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.