The 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien ketch Ilen, painstakingly restored in a visionary joint operation by the Gary MacMahon-directed Ilen Boat Building School in Limerick working in concert with master shipwrights Liam Hegarty and Fachtna O’Sullivan at Oldcourt Boatyard near Baltimore, is nearing the stage where she will have her first dip in the sea, most appropriately in the Ilen River itself writes W M Nixon
This procedure is anticipated as happening some time in the next nine days. But it will only be a dip as opposed to a full launching, The plan is to check for any leaks before the little ship is lifted out again for final work, and the installation of the internal ballast, whose presence would make any precise leak-location a difficult task.
Externally, it has been all change in recent weeks, with the top-mast fitted and the massive bowsprit put in place. Conor O’Brien made a speciality of extra long bowsprits, and something similar is seen in his 1922-world-girdling 42ft ketch Saoirse. But with Ilen, everything is on such a significantly larger scale that getting the bowsprit set up was quite an operation in itself. And as for giving it sufficient staying, the reckoning is that it is best to think of it as “an almost-horizontal mast”.
All being well, the Ilen will then be ready to perform duties as the flagship – the “Belle of the Ball” if you prefer – at the Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival from May 25th to 27th. The Festival poster features a new-style image of Ilen by Gary and his team. This fresh image is still work-in-progress, with Ilen’s appearance being re-imagined to make her appearance central to an Inter-regional Education Project for schools.