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President Higgins Brings Goodwill to the Ilen in Limerick Docks

6th October 2018
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Aboard Ilen in Limerick Docks are (left to right) boatbuilder Liam Hegarty of Baltimore, Gary MacMahon of the Ilen Project, President Higgins, Brother Anthony Keane of Glenstal Abbey, and Sabina Higgins Aboard Ilen in Limerick Docks are (left to right) boatbuilder Liam Hegarty of Baltimore, Gary MacMahon of the Ilen Project, President Higgins, Brother Anthony Keane of Glenstal Abbey, and Sabina Higgins Photo: Iseult Murphy

President Michael D Higgins wished further fair winds for the historic ketch Ilen when he and his wife Sabina went aboard the newly-restored Conor O’Brien ketch during his visit to Limerick writes W M Nixon.

Ilen has been brought back to the Shannon Estuary after 92 years away, with the last ten years being taken up by the restoration as a joint project between the Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick, and Liam Hegarty’s Oldcourt Boatyard near Baltimore, the West Cork port which was Ilen’s birthplace back in 1926.

Ilen is now the last surviving Irish sail trading vessel, and her restoration has developed into an educational project which is also being promoted by an exhibition currently running in Limerick’s Hunt Museum. For the Ilen Network’s Gary MacMahon and Liam Hegarty, it was the very special fulfilment of a long-held dream when they were finally able to walk the decks of the newly-restored Ilen with the President of Ireland in the ship’s home port of Limerick.

ilen limerick dock2 Ilen is home….the 1926-built ketch in Limerick Docks. Photo Ilen Network 

higgins macmahon3The President and Sabina Higgins greet Ilen Project Director Gary MacMahon (right) as they prepare to board Ilen. Photo Ilen Network

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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