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Historic Ketch Ilen Takes her Departure from Greenland, Bound for Ireland & Limerick

26th August 2019
The 56ft 1926-built Ilen setting her full traditional rig off the rugged coast of Greenland The 56ft 1926-built Ilen setting her full traditional rig off the rugged coast of Greenland

Limerick’s restored 56ft Conor O’Brien-designed 1926-built traditionally-rigged trading ketch Ilen emerged yesteray evening (Sunday) from the eastern end of Prince Christian Sound to start her passage back to Ireland writes W M Nixon. The magnificent Sound - noted for its dramatic scenery - leads inside the archipelago of steep islands which culminate in Greenland’s most southerly headland of Cape Farewell. By negotiating it safely, the crew of Ilen - under the command of Paddy Barry with traditional west of Ireland boat sailors Jarlath Cunnane and Dr Mick Brogan added to the strength for the return voyage - have brought themselves within 12000 miles of Loop Head and a homecoming in the Shannon Estuary.

While coast-hopping south from the Greenland capital of Nuuk, Ilen’s home-coming crew have learned more about the ship’s handling characteristics, and a favourable wind through some channels has demonstrated how effectively the square-sail – complete with its Salmons Wake logo highlighting the central theme of the voyage – can be conveniently deployed on its own when dead-running, thereby avoiding the challenges of using the heavily-boomed mainsail with its hazards when gybing in stronger and often gusty winds.

squaresail in sunshine2 Running free without the hassle of gybing a heavy-boomed mainsail – Ilen heads comfortably under square-sail into a Greenland channel, Jarlath Cunnane on right.

The crew have taken the opportunity to avail of natural hot spring baths when they’ve been anchored near one, while every option has been taken to get the vessel in compact ocean-going condition and add to ship’s stores to ensure a well-fed homeward passage. The forecast for the coming days in the area of the North Atlantic where Ilen will be voyaging is currently looking quite favourable in terms of wind directions and strength, and the ship and her crew’s many followers worldwide wish her Bon Voyage.

ilen swim pool3 The cleanest clean they’ve ever been……..Ilen’s crew making good use of one of Greenland’s natural hot spring pools. Photo: Mantas Seskauskis

Published in Ilen
WM Nixon

About The Author

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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Ireland's Trading Ketch Ilen

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.

Wooden Sailing Ship Ilen FAQs

The Ilen is the last of Ireland’s traditional wooden sailing ships.

The Ilen was designed by Conor O’Brien, the first Irish man to circumnavigate the world.

Ilen is named for the West Cork River which flows to the sea at Baltimore, her home port.

The Ilen was built by Baltimore Sea Fisheries School, West Cork in 1926. Tom Moynihan was foreman.

Ilen's wood construction is of oak ribs and planks of larch.

As-built initially, she is 56 feet in length overall with a beam of 14 feet and a displacement of 45 tonnes.

Conor O’Brien set sail in August 1926 with two Cadogan cousins from Cape Clear in West Cork, arriving at Port Stanley in January 1927 and handed it over to the new owners.

The Ilen was delivered to the Falkland Islands Company, in exchange for £1,500.

Ilen served for over 70 years as a cargo ship and a ferry in the Falkland Islands, enduring and enjoying the Roaring Forties, the Furious Fifties, and Screaming Sixties. She stayed in service until the early 1990s.

Limerick sailor Gary McMahon and his team located Ilen. MacMahon started looking for her in 1996 and went out to the Falklands and struck a deal with the owner to bring her back to Ireland.

After a lifetime of hard work in the Falklands, Ilen required a ground-up rebuild.

A Russian cargo ship transported her back on a 12,000-mile trip from the Southern Oceans to Dublin. The Ilen was discharged at the Port of Dublin 1997, after an absence from Ireland of 70 years.

It was a collaboration between the Ilen Project in Limerick and Hegarty’s Boatyard in Old Court, near Skibbereen. Much of the heavy lifting, of frames, planking, deadwood & backbone, knees, floors, shelves and stringers, deck beams, and carlins, was done in Hegarty’s. The generally lighter work of preparing sole, bulkheads, deck‐houses fixed furniture, fixtures & fittings, deck fittings, machinery, systems, tanks, spar making and rigging is being done at the Ilen boat building school in Limerick.

Ten years. The boat was much the worse for wear when it returned to West Cork in May 1998, and it remained dormant for ten years before the start of a decade-long restoration.

Ilen now serves as a community floating classroom and cargo vessel – visiting 23 ports in 2019 and making a transatlantic crossing to Greenland as part of a relationship-building project to link youth in Limerick City with youth in Nuuk, west Greenland.

At a mere 56ft, Ilen is capable of visiting most of the small harbours of Ireland.

©Afloat 2020

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