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Limerick's Ketch Ilen Safe Home to Her Winter Berth

24th December 2020
"She stopped time for everyone around". So said photographer Teddy Murphy as he recorded the characterful Limerick trading ketch Ilen when she came through Dalkey Sound in a flash of sunlight on the afternoon of December 7th for a busy two weeks visit to Dublin "She stopped time for everyone around". So said photographer Teddy Murphy as he recorded the characterful Limerick trading ketch Ilen when she came through Dalkey Sound in a flash of sunlight on the afternoon of December 7th for a busy two weeks visit to Dublin Photo: Teddy Murphy

In Greek mythology, at the Winter Solstice, there is a brief calm for the Halcyon Day, and this was the experience of the crew on the Limerick ketch Ilen as they headed away on Monday evening, after a busy two weeks in Ringsend which had included a series of courses in Dublin Bay for the Sailing into Wellness programme.

In addition to that, their visit – based at Poolbeg Y & BC - had coincided with the All-Ireland Hurling Final in Croke Park, for which crewman Mike Grimes hoisted the biggest Limerick GAA flag ever seen in Dublin aboard the ship.

It achieved the desired result with Limerick beating Waterford. But with very unsettled conditions in the offing, a brief weather window had to be grabbed at the Winter Solstice, and Ilen headed south on Monday night in calms and a briefly clearing sky which - for an hour and a half - offered the opportunity to observe the much-heralded conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter.

Sligo recruits to Ilen's crew – Sophie Skinner and David O'Boyle enjoyed an efficient passage from Dublin to Kinsale on the longest night of the year. Photo: Gary Mac MahonSligo recruits to Ilen's crew – Sophie Skinner and David O'Boyle enjoyed an efficient passage from Dublin to Kinsale on the longest night of the year. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

Then the night skies closed in as a new low approached from the south. But by the time the increasingly cold wind started to make in from the east and then the northeast, Ilen was well onto the south coast and passing Hook Head at first light, sailing with increasing speed which saw her comfortably into her winter berth at the Trident Hotel in Kinsale exactly 24 hours after departing Dublin.

The weather may be closing in again, but with a favourable though cold nor'easter, Ilen is already nearing Kinsale less than eight hours from Hook Head.   Photo: Gary Mac MahonThe weather may be closing in again, but with a favourable though cold nor'easter, Ilen is already nearing Kinsale less than eight hours from Hook Head. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

The passage from the Hook had been seen off in a crisp eight hours of sailing, much enjoyed by two Sligo newcomers to the crew, Sophie Skinner and David O'Boyle. The next two months will see the Ilen Limerick crew on a maintenance programme around the ship, and then in March she'll be hauled on the slip further west at Oldcourt on the Ilen River above Baltimore for a Departmental Inspection before going on to her home port of Limerick and an early season programme with Foynes Yacht Cub.

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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