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Irish Sail Trader Ilen is Proving a Lucky Ship

12th November 2018
Somewhere, under the rainbow…..the bright side of the rainstorm favours the Ilen in the Ted Russell Dock in Limerick – she has her own private rainbow, when everyone else was facing flash flood warnings Somewhere, under the rainbow…..the bright side of the rainstorm favours the Ilen in the Ted Russell Dock in Limerick – she has her own private rainbow, when everyone else was facing flash flood warnings Photo: Gary MacMahon

When we’d flash floods pestering the country recently with wayward downpours, Gary MacMahon went to check out the beloved Ilen in Limerick docks, and found the old girl sitting serenely under her own private rainbow writes W M Nixon

But then, the restored 1926-built 56ft trading ketch, with her impeccable connections to global circumnavigating pioneer Conor O’Brien of Foynes, has had a year of good fortune since she was skillfully extracted in a brief weather window in January from Liam Hegarty’s Top Shed in the hyper-crowded Oldcourt Boatyard near her birthplace of Baltimore.

The rigging and finishing process was a painstaking and time-consuming task, and so too was the long process of bringing her up to the rigorous standards for certification as a passenger carrying vessel. Thus the Autumn was well upon us when she’d to face the challenge of getting from Baltimore to her home port of Limerick, but with a crew of all the talents aboard, they took full advantage of another handy weather window, and saw it off in just 17 hours.

Since then, in addition to a visit by President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina, the ship’s arrival in Limerick has chimed neatly with the much-visited Ilen Exhibition in the Hunt Museum which successfully concluded yesterday, but the ship’s company did find the time to put to sea for one last occasion in 2018, going down the Shannon Estuary beyond Scattery Island a couple of weekends ago in search of a breeze, and nipping inside Foynes Island on the way back for an unofficial reconnaissance in anticipation of the official visit there next year.

ilen passing glin2There’s no hiding place for Ilen when she proceeds down the Shannon Estuary – her familiar shape was spotted from the south shore as she passed Glin. Photo: Estelle O’Driscoll

The old ketch has such a distinctive appearance that several people recognized her immediately as she moved sweetly through the estuary waters, and Estelle O’Driscoll at Glin was one of them, getting got some photos which show how much at home Ilen is on that fine waterway.

And as reported at the time, Alison O’Brien – a Conor O’Brien relative by marriage – was at the family place on Foynes Island for the weekend, and she too was very much aware of the ketch’s presence.

conor obrien cottage3Conor O’Brien’s home place on Foynes Island was the cottage known as Barneen, as seen here from Ilen during the recent visit. Photo: Gary MacMahon

But now, the workaday surroundings of the Ted Russell Dock is Ilen’s home until the end of winter, and much work still needs to be done until the full programme for next year – which may well include a round Ireland venture – can be finalized.

With traditional and wooden boat festivals springing up all round the coast, everyone will want to have the now widely-recognized Ilen at their particular gathering, and the problem will be trying to fit it all together to make logistical sense. Popularity and immediate public recognition certainly bring their own challenges…..

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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