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Limerick’s Restored Ketch Ilen Adds Cork City to the Many Ports Visited

7th October 2019
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The always-absorbing world of a traditional sailing ship – students from Cork Life Centre get busy with Ilen Facilitator Chelsea Canavan during the vessel’s recent participation in Cork Mental Health Festival The always-absorbing world of a traditional sailing ship – students from Cork Life Centre get busy with Ilen Facilitator Chelsea Canavan during the vessel’s recent participation in Cork Mental Health Festival Photo: Dermot Lynch

The 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien trading ketch Ilen of Limerick has had an exceptionally busy first season in 2019 in her restored condition as achieved by the Ilen Boat-Building School of Limerick, and Liam Hegarty’s Oldcourt Boatyard in West Cork.

This ambassadorial sailing ship has continued her 2019 community work - work which began last April on first departing Limerick Docks in full seagoing commission. Intertwined with many other objectives, the Ilen Project’s theme for this year was Salmon’s Wake, a concept whereby the ship’s voyaging shared 2019 with the International Year of the Salmon.

ilen bowsprit2In from the sea, in from the Arctic – the much-travelled Ilen of Limerick makes her first visit to Cork City. Photo: Dermot Lynch

An international and local awareness around the declining numbers of Wild Salmon had prompted many communities around the North Atlantic to reflect on this reality - and to explore what the causes and effects might be. With a voyage along the salmon migratory routes to West Greenland, the Ilen was able to provide a central theme for the many salmon studies. 

"This ambassadorial sailing ship has continued her 2019 community work"

Yet it is indicative of how busy the Ilen has been – and still is – that in her first year of operation in her restored condition, the Greenland Voyage has only been a highlight – albeit a very significant one – in a complex and varied programme to provide a productive first year of operation.

ilen cork harbour welcome3The Port of Cork welcomes Ilen with (left to right) Peter O’Shaughnessy (HR, Port of Cork), Colin Healy and James Lyons of Sailing into Wellness, Deirdre Power of the Ilen Project with the traditional gift of Port of Cork ship’s plaque, and Henry Kingston, Port of Cork Engineering Manager. Photo: Dermot Lynch

Ilen’s dedication to community educational initiatives has thus seen her visit up to twenty ports, complete two transatlantic crossings, cruise the West Coast of Greenland, and engage with hundreds of individuals and with numerous educational and care organisations across Ireland.



ilen training group4 Neil Creedon (left), Deputy Principal of Terence MacSwiney Community College, Knocknaheeny, Cork, with (centre) James Lyons of Sailing Into Wellness and (right) Deirdre Power, Educational Facilitator of the Ilen Project, with students of Terence MacSwiney College aboard Ilen in the Port of Cork. Photo: Dermot Lynch

Even with the swift arrival of Autumnal weather, her mission continues, and recently she sailed into Cork City Centre – her first visit to the city, as Kinsale provides her south coast berth - to join in with Cork Mental Health Festival, where she was warmly welcomed and lauded for her work with youth and recovery groups. This was a joint visit by the Ilen Project and its partners Sailing into Wellness. Both organisations share a common community mission, and also find project expression in sailing ships upon the coastal waters of Ireland. – (Gary MacMahon - Ilen Project)


ilen port of cork5In the heart of Cork - a very different place from Nuuk in Western Greenland, yet Ilen has been in both ports during her extensive 2019 voyaging. Photo: Dermot Lynch

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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