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Limerick Trading Ketch Ilen is on TV & Up For The Match

9th December 2020
Ships that pass as history is being made. With the final stages of Brexit negotiations in the balance, the Limerick Trading Ketch Ilen is recorded by RTE News coming up Dublin's River Liffey as the cross-channel ferry Clipper Pennant heads out for a UK port, still under minimal customs regulation. With Ilen making for a berth at Poolbeg Marina, she has been instructed to hold to the south side of the Dublin Port Channel Ships that pass as history is being made. With the final stages of Brexit negotiations in the balance, the Limerick Trading Ketch Ilen is recorded by RTE News coming up Dublin's River Liffey as the cross-channel ferry Clipper Pennant heads out for a UK port, still under minimal customs regulation. With Ilen making for a berth at Poolbeg Marina, she has been instructed to hold to the south side of the Dublin Port Channel Photo: RTE TV News

The Limerick ambassadorial ketch Ilen arrived on the Liffey River at Dublin in the late hours of Sunday after a fast passage, and since then has been out daily from Poolbeg Y & BC's marina on Dublin Bay with a local crew of very enthusiastic winter sailors.

However, a ship from the west can somehow never be in Dublin without historic undertones, and yesterday evening as Ilen returned to port, she was recorded on RTE TV News as the cross-channel cargo ferry Clipper Pennant headed seaward in unfettered style, bound for a UK port as tortuous Brexit negotiations in London and Brussels were reaching a final stage which may make such regular smooth occurrences into much more red-tape-obstructed affairs.

As Ilen Marine School Project Manager Gary Mac Mahon comments, it's ironic that after 70 years of service in the isolated self-governing British Overseas Territory of the Falkland Islands, Ilen should find herself inadvertently at the centre of a news item which is built around the business of Britain isolating herself from Ireland and Europe.

Happily, there have been more congenial topics to focus on as Ilen's visit continues in conjunction with Sailing Into Wellness, Coolmine, Tiglin and @tolkariver. As it happens, just upstream of @tolkariver's base where the Tolka Estuary starts to become a river, we find Croke Park, and there in a very historic encounter thus Sunday, Limerick will play Waterford in the All-Ireland Hurling Final 2020 on December 13th.

Regular crew and 200 per cent Limerick man Mike Grimes arrived with the Ilen in Dublin with his kitbag somehow hiding an enormous Limerick GAA flag. Indeed, it might well be the largest banner to be flown in Dublin in support of the Limerick Team and their upcoming Senior Hurling All-Ireland Final, and once in port Mike lost no time in asserting his allegiance.

Up for the match – Limerick hurling fan and Ilen crewman Mike Grimes makes no secret of his loyalties aboard ship at Poolbeg this week. Photo: Gary MacMahonUp for the match – Limerick hurling fan and Ilen crewman Mike Grimes makes no secret of his loyalties aboard ship at Poolbeg this week. Photo: Gary MacMahon

Once out of the bag, Mike sent the battle flag up Ilen's seventy-foot mast in support of a sport and a team that is his passion even above his lifelong boating adventures. The Ilen has five days of community work with Sailing into Wellness and their clients before she turns south again, making her steady way home to Limerick. Hopefully, this will be in celebration of a win on Sunday, but if there is a successful outcome, she may have to think about getting home northabout, as otherwise, she'll be sailing close along the coast of Waterford…

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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