the skilled way in which they chose the optimal weather window in which to return across the ocean at an unceasingly difficult time in the Atlantic weather cycle, for even as they were relaxing on finally being secured in Kinsale this morning, the weather was already deteriorating rapidly in the open Atlantic west of Mizen Head.

With such a busy ongoing programme, there’s scarcely time to take stock before moving into the next stage - the training programmes operating from Kinsale. But the word is that later today, most if not all of the 26 different people who were involved in getting Ilen to and from Greenland, together with extensive coastal exploration of the southwest and west Greenland coasts, will be gathering in Kinsale later today for some well-earned celebration.

Published in Ilen
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When Conor O’Brien returned from his round the world voyage in Saoirse to Dun Laoghaire in 1925, it was all carefully choreographed so that he arrived in the middle of a Saturday afternoon, and the DBSC fleet, having abandoned their racing in his honour, were thus able to provide an escort as Saoirse came into port writes W M Nixon

But it looks as though there’ll be no fancy frippery of that sort when the Conor O’Brien-designed 1926-bult 56ft restored ketch Ilen of Limerick arrives in Kinsale tomorrow morning, fresh back from Greenland after a very successful double Transatlantic voyage. The word is that Ilen is currently close west of the Skelligs in mist and a good westerly breeze, and she's due in Kinsale at 0400 hours tomorrow (Wednesday).

It may not be everyone’s favourites time of day. But some of the crew have been away from Ireland for a very long time, and the links of home are calling them in, regardless of the selfish temporary convenience of others.

Published in Ilen
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There’ll be opportunities in Limerick and Greenland for young people to learn more of what the two Transatlantic voyages – outward and return - of the 56ft traditional ketch Ilen have discovered and explained, with schools now resumed after the summer break writes W M Nixon.

Several schools in the Limerick area and around Nuuk in Greenland were following the Salmons Wake voyage project, and three in particular – Thomond National School and Thomond Community College in Limerick, and Ukaliusaq Skole in Nuuk – were actively engaged in the exchange of information and personal interest by several means of communication, in addition to creating voyage-related material and artefacts.

limerick students2 The process develops – pupils at Thomond National School with a model of the traditional Limerick Salmon Cot and letters about to be posted to Greenland

limerick students on ilen3Students from Thomond Community College aboard Ilen in the dock in Limerick before she departed on her Transatlantic voyage towards Greenland.
Supported by a Creative Ireland – Made in Limerick Grant 2018-2019, this international inter-linking was organised by Deirdre Power, Limerick Arts Co-Ordinator and Ilen Project Facilitator, and both she and artist Chelsea Canavan, the Education & Outreach Assistant at Limerick’s renowned Hunt Museum, were already in Nuuk to greet Ilen when the ketch arrived from Ireland under command of Ilen Project Director Gary Mac Mahon for the outward voyage.

nuuk newspaper4 1Welcome to Greenland, welcome to Nuuk – the local news outlet made much of Ilen’s arrival
All were busy in Nuuk explaining aspects of the project, meeting the schools, being welcomed by the locals news outlets, making presentations and introducing the students and teachers to the real star of the show, the restored Ilen herself, which was conspicuous in Nuul harbour thanks to her traditional appearance amongst mostly very modern working craft.

nuuk students5School pupils in Greenland working on their Salmons Wake response
salmon map6 Students of Ukaliusaq School at the Katuaq Cultural Centre in Nuuk with their map of the Salmons Wake, a map which is now on display at the Watch House Cross Library in Limerick

As to the beneficial effect this was having on the students taking part, Bernie O'Driscoll the STEM Co-Ordinator at Thomond Community College in Limerick summed it up for those in Ilen’s home port:

“Both the students and teachers involved in this captivating Salmons Wake Project have thoroughly enjoyed learning about the traditional boat building techniques used in Limerick and lamenting the unfortunate decline of the Salmon in these parts over the years. It’s been an exciting and invaluable learning experience for all involved, and we look forward to continuing the relationship established with Hanne Pederson (Teacher) and the students at Ukaliusaq Skole in Nuuk, Greenland for future years to come.”

On the Greenland side, Hanne Pedersen, a teacher with Ukaliusaq School at Nuuk, summed it up:
“My students are 14 years old, turning 15. Their main language is Greenlandic and some Danish. We are interested in the Salmons’ Wake project and follow the Ilen voyage, and participating with the Limerick students has been great!”

A sculptural representation, literally of the bare bones of a traditional Limerick salmon fishing cot, is now on display in the Old Town in Nuuk, while at the harbour during their time there, Ilen’s crew entertained other seafarers and maritime workers who were keen to see their ship, particularly the local salmon fishermen.

limerick salmon cot nuuk7A sculpture of the bare bones of a traditional Limerick salmon cot is now on display in the Old Town in Nuuk.
natuk j lyberth8Natuk J Lyberth, a student at Ukaliusaq School, in the Archives Section of the Greenland National Museum in Nuuk wearing the distinctive Salmons Wake logo
tie exchange9The ultimate link…..Gary Mac Mahon, Deirdre Power and Natuk Lyberth aboard Ilen in Nuuk for a presentation of the Thomond Community College neck-tie.
liam salmonfisher mike10With Ilen in Nuuk are (left to right) Liam O’Donoghue of the Ilen Project, a Greenland salmon fisherman, and Mike Grimes, a member of one of Limerick’s longest-established salmon-fishing families
Having done so much while she was in Greenland, Ilen is now approaching Ireland and well on her way to her Autumn location in Kinsale under the command of Paddy Barry. He brought the ship through Prinz Christian Sund at the south end of Greenland, and was then poised to take advantage of a favourable developing weather pattern for the homeward passage, a matter of experienced judgment and assessment of information, for at this time of the year the always difficult-to-predict Atlantic can be in a particularly volatile mood.
The Autumn period in Kinsale for a month and more will be used by Ilen under the command of James Lyons (who is on the homeward crew) for courses with the Sailing Into Wellness programme, as well as teaching sailing to trainees with the Ilen Boat-building Project, with Ilen eventually returning to Limerick in October. For now, this brief vid gives an idea of some of the favourable weather enjoyed by Ilen on the return voyage:

Meanwhile, co-ordinator Deirdre Power is deservedly pleased with the way this very unusual concept has developed in practice, and she concludes:
“The schools, and more importantly the students, take ownership of the project, which I think is very important. The participation and collaboration may be manifested in a simple gesture, such one student from 
a community in Nuuk, Greenland writing a ‘real’ letter to another student living across the North Atlantic in Limerick city, Ireland.
This is something that would never happen without this other broader spectrum. I believe the process is the most exciting element, the tangible connection between the schools, through the both the programme and respective cultures, in a way that something such as social media cannot transcend. And the tangible presence of Ilen – first in Limerick and then in Nuuk – gives it an extra and deeply-felt meaning. It remains a wonderful experience for all involved at every level”.

Published in Ilen
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The 56ft traditional ketch Ilen under the command of Paddy Barry has been making excellent progress since departing Greenland on Sunday evening, and is already halfway home to Ireland along the 1200 mile passage from Prince Christian Sund writes W M Nixon. Fair winds have kept her steadily on her way, and the stylishly-decorated squaresail with its Salmons Wake logo has been earning its keep in maintaining comfortable yet efficient downwind progress.

Back in the early stages of the Greenland project, it had been expected that Ilen would not see Ireland again until around 10th September. But the 1926 Conor O’Brien of Limerick-designed and Baltimore-built ship has been going so well that an extra dimension has been added to the programme, and now she will head straight for Kinsale and be based there for September, fulfilling courses with the Sailing into Wellness movement, and implementing sailing teaching with her own Ilen Boat-building School trainees.

All being well, Ilen will be arriving in Kinsale in the latter half of next week.

aboard ilen squaresail2Ilen’s squaresail in action in one of south Greenland's many steep-sided channels. The squaresail has been exceptionally useful in the current downwind conditions in mid-Atlantic, sailing home to Ireland.

Published in Ilen
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Limerick’s restored 56ft Conor O’Brien-designed 1926-built traditionally-rigged trading ketch Ilen emerged yesteray evening (Sunday) from the eastern end of Prince Christian Sound to start her passage back to Ireland writes W M Nixon. The magnificent Sound - noted for its dramatic scenery - leads inside the archipelago of steep islands which culminate in Greenland’s most southerly headland of Cape Farewell. By negotiating it safely, the crew of Ilen - under the command of Paddy Barry with traditional west of Ireland boat sailors Jarlath Cunnane and Dr Mick Brogan added to the strength for the return voyage - have brought themselves within 12000 miles of Loop Head and a homecoming in the Shannon Estuary.

While coast-hopping south from the Greenland capital of Nuuk, Ilen’s home-coming crew have learned more about the ship’s handling characteristics, and a favourable wind through some channels has demonstrated how effectively the square-sail – complete with its Salmons Wake logo highlighting the central theme of the voyage – can be conveniently deployed on its own when dead-running, thereby avoiding the challenges of using the heavily-boomed mainsail with its hazards when gybing in stronger and often gusty winds.

squaresail in sunshine2 Running free without the hassle of gybing a heavy-boomed mainsail – Ilen heads comfortably under square-sail into a Greenland channel, Jarlath Cunnane on right.

The crew have taken the opportunity to avail of natural hot spring baths when they’ve been anchored near one, while every option has been taken to get the vessel in compact ocean-going condition and add to ship’s stores to ensure a well-fed homeward passage. The forecast for the coming days in the area of the North Atlantic where Ilen will be voyaging is currently looking quite favourable in terms of wind directions and strength, and the ship and her crew’s many followers worldwide wish her Bon Voyage.

ilen swim pool3 The cleanest clean they’ve ever been……..Ilen’s crew making good use of one of Greenland’s natural hot spring pools. Photo: Mantas Seskauskis

Published in Ilen
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The traditional restored 56ft trading ketch Ilen of Limerick, under the command of Paddy Barry, is serenely continuing her progress homewards along Greenland’s southwest coast despite that rugged and sparsely-populated coastline suddenly becoming global news, thanks to the revelation that US President Trump views it as a strategic and highly-desirable mineral-rich piece of real estate writes W M Nixon.

While being the world’s largest island, Greenland has a population of only 58,000 who are reliant on Denmark to maintain their independent semi-autonomous position. With inter-cultural visits to many ports large and small - including the Greenland capital of Nuuk - while continuing to conduct the Salmons Wake research programme on the migratory routes of the Atlantic salmon which is so closely linked to Limerick’s own River Shannon, the crew of Ilen have come to have a keen appreciation of the Greenlanders’ perception of themselves as an independent people.

narsaq greenlandPure Greenland – Narsaq in southwest Greenland with its tidy church and colourful buildings is a classic small Greenland community set in a big landscape which, at this time of year, has very little evidence of snow.
Thus they well understood the dismissive reaction by Greenlanders and Denmark alike in rejecting President Trump’s exploration of a purchase offer this week, a rejection which has caused a diplomatic spat, and the cancellation of a planned State Visit by the US President to Denmark in two weeks’ time. But this is all in the realms of international geo-politic. Ilen and her crew meanwhile have to continue with the day-to-day requirements of positioning themselves near Greenland’s southern headland of Cape Farewell in preparation for their concluding 1200 mile voyage across open Atlantic, back to the Shannon Estuary and home to Limerick.

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