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Limerick Ketch Ilen is WoodenBoat Magazine Cover Star

18th February 2020
 The essence of the restored Ilen is captured in this evocative WoodenBoat cover photo taken in Greenland waters last summer by Gary Mac Mahon, Director of the Ilen Project and skipper for the outward Transatlantic voyage from Limerick to Greenland’s capital of Nuuk The essence of the restored Ilen is captured in this evocative WoodenBoat cover photo taken in Greenland waters last summer by Gary Mac Mahon, Director of the Ilen Project and skipper for the outward Transatlantic voyage from Limerick to Greenland’s capital of Nuuk Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

The Limerick ketch Ilen has received the ultimate accolade among classic and traditional boat restorations by being chosen as the cover star for the March/April 2020 issue of WoodenBoat, the American magazine which deservedly has a global reach and reputation in the challenging world of authentic restorations and re-builds.

The striking photograph of the 56ft 1926-built Conor O’Brien trading ketch was taken by Gary Mac Mahon off the mountainous coast of Southwest Greenland last summer, during Ilen’s Salmon’s Wake voyage of 2019 from her home port of Limerick to the Arctic mountains and small ports of West Greenland, and on to the capital city in the port of Nuuk

The sparkling and memorable image was a special reward for the photographer, as it was Gary Mac Mahon’s own unflinching belief in the Ilen Project which saw this unique vessel repatriated from the Falkland Islands to Ireland in 1997, with funds eventually being raised to restore her to full seagoing condition two decades later in a programme shared by the Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick and Hegarty’s Boatyard at Oldcourt on the Ilen River near Baltimore in West Cork, Ilen’s birthplace.

The magazine includes an account of Ilen’s restoration by Arista Holden, a traditional boat enthusiast from Maine (Belfast, would you believe), who led a group of fellow devotees last May to the Baltimore Woodenboat Festival, where Ilen had made her restored debut in 2018.

This isn’t the first time that a notable Irish boat restoration has been given the honours in WoodenBoat. The May/June 2008 issue featured Hal Sisk’s 36ft gaff cutter Peggy Bawn, designed by G L Watson of Glasgow, built by John Hilditch of Carrickfergus in 1894, and meticulousy restored under Hal’s overall direction by Michael Kennedy of Dunmore East with input from several noted specialists.

peggy bawn woodenboat2The image of Peggy Bawn in American waters in 2007 was created by legendary marine photographer Ben Mendlowitz, long associated with WooodenBoat. Photo: Benjamin Mendlowitz

Published in Ilen, Historic Boats
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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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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