Displaying items by tag: Ilen
But few if any of these stories are as special as those shared by the McCarthy family of Cork, whose interest was spurred when Ilen was re-launched. This inspired a heartfelt personal Facebook post by Paul McCarthy, manager of the Firkin Crane Dance Theatre in Cork, and with his permission, we publish it here:
Bursting with pride I was. Bursting with pride. The TV news report was about the launch of a boat called the Ilen in Baltimore harbour in West Cork. The boat had been refurbished locally by passionate enthusiasts, their passion emanating from a legacy laid down when the boat was originally built in Baltimore in 1926 and sailed, by brave West Cork seafarers, all the way to the Falkland Islands, 7,000 nautical miles, straight down the globe, next stop Antarctica. The Ilen would be, for the next 70 years, a supply vessel connecting the Islands. In the1990’s, ready for the junkyard, the Ilen was rescued and transported back to Cork to be restored to her original splendour.
For me, seeing the Ilen for the first time was quite an eye-opener. Like seeing in glorious colour what had only always been available in black and white. Have you ever told something to someone and you know they are impressed but you also know in your heart they don’t have the full picture? Now I realise how my dad must have felt because I had no idea the boat he had been telling me about, was just, so, small.
My dad Patrick McCarthy was an engineer in the Royal Navy between 1939 and 1961. He left Bantry looking for work in Liverpool and enlisted just before the breakout of World War 2. His passion was mechanics, and the Navy provided the opportunity to learn all there was to know about engines. We’ll put aside his WW2 exploits during the Artic and Atlantic Convoys and the Italian and Normandy Landings, because this story is about the good ship Ilen in peacetime, in 1952.
The Falkland Islands are located in the Southern Atlantic 300 nautical miles from the mainland of Argentina. Claimed by Britain, contested by Argentina, the nearest friendly mainland was, and still is, Chile, 700 nautical miles away and around Cape Horn, the most treacherous sea passage in the world, where the Pacific and the Atlantic constantly clash heads.
As a British overseas territory exposed to invasion from Argentina, there was the need for a constant military presence entailing at least one Royal Naval ship at anchor in Port Stanley. In 1952 my dad was the chief engineer on one of those visiting ships on guard duty, the frigate HMS Veryan Bay.
The Ilen by this time had seen 25 years in service bouncing around on the often-foamy waters between the islands. She was in need of a serious overhaul and the nearest facilities were in Punta Arenas in southern Chile, 400 miles straight across the wild open ocean that is the South Atlantic. The regular crew of the Ilen were not seafarers or engineers, and so would not risk the long journey. On a regular basis the Governor of the Island, Sir Geoffrey Miles Clifford, would welcome the newly visiting Navy ships and, usually invited to dinner in the officers’ mess, he would explain about the plight of their local supply boat and enquire if anyone aboard might be able to help. The answer was always no. That was until my dad’s ship arrived. That night at dinner the Captain put the message out around the ship to see if anyone would volunteer to help. Guess who knocked on the door of the officers’ mess? ‘What do ye need?” offered Dad in his never diluted Bantry accent.
The following day he went aboard the Ilen with Sir Geoffrey and looked over the engine, started her up, listened, and turned to the Governor and said he was sure he could keep her going long enough to make the crossing. Sir Geoffrey beamed: “You must come to dinner tonight, I want you to meet my wife and family and we can discuss the practicalities. Thank you so much, Pat. I have gone aboard numerous visiting ships up to now, and no one has offered to help. And the Islanders thank you.”
At dinner that night in the Governor’s Mansion, while his shipmates settled for standard ship’s fare, Dad was treated like a hero. They discussed the route options and they agreed the safest route would be through the Magellan Straits which are named after the great explorer Ferdinand Magellan who, when failing repeatedly to bring his own ship around the ferocious seas off Cape Horn, sought out this inland route inside the tip of South America.
None of the regular crew would agree to the trip, they were after all part-time sailors, mostly farmers, who manned the Ilen whenever supplies needed to be moved between the islands. The Governor said the crew would be made up of a group of five local whaler fishermen, who had sailed the southern oceans crewing other whaling boats. They had saved up enough money to purchase their own boat in Chile, and so agreed to crew the Ilen to Punta Arenas in exchange for free passage. Dad slept in a bedroom that night in style and comfort far removed from his bunk on the Veryan Bay.
Following breakfast the next day, he headed back down to the port and reporting on board his own ship, he explained the situation to the Captain who released him to make his own way to Punta Arenas where they would rendezvous. The Veryan Bay would sail the 700 nautical miles around Cape Horn while Dad and the Ilen would take the more direct route through the Straits, too shallow and narrow in places for the big ship.
I remember asking Dad what the others on his ship thought of his plans, and he just shrugged his shoulders, “It needed to be done and I could do it. I knew the engine, and plus they knew I spent the war volunteering for everything that came my way, so this was no different.” On another occasion, over a pint with my dad, he revealed that his habit of volunteering early on in the war resulted in lucky escapes on at least two occasions when the ships he departed for volunteer duties had subsequently been sunk in battle, one with all hands lost, so he considered volunteering a natural, positive twist of fate that was being sent his way.
A few days later, while Dad was meeting with his fishermen crew and going over the workings of the Ilen, the Veryan Bay disappeared over the horizon. He was now on his own, an honorary Falkland Islander. They spent several days preparing the boat for the voyage they estimated should take 4 days if the weather held.
It was a fine Friday morning when they motored out of Port Stanley leaving the Governor, his family and a smattering of Islanders on the quayside wishing the gallant men bon voyage. Dad was at the helm and having carried out a rudimentary service on the engine, he was confident she would deliver them safely through the Straits. But before the Straits, there were those 300 miles of open ocean.
It was on Saturday the weather began to change. With the wind gusting from the south, and waves growing in stature, the direct westerly line of navigation had to be abandoned in favour of a zigzag pattern, to avoid being hit broadside by the waves and weather. This more than tripled their rate of progress through the water and the number of days exposed out at sea. The foul weather continued unabated for the next 24 hours and the constant changing of direction was putting an undue strain on the ailing engine.
The darkness delivered even greater danger and required all hands on deck to scan the black horizon for incoming waves. It was a blessing that the engine lasted until dawn. But with the dawn came spluttering and then silence. Dad belted below as one of the crew took over the wheel and the others frantically raced to hoist the sails. Dead in the water in these conditions, she would be knocked over within minutes unless they regained control and direction.
They were now 160 miles from the relative shelter of the Straits and without engine power, under sail relying on the wind alone. Fortunately, the crew were competent seamen and had a fair bit of experience in these waters under sail, but that was in boats designed for heavy weather and with much larger crews. Still, they kept her off the wind and as steady as possible while Dad worked on the engine below. At one point, he recalled, one of the crew appeared by his side offering to help. Dad was grateful for a while but soon sent him back up as he was only getting in the way. I know from personal experience that my dad had exacting standards, and a short temper when things are not going as planned, so the young crewman would have been much safer on deck.
He remembered being tossed about like a rag doll in the engine compartment, sometimes using lengths of strapping, normally used to secure cargo, to tie himself into position while he dismantled the engine looking for the problem. After hours below, he could not remember or was not counting how many hours. As he began to reassemble the engine, he became aware of the increasing violence of the rolling from side to side, and the brute force of the waves crashing over the boat. The storm was getting worse. Then, a crewman rushed below to tell him the sails were blowing out and he should get ready to come up top or be trapped below if they sank. He stayed where he was. He knew he was almost there. Soon after, just as it was getting dark, he restarted the engine. It sounded good. It would hold. He clambered up onto the deck and took the wheel from the sailor who joined his mates pulling in and tying down the remaining sails. He turned the Ilen into the wind and gauging just the right amount of throttle, rode out the remainder of the storm.
With the sun rising on their backs they could just make out the shape of land ahead. By lunchtime, they were scrutinising the charts to find the narrow inlet that was their entrance to the Magellan Straits. Through the next night, they motored gently through the channels. Huge cliffs sometimes closing in on them, and at other times it was wide inland waterways, often as rough as the oceans outside. Dad explained that whatever about the danger of the open ocean this was even more treacherous because if the engine failed again they would be blown into the cliffs for sure.
Arriving at Punta Arenas, the HMS Veryan Bay was waiting. A small party of Dad’s navy crew came aboard the Ilen to welcome the adventurers ashore with fresh food and some beers. The Islander crew, to demonstrate to the navy sailors how close to disaster they had come, unfurled the sails to reveal mostly shredded canvas. My dad recalled the feeling in the pit of his stomach, It had been getting dark when they were stowing the sails at sea, and he had no idea at the time that all that was left was shredded canvas. All agreed it was a miracle that they stayed afloat in such a storm with so little sail, but the hero was the man who would not give up and got the engine running just before the last piece of sail blew out.
Dad left the Navy in 1961, the year I was born. He told me that story many times over the years, usually over a pint after his retirement, but most recently in the nursing home where he passed away only two years ago. I knew the story by heart but not until I saw the footage of the Ilen on TV, the actual boat, all 56 feet of her, did I grasp the magnitude of that achievement. Bursting with pride I am, bursting with pride.
In Memory, Patrick McCarthy, Born 28th September 1920, died 2016.
President Michael D Higgins wished further fair winds for the historic ketch Ilen when he and his wife Sabina went aboard the newly-restored Conor O’Brien ketch during his visit to Limerick writes W M Nixon.
Ilen has been brought back to the Shannon Estuary after 92 years away, with the last ten years being taken up by the restoration as a joint project between the Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick, and Liam Hegarty’s Oldcourt Boatyard near Baltimore, the West Cork port which was Ilen’s birthplace back in 1926.
Ilen is now the last surviving Irish sail trading vessel, and her restoration has developed into an educational project which is also being promoted by an exhibition currently running in Limerick’s Hunt Museum. For the Ilen Network’s Gary MacMahon and Liam Hegarty, it was the very special fulfilment of a long-held dream when they were finally able to walk the decks of the newly-restored Ilen with the President of Ireland in the ship’s home port of Limerick.
As Afloat.ie previously reported, In an autumn of great homecomings for the city, the arrival of the Ilen may not have drawn out the numbers that the Liam McCarthy Cup did but it was, nonetheless, a very special moment for supporters of the project as the 56ft long wooden boat cut the Shannon waters to arrive in style at Limerick Docks.
She was formally greeted by Mayor of the City and County of Limerick James Collins and will winter at the Shannon Foynes Port Company operated docks ahead of a busy first full year back on the water in 2019.
Designed by one of Ireland’s greatest sailors, Edward Conor O’Brien, from Ardagh, Co. Limerick and later Foynes Island on the Shannon Estuary was the grandson of Irish nationalist and MEP William Smith O’Brien. He was captain of the first boat to sail around the world under the tri-colour of the Irish Free State.
Ilen is a traditional Irish built wooden ketch. Not unlike the many ketch which plied their trade on the Lower Shannon in the age of sail, she sailed out from Foynes to the Falklands in 1926 and spent all of 70 years there as an inter-island trader, ferrying passengers, sheep, cattle, commercial goods and all other commodities required by remote island communities.
That was until her distinct lrish profile was recognised on a Falklands War TV news bulletin, over 30 years ago by one of her delivery crew from Cape Clear, Co. Cork.
A campaign, spearheaded by directors of the Limerick-based Ilen Project, Gary McMahon and Brother Anthony Keane of Glenstal Abbey, ensued and 20 years later, following a lot of sweat, funding and craftsmanship, the Ilen is back home on the Shannon.
Welcoming the duo and their 13 strong crew on arrival, Mayor of the City and County of Limerick James Collins said: “We're delighted that the Ilen is back here in Limerick. It's been a labour of love really for the lads that worked on it, funded in part through Limerick City and County Council.
“It’s a ship that was designed in Limerick, it was rebuilt by Limerick people, sailed out of Limerick, recovered by Limerick people, renovated and now it’s back in Limerick and we’re delighted that she is here. It's fantastic.”
Project Director Gary McMahon said that the boat would be for the people of Limerick and, in particular, a learning platform for younger citizens for access to sailing and the marine environment. “It’s a community boat and its new home port is Limerick Docks and we are grateful to Shannon Foynes Port Company for its hospitality. There’s an entire learning aspect to and we will continue to expand our current educational programmes around this project with schools. We are hoping also that the city will embrace the vessel and we will need support with this.”
Said his co-director of the project Br. Anthony: “We've got a very warm welcome today from the people of Limerick who are welcoming back their boat after a long absence. We’ve been working together for the last 20 years, trying to get this vessel to the fine condition she is in today, ready to serve as a portal for Limerick City.
Welcoming its new guest to the Ted Russell Docks, Assistant Harbour Master at Shannon Foynes Port Company Hugh Conlon, which operates the docks, said: “It's a day with a difference in the sense that we've had a ketch come back into the Shannon Estuary, a boat designed by Conor O'Brien in 1926 from Foynes Island. It was built in the area and it sailed from the Shannon Estuary, worked its whole life down in the Falkland Islands and it's finally come back to the Shannon Estuary after many, many years of hard trading in the South Atlantic.
“It took the bones of 20 years to get her finally sailing back into the Ted Russell dock. And we're proud of the fact that we can lend a hand into the future and hopefully winter the boat here as time goes on and let her sail during the summer months.”
The restored Ilen has arrived in Limerick. She was sailed there over the weekend from West Cork, reports Tom MacSweeney.
Conor O’Brien’s historic 1926-built tradition ketch, the last of Ireland’s wooden schooners, originally built in Baltimore, was restored in a lengthy project which took several years to complete at Liam Hegarty’s at Oldcourt near Skibbereen and not far from where she was constructed in the fishing port of Baltimore, now a major sailing centre on the West Cork coastline.
She is now at Limerick Docks, returning to the Shannon, where she arrived at 12 noon today.
Gary McMahon, who has led the restoration project, said he was delighted after the long years of dedicated work by many people and so much help, that the ILEN was back in Limerick where an exhibition about her history is open at the Hunt Museum in the city.
The restored Conor O’Brien ketch Ilen may have had her first sailing sea trials as recently as yesterday off Baltimore in West Cork, but the current spell of settled weather in the southern half of the country has been too good to go to waste with Autumn moving steadily through writes W M Nixon. The task of getting the 56ft trader to her home port of Limerick for the winter could be a real hassle if the weather broke, so Ilen cleared out of Baltimore pronto and this afternoon (Saturday) we received this image of the Great Skellig in County Kerry, seen from Ilen as she makes knots – admittedly under power - in the right direction. This is good work by stealth……
The eclectic new exhibition in the Hunt Museum in Limerick, which outlines the Shannonside city’s maritime connections, its traditional local boats and its links to the historic sail training ketch Ilen, has been proving popular with local schools and their pupils writes W M Nixon. The display attracted more than 1,000 visitors on its opening day, and the staff have been intrigued by the variety of questions they’ve been asked, and the enthusiasm of the young people to interact fully with everything the exhibition has to offer.
The Ilen herself is now nearing full seagoing commission at Oldcourt near Baltimore in West Cork, and the link with Limerick should be made complete in the near future. Meanwhile, in the Hunt Museum the Ilen Exhibition - co–ordinated by Gary MacMahon and the Ilen Network (formerly the Ilen Boat-building School) - will continue until November 14th.
The successful ten-year restoration of the 1926 Baltimore-built 56ft trading ketch Ilen, originally constructed by Tom Moynihan and his shipwrights in West Cork to designs by pioneering global circumnavigator Conor O’Brien of Limerick, has been a continuing story in Afloat.ie writes W M Nixon.
While the heart and soul of it is in Limerick, the ultimate focal point for the restoration work at its busiest stages was Liam Hegarty’s boatyard at Oldcourt near Baltimore. In recent months there, the detailed final work of the restoration has been coming to a conclusion with continuing finishing work on the accommodation and rig, while the painstaking and multi-facetted official process of surveying the ship in order to provide her with a Certificate as a Passenger Vessel has also been undertaken.
The Ilen restoration has reached this successful stage through a parallel work effort between the Oldcourt Boatyard in West Cork and the Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick, a community project inspired and operated in the city by Gary MacMahon and several other dedicated supporters and helpers. They began by introducing hands-on training projects in the city such as building traditional Shannon gandelow workboats, and the CityOne sailing dinghies to a novel but very practical design by the late Theo Rye.
For the Ilen herself, the workshops in Limerick built many of the detailed features of the restored ship, notably the deckhouses and hatchways, while also shaping the massive new spars to re-create her rig as originally designed by Conor O’Brien. In addition, the school provided the focal point for the many marine engineering challenges which were integral to the project.
"a new Ilen Exhibition installation in the renowned Hunt Museum"
Now the Limerick element of the project has been brought centre stage, with a new Ilen Exhibition installation in the renowned Hunt Museum in its classic 18th Century former Customs House building on the waterfront in the heart of what was formerly the Shannon port’s centre of maritime trade.
The Shannon Estuary’s impressive and increasing levels of shipping may have moved downriver to nearby Limerick Docks, and further seaward still to Foynes Port, but at the old Customs House the Hunt Museum provides the ideal setting to display, study and celebrate Limerick’s many centuries of commercial interaction with the sea, and particularly the great days of sail. The new Exhibition, which was informally opened to the public on Friday (September 14th), is a self-contained unit in the Hunt Museum’s impressive Gallery Room, and will run until November 11th.
The restoration of the Ilen may have been a project of fascination to serious maritime historians and students, and indeed to anyone who is interested in traditional sailing craft. But one of the Ilen’s main functions in future will be as an important maritime educational focal point, particularly in bringing to life Limerick’s long and often colourful interaction with ships and the sea.
With this in mind, four large Limerick primary schools are already on board for close involvement with the interactive educational opportunities that the restored Ilen will provide, so visitors to the Ilen Exhibition in the Hunt Museum will find it a fascinating mixture of Limerick-built local-style boats on display beside instructional panels which may be aimed at all levels of interest, from precise adult information on Limerick’s maritime history and the Ilen story, to a primary school child’s vision of Ilen’s prospective voyage back to her home port of Limerick.
It is a modern museum feature using several novel techniques, and as it was Gary Mac Mahon in his role with Limerick’s highly-regarded Copper Reed Studio who created it, we’ll let him have the final word on this very special display:
“It is a light and colourfully-styled exhibition, which draws upon many of Limerick cultural and historical elements; rich maritime elements which uniquely converge at Limerick’s Custom House building - home today to the Hunt Museum.
The Custom House riverside aspect is no accident of 18c urban planning - under its roof, the City’s vital activities of sailing ships, maritime trade and associated custom collections were regulated.
The exhibition takes as it central theme, the ten-year adventures of the Ilen community boat building project, and its chief prize the sailing ship ‘Ilen’, which sails beautifully rebuilt towards Limerick this October, after an absence of 92 years.
Many of the maritime traditions of Limerick, which this exhibition seeks to explore through the work of the Ilen Project, are universally shared with many other riverine port towns.
Drawing upon humour, illustration and tradition, the exhibition offers the young and not-so-young among us a convivial opportunity to partake in a renewed awareness of Limerick’s age-old connectivity with the world, through the inimitable ways of river, sea and ocean, and the beautifully crafted wooden ships and boats which plied their trade upon them.
Integral to the exhibitions offering is the opportunity for hands-on engagement - learning the ropes, so to speak: visitors will be certain to depart with a new found aquatic awareness.”
A video, by Paul Fuller, features the restored historic ketch Ilen motoring down the Ilen River towards Baltimore for her celebratory launch last week at the Wooden Boat Festival in the West Cork town.
Conor O'Brien's famous traditional vessel, that has been faithfully restored by the boat building school of the same name at Hegarty's Boatyard, was splashed the previous day, and with time running out the launch crew took her down river with a little less for ballast - consequently, as keen observers will note, she was floating a little high.
On Saturday I was at the relaunch of the Ilen at the Wooden Boats Festival in Baltimore, West Cork.
It was a special occasion, one of emotion and memories, but also pride in what determined people can achieve.
I have written before about them, this edition of my Podcast takes you to the ceremony at Baltimore to hear what it was like….
This is a vessel which spans two centuries and was designed by Ireland’s legendary sailor Conor O’Brien from Foynes Island in the Shannon Estuary. After serving as a trading boat for 70 years in the Falkland Islands it was brought back to Ireland where it was returned to the water in the fishing village where it was built in 1926, Baltimore in West Cork. This podcast comes from the deck of the vessel as it was relaunched at the Wooden Boats Festival.
Please listen to the Podcast below…. this is an occasion when the written word is surpassed by the spoken.
In 1926, Tom Moynihan and his shipwrights on the waterfront in Baltimore built the 56ft ketch trading Ilen to Conor O’Brien's designs at their boatyard in the heart of the West Cork fishing village writes WM Nixon.
However, Baltimore nowadays is a pace-setting sailing and holiday port, so the main boatyard facilities in the neighbourhood are further inland towards Skibbereen, up the Ilen River at Oldcourt where Liam Hegarty and his expert team restored the old vessel to back to healthy life, working in concert with the Ilen Boat Building School directed by Gary Mac Mahon from Limerick.
After successfully-re-launching at Oldcourt last week, on Saturday it was to Baltimore’s Woodenboat Festival that Ilen made her way on Saturday to be formally re-born under the spiritual guidance of Brother Anthony Keane of Glenstal Abbey in Limerick. On a perfect early summer’s morning she was piloted down the river after which she was named by noted Baltimore sailor Dermot Kennedy and Liam Hegarty himself, and finally, after so many years being restored in the Top Shed at Oldcourt, there was the “new” Ilen looking her very best for all to see.
Having gone public, she is now back in Oldcourt for final preparation towards being ready for her first sail, which is expected to take place in July.
Afloat.ie’s Tom MacSweeney attended the Baltimore ceremonies and will tell us all about it in his regular podcast on Wednesday.