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Historic Ketch Ilen’s Rig Restoration Takes Shape with Indoor Comfort

13th December 2017
When her restoration is completed and the rigging installed, the 56ft ketch Ilen will be an impressive traditional workboat. When her restoration is completed and the rigging installed, the 56ft ketch Ilen will be an impressive traditional workboat.

When we recall the exposed conditions in which some coastal boat and ship-builders had to work in the days when life and labour were cheap, and health and safety were considered more important for thoroughbred animals than for workers, then it has to be said that that the spar-makers of Limerick assembling the rig for the restoration of the 1926-built 56ft ketch Ilen are creating their finished sections in some comfort in the Ilen Boatbuilding School  writes W M Nixon

ilen spar making2In its way, each spar has emerged as a work of art. Photo: Gary MacMahon

ilen spar making3Spar-making is a mixture of traditional and newer techniques. Photo: Gary MacMahon

ilen spar making4The gaff jaws may have to be used for rugged work, but that’s no reason why they shouldn’t be assembled with style Photo: Gary MacMahon

ilen spar making5The Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick has sufficient space to lay out the complete mainmast with topmast, gaff and boom – shipwright James Madigan provides a sense of scale.

But though they have a decent amount of space and the benefits of modern equipment, the fact that the Douglas Fir for the new spars has been donated from the stores of the much-lamented Asgard II puts an even greater onus on the team to produce work of world class.

That said, the temptation to stray into the realms of classic yacht style is ever-present when you have wood and facilities of this quality. But it has always to be remembered that Ilen is the sole surviving Irish-built sailing trader of this size and type. Thus Project Director Gary MacMahon has to ensure that the work remains true to traditional workboat style rather than veering towards anything too ornamental.

ilen spar making6Engineering the connection of the topmast and mainmast at the hounds, Pete Speake (left) working with James Madigan (lower right) Photo: Gary MacMahon

ilen spar making7The test assembly of mainmast and topmast. Photo: Gary MacMahon

But as the simple functionality of each spar and fitting which has been made has its own inherent beauty, ornamentation would be superfluous, and as our gallery of photos reveals, in its way each piece is a work of art.

 

ilen spar making8An early stage in creating the senior and junior mast partners, crafted by Matt Dirr Photo: Gary MacMahonAn early stage in creating the senior and junior mast partners, crafted by Matt Dirr Photo: Gary MacMahon

ilen spar making9The senior and junior mast partners completed, one for the mainmast, the other for the mizzen. Photo: Gary MacMahon

ilen spar making10At Liam Hegarty’s boatyard in Oldcourt near Baltimore, 180 kilometres from Limerick, the mainmast partner is offered up aboard ship – and fits to perfection. Photo: Gary MacMahon

Published in Ilen
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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.

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