Menu
Allianz and Afloat - Supporting Irish Boating

Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

In association with ISA Logo Irish Sailing

Conor O’Brien Ketch Ilen Starts to Feel Like a Living Ship Again

8th November 2017
It may be November outside, but aboard Ilen the lights glow warmly in welcome It may be November outside, but aboard Ilen the lights glow warmly in welcome Photo: Gary McMahon

The process of transforming the restored hull and deck of the 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien historic ketch Ilen into a living ship continues writes W M Nixon. The programme is co-ordinated and combined between the Ilen Boatbuilding School in Limerick, where they’re busy on the benches making or re-conditioning many items of gear and equipment, and in and around the ship herself with Liam Hegarty in Baltimore in West Cork. There, it finally all comes together, and last weekend provided a real sense of a new stage reached in the project.

ilen november3James Madigan in the Ilen School in Limerick with a workshop-mockup of the traditional steering arrangement, including the helmsman’s footwell which has since been fitted in the ship. Photo: Gary McMahon

ilen november3In Oldcourt, the hydraulic steering actuator – renovated in Limerick – is ready for final fitting to the rudder stock. Photo: Gary McMahon

Lights gleamed from below where the accommodation is being created, and traditional timberwork shone with warmth in the homely setting of The Old Cornstore on the banks of the Ilen River. This much-loved waterway runs from Skibbereen down towards Baltimore to provide the home training waters of some of Ireland’s greatest contemporary rowers, as well as a sheltered setting for the always-fascinating boatyard complex.

The unique atmosphere of this special boat-building location is more cherished than ever. It had been feared that the Old Cornstore and the surrounding Oldcourt Boatyard were right in the path of serious damage from Storm Ophelia three weeks ago. But although a gust of 191 km/h was recorded out at the Fastnet Rock, and 135 km/h was logged at Sherkin Island just across from Baltimore, Oldcourt came through relatively unscathed. The place leads a charmed life.

ilen november3Starting to look like a ship again. Snug under the Ophelia-surviving vintage roof in the Old Cornstore at Oldcourt, Ilen is now giving a much better impression of what she’ll be like to be aboard at sea. Photo: Gary MacMahon

As for the ketch’s restoration project, a stage had been reached where teams from both Ilen Boatbuilding centres could usefully combine forces last Saturday to clear up the boat from end to end the better to appreciate what has been achieved, and to appraise what still needs to be done. In comparing the photos below which show Ilen as she was when last in commission at the Glandore Classics of 1998, and as she was on Saturday, there’s no doubting that the spirit of the old ship is being re-born.

ilen november3Aboard Ilen as she was in 1998 at Glandore (left) and on deck last Saturday in Oldcourt (right). Photo: Gary MacMahon

As is the way with restorations, it’s intriguing to learn how various specialist items of equipment have been retrieved or saved. In a city with a metal-working tradition like Limerick, there’s an instinctive appreciation of the quality of the workmanship which has gone into the rigging hardware for shrouds and masts alike.

ilen november3Some of Ilen’s rigging hardware, in a time-honoured style much-appreciated in a city with a metal-working tradition. Photo: Gary McMahon

And although we’ve shown photos of the Ilen dead-eyes made from lignum vitae before, there’s something so fascinating about this densest of timbers (in this case “contributed from a former shipyard in Cork”) that a second or third look is surely justified, appreciating them as works of art shaped in the Ilen school in Limerick by Matt Dirr.

ilen november3Matt Dirr crafting dead-eyes in the Ilen School. Photo: Gary McMahon Photo: Gary MacMahon

ilen november3Dead-eyes finished and varnished. There is an eternal fascination in lignum vitae, the “wood of life”, one of the densest timbers in the world. Photo: Gary MacMahon

As for that rather choice bronze fairlead, we immediately fired back an enquiry to Ilen School Director Gary McMahon as to who made it, for it too is a work of art. The answer is he doesn’t know who made it, but having worked in metal himself he has long been an inveterate collector of special items which would otherwise be on their way to the scrapyard, and this came off an old vessel which was being dismantled in Limerick. Now, thanks to the Ilen Project, it will once again sail the seas.

ilen november3A proper little work of art – a bronze fairlead, salvaged from a breaker’s yard many years ago. Photo: Gary MacMahon

ilen november3Unlike the fairlead, this deck eyebolt is new-made, but it wouldn’t look out of place as a piece of functional art on a modern gallery. Photo: W M Nixon

Published in Ilen
Afloat.ie Team

About The Author

Afloat.ie Team

Email The Author

Afloat.ie is Ireland's dedicated marine journalism team.

Have you got a story for our reporters? Email us here.

We've got a favour to ask

More people are reading Afloat.ie than ever thanks to the power of the internet but we're in stormy seas because advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. Unlike many news sites, we haven’t put up a paywall because we want to keep our marine journalism open.

Afloat.ie is Ireland's only full–time marine journalism team and it takes time, money and hard work to produce our content.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

If everyone chipped in, we can enhance our coverage and our future would be more secure. You can help us through a small donation. Thank you.

Direct Donation to Afloat button

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.

Featured Sailing School

INSS sidebutton

Featured Clubs

dbsc mainbutton
Howth Yacht Club
Kinsale Yacht Club
National Yacht Club
Royal Cork Yacht Club
Royal Irish Yacht club
Royal Saint George Yacht Club

Featured Brokers

leinster sidebutton

Featured Webcams

Featured Car Brands

subaru sidebutton

Featured Associations

ISA sidebutton dob
ICRA
isora sidebutton

Featured Events 2020

Wave button for Afloat new dates

Featured Chandleries

CHMarine Afloat logo
osm sidebutton
viking sidebutton

Featured Sailmakers

northsails sidebutton
uksails sidebutton

quantum sidebutton

Featured Marinas

dlmarina sidebutton

Featured Blogs

W M Nixon - Sailing on Saturday
podcast sidebutton
mansfield sidebutton
BSB sidebutton
sellingboat sidebutton

Please show your support for Afloat by donating