The historic 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien trading ketch Ilen is now comfortably under shelter again after her midwinter adventures (on the Ilen River, naturally) at Oldcourt near Baltimore writes W M Nixon.
With her hull, deck and deckhouses restored in a project shared between Oldcourt and the Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick, Ilen had to vacate the top shed (aka the Old Grainstore) to provide space for boat-builder Liam Hegarty and his team, with senior shipwright Fachtna O’Sullivan, to begin work in January on the re-construction of Conor O’Brien’s world-girdling 42ft Saoirse. She was originally built in Baltimore in 1922, and is now being re-created at Oldcourt for leading Hong Kong sailor Fred Kinmonth.
Space is so limited ashore in the Oldcourt boatyard that the only way Ilen could be moved to her new berth in the yard was by the river, using Vincent O’Driscoll’s West Cork islands ro-ro freight ferry. We’ve detailed all this in recent postings on Afloat.ie, but with the operation being undertaken as December became January, nobody liked to dwell too much on the strong possibility of extreme weather seriously disrupting the various moves, let alone the chances of serious damage to the 30-ton Ilen herself.
With patience, and then remarkable group efforts when brief weather windows occurred, the entire delicate operation was completed in different stages. And if the photos give the impression that West Cork usually enjoys exceptionally balmy and gentle sunny conditions in late December and early January, then that is clear evidence of the shrewd way in which the moving team made their decision day choices.
But West Cork is no stranger to rain even if it seldom sees snow, so it was essential to get a robust tent-style structure erected over the ship in her new berth as soon as possible. The basic of this waited in Limerick where it had all been pre-made in the Ilen School, and then in some gentle weather last week, James Madigan and Tony Daly zapped down to Oldcourt and the new “house” was in place before the weekend’s rain arrived.
It’s provides a bright and airy place that is now one of the workshops for the installation of Ilen’s interior, which will be of a modified design to facilitate her new role as a marine educational centre. And while she won’t have the ancient Raeburn stove which was a feature in her working days in the Falklands, there’ll be a comparable Canadian marine stove which will be the heart of the vessel.
As to the business of starting the project in cramped conditions which have since been had to be vacated for the move to a compromise outside berth, that’s central to the way the Ilen ideal has been moved along. It simply wouldn’t have happened if it had been launched as some grand project, seeking some anonymous place with a huge boatyard shed. But by growing it organically in a crowded little place where the ships of Conor O’Brien have a special meaning, it has now reached a viable stage where the Ilen and the Saoirse have a new international significance, a deeper spirit to which like-minded people worldwide are positively responding.