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Traditional Ketch Ilen Renews Involvement with Royal Irish Yacht Club

19th May 2019
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Ninety-three years after she was briefly a member of the fleet of the Royal Irish Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire, the restored ketch Ilen visited the historic clubhouse for a special reception this weekend Ninety-three years after she was briefly a member of the fleet of the Royal Irish Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire, the restored ketch Ilen visited the historic clubhouse for a special reception this weekend Photo: W M Nixon

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.

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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