In 1926, the newly-built 56ft trading ketch Ilen was for six months part of the fleet of the Royal Irish Yacht Club. Built in Baltimore in West Cork under the inspiration of pioneering global circumnavigator Conor O’Brien of Limerick to be the ferry and freight vessel for the very distant Falkland Islands, Ilen was of course ultimately going to be a working vessel. But as part of the contract stipulated that she be delivered to the Falklands under Conor O’Brien’s command, because his seagoing qualification was only as a yachtmaster and not a professional skipper, the only way insurance could be secured was through the new vessel’s registration as a yacht.
Conor O’Brien was of course already a highly-regarded member of the RIYC, as his famous 1923-1925 global circumnavigation with the 42-ft Saoirse (built in Baltimore in 1922) had officially started and finished from the Royal Irish clubhouse. Thus in 1926 the authorities in both club and officialdom readily agreed to Ilen having yacht status, and the voyage was completed flying the RIYC burgee.
During the long restoration programme for Ilen during the past decade and more under the partnership of the Ilen Boat-building School of Limerick under Gary MacMahon’s direction, and the renowned boatyard at Oldcourt near Baltimore run by Liam Hegarty, the thought was always there that when Ilen had been re-created in authentic style as a research and educational vessel, she should “make her number” back at the club where she was briefly part of the fleet 93 years ago, even though Limerick is now her home port.
After a swift voyage up from Baltimore last weekend, Ilen had been berthed in Dublin at Poolbeg, but on Friday she crossed the bay and preparations began for the reception at the RIYC. Even the unsettled weather cleared locally to provide sunshine for the welcome by RIYC Commodore Joe Costello, his fellow flag officers and many members, in addition to dozens of special guests who were there to see the superb restoration project completed with a very special ship, and to help the Ilen ideal on its way.
WM Nixon’s Sailing on Saturday blog on May 25th will link Ilen to this coming weekend’s Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival and take a more in-depth look at the remarkable attendance during her welcome to the RIYC.