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Ghost Ship Ilen is Haunting West Cork

18th July 2017
Spectral white…..Conor O’Brien’s ketch Ilen as she was this morning Spectral white…..Conor O’Brien’s ketch Ilen as she was this morning Credit: Gary MacMahon

When Gary MacMahon of Limerick brought the 57ft Conor O’Brien ketch Ilen back from the Falkland Islands in 1998, the 1927-built former inter-island trading and passenger transport vessel was in danger of becoming a ghost ship writes W M Nixon.

Since then, the long road of fund-raising and planning for this significant vessel’s useful future has taken time, but in due course a full restoration/rebuild was undertaken by Liam Hegarty and his master-shipwrights at Oldcourt. This most appropriately is on the Ilen River, just above Baltimore where Ilen was built to designs by Tom Moynihan and Conor O’Brien.

Work has progressed, and in recent days Ilen has entered an intensive painting stage to make best use of the dry atmospheric conditions of this unusually warm and sunny weather, which is some consolation for those of us who think the current meteorological phase is just too bright and hot altogether.

ilen ghost ship2A-haunting we will go…..Ilen’s current paint state in Oldcourt’s Corn Store would make provide an ideal setting for a touch of the Bram Stoker’s. Photo: Gary MacMahon

The application of the primer has resulted in her emerging in real ghost ship mode. What with the mist of from the painting work in Ilen’s current home in the Old Corn Store, and the overall blanking effect, the result is decidedly spooky.

But very soon the Ilen as she is going to be in her finished form will begin to emerge. Whether or not she will follow the people’s choice as revealed by the Afloat.ie Ilen Colour Poll on March 8th 2017 remains to be seen. Personally I would have inclined to the dark green if it could be complemented with a classic white boot-top. All will be revealed very soon. But for now, Ilen really is haunting Oldcourt Boatyard.

ilen ghost ship3A sailing ship reduced to her absolute basics by no more than the application of a coat of primer paint. Photo: Gary MacMahon

Published in Ilen
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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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