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Ilen Crosses Shannon Estuary from Kilrush Through Tarbert’s “Waterspout Way” on Historic Return to Foynes

29th August 2020
Back at her real home after 93 years – the 56ft 1926-built restored Limerick Trading ketch Ilen takes up her berth in Foynes for the first time in 94 years yesterday (Friday) evening. On the Foynes YC pontoon are (left to right) Ilen Project Manager Gary Mac Mahon, and Conor O’Brien family relatives Rob, Alison and Stephen O'Brien. Conor O’Brien’s modest house of Barneen on Foynes Island, in which he designed both Saoirse and Ilen and spent his last days in 1952, is just visible above Ilen’s bowsprit. Back at her real home after 93 years – the 56ft 1926-built restored Limerick Trading ketch Ilen takes up her berth in Foynes for the first time in 94 years yesterday (Friday) evening. On the Foynes YC pontoon are (left to right) Ilen Project Manager Gary Mac Mahon, and Conor O’Brien family relatives Rob, Alison and Stephen O'Brien. Conor O’Brien’s modest house of Barneen on Foynes Island, in which he designed both Saoirse and Ilen and spent his last days in 1952, is just visible above Ilen’s bowsprit.

The 56ft Trading Ketch Ilen has had a busy couple of days of cultural and educational activities in Kilrush during her current two-week cargo cruise, with performances including shows and workshops with noted Limerick Boy and contemporary dancer Tobi Omoteso. The next stage on her programme came up yesterday (Friday) evening with the epochal visit across the Shannon Estuary to Foynes for her first time berthed there in 94 years.

Contemporary Limerick dancer Tobi Omoteso goes through one of his routines aboard Ilen in KilrushContemporary Limerick dancer Tobi Omoteso goes through one of his routines aboard Ilen in Kilrush

The Shannon Estuary had been in a lively mood earlier in the day with at least one waterspout seen whirling its way up past Tarbert. But things had quietened down when Ilen made her short but historic passage to bring her to a berth just across the channel at Foynes from the little house of Barneen on the island where Conor O’Brien designed both Saoirse in 1921-22, and Ilen in 1925-26. It is also where he lived out his last days in 1952, and his graveyard is on the mainland in the churchyard near Foynes Yacht Club. The programme with Ilen today (Saturday) in Foynes includes tours of the vessel, a DJ set in Foynes Yacht Club, stories from Foynes island with the O’Brien family, and a Sea Shanty Workshop with William Howard.

Lively weather to greet Ilen as she crossed from Kilrush to Foynes. Yesterday (Friday) evening, her Shannon Estuary passage past Tarbert took her straight through this area where a waterspout or two had been busy earlier in the dayLively weather to greet Ilen as she crossed from Kilrush to Foynes. Yesterday (Friday) evening, her Shannon Estuary passage past Tarbert took her straight through this area where a waterspout or two had been busy earlier in the day Lively weather to greet Ilen as she crossed from Kilrush to Foynes. Yesterday (Friday) evening, her Shannon Estuary passage past Tarbert took her straight through this area where a waterspout or two had been busy earlier in the day. Photo Eamonn Barry

Published in Ilen, Shannon Estuary
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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