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Conor O’Brien Ketch Ilen Re-uses Old Gaelic Stadium Teak

19th November 2017
The multi-purpose Markets Field in Limerick has been an unexpected source of quality teak. Teak seating slats salvaged from the re-vamp of the Markets Field Gaelic Football ground have found a new purpose in the restoration of the ketch Ilen. In addition to its historic links with Gaelic Football and greyhound racing, the Markets Field has also been used for soccer – as seen here – and by Garryowen Rugby Club before they moved to Dooradoyle. The multi-purpose Markets Field in Limerick has been an unexpected source of quality teak. Teak seating slats salvaged from the re-vamp of the Markets Field Gaelic Football ground have found a new purpose in the restoration of the ketch Ilen. In addition to its historic links with Gaelic Football and greyhound racing, the Markets Field has also been used for soccer – as seen here – and by Garryowen Rugby Club before they moved to Dooradoyle.

The process of restoring the 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien ketch Ilen in Limerick and Baltimore has seen a countrywide network developing, a network in which anyone with access to redundant classic quality timber has been happy to see it finding a new use in the Ilen Boatbuilding School’s very special project writes W M Nixon.

Afloat.ie recently carried the story of how traditional rigging dead-eyes had been crafted from that rare timber lignum vitae, which in this case had been sourced from a former shipyard in Cork.

Now there has been a useful re-direction from nearer home, with teak which had provided slats for the seating in the old Markets Field Gaelic Stadium in Limerick for more than a century finding a new life as slats on the sole of the Ilen helmsman’s footwell.

ilen footwell2Less is more. A little bit of teak, tastefully installed as slats on the sole of Ilen’s beautifully-completed new footwell, sets the Antique White finish off to perfection. Photos: Gary MacMahon

A hundred and more years ago, teak – the king of timbers - was much more readily available than it is today, and was sometimes used to excess. But modern boat-builders have learned that with the scarcity of this lovely wood, less can be more, and the way that the relatively small amount of teak has been usefully installed in the beautifully finished Ilen footwell certainly bears this out.

Having made a couple of journeys between the Ilen herself in Oldcourt near Baltimore and the boat-building school in Limerick, the elegant footwell will finally be fully installed on the ship within the next week.

Published in Ilen, Conor O'Brien
Afloat.ie Team

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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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