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Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival (May 25th-27th) Has Historic Ketch Ilen as Flagship

8th May 2018
Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival (May 25th-27th) Has Historic Ketch Ilen as Flagship

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.

ilen topmast2Ilen’s main topmast in place and rigged. Photo: Gary MacMahon

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”.

ilen bowsprit3Ilen’s battering-ram of a bowsprit – in rigging terms, it makes sense to think of it as an almost-horizontal mast. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

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.

ilen deadeyes4Traditional rigging – deadeyes and lanyards are used on both mainmast and mizzen on Ilen. Photo: Gary MacMahon

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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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