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Historic Irish Trading Ketch Ilen Sails Again off Baltimore

28th September 2018
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The classic view looking aloft – the restored working ketch Ilen sailed again today, the first time in nearly 20 years The classic view looking aloft – the restored working ketch Ilen sailed again today, the first time in nearly 20 years Photo: Gary MacMahon

The Conor O’Brien-designed 56ft ketch Ilen sailed for the first time in twenty years today off Baltimore writes W M Nixon.

Originally built in 1926 at the picturesque West Cork port, and recently restored at nearby Oldcourt by Liam Hegarty’s boatyard working in concert with the Ilen Boat-building School of Limerick, the characterful working boat will find a new career as the focal point for educational projects in Limerick, the Shannon Estuary area and beyond.

Everything possible has been done in the restoration to retain Ilen’s original features while making her compliant with modern requirements for passenger-carrying vessels. The work has continued after she was put afloat earlier this year in order for the renowned Top Shed at Oldcourt to be cleared for the re-building of the smaller 42ft Saoirse - now underway - in which Conor O’Brien of County Limerick sailed round the world south of the Great Capes in 1923–25.

It was during this voyage that O’Brien called into the Falkland Islands after rounding Cape Horn, and the islanders were so impressed by Saoirse’s seaworthiness that they persuaded the Falkland Islands Company to commission a larger version to be their inter-island ferry, as well as the livestock and freight carrier. The result was the Ilen which, after a full working life, was brought back to Ireland in 1997 by the Ilen Project, led by Gary MacMahon, in the hope of undertaking a complete restoration. Now, with the first day’s sea trials completed, the hopes for the Ilen are approaching fulfilment, and a direct link to Ireland’s seafaring history has been renewed.

ilen sailing2 Ilen heads back into Baltimore after her first day of sea trials under sail. Photo: Gary MacMahon

Published in Ilen
WM Nixon

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WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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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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