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Limerick's Ketch Ilen Prepares for Kingship Research & Training Programme in Shannon Estuary

25th March 2021
The
The 56ft Trading Ketch Ilen revelling in a breeze of wind. This week she passed her annual Passenger 5 Survey, and is now preparing to initiate the Ilen Marine School's new Kingship Programme in the Shannon Estuary during April. Credit: Gary Mac Mahon

The good ship Ilen, the 56ft Trading Ketch of Limerick, has been in the slipway cradle at Liam Hegarty's boatyard in Oldcourt upriver of Baltimore in West Cork this week, enjoying the relatively dry weather and the attention of her crew as they brush on fresh-smelling paint. And she returns to the salty sea on Saturday, confident in the renewal of her Departmental Certificate.

Even with the best-maintained vessels such as Ilen, the annual inspection can bring its challenges. And on Wednesday evening, after very thoroughly spending a day going through the ship, the Department of Transport surveyor descended the ship's ladder to speak softly with the crew.

But it was good news. Ilen, he stated, had passed survey with just the remediation of a few minor matters. Under the Department's Passenger 5 Licence, she can now resume operations for 2021. This survey outcome is directly attributable to her crew's dedicated annual maintenance programme. Considering the severe limitations to travel this year and last, it really is excellent news.

Ilen in the slipway cradle at Oldcourt this week, where she has passed her annual Certification with flying coloursIlen in the slipway cradle at Oldcourt this week, where she has passed her annual Certification with flying colours. Photo: Gary Mac Maho

Ilen makes for the Lower Shannon Estuary in April under the Ilen Marine School's developing community educational Kingship Programme, which takes its name and logo inspiration from the fact that King John's Castle is the most venerable feature of the Limerick riverfront, while King's Island is at the heart of the ancient city.

Subject to variations in pandemic restrictions, the following six weeks of operations await her during Aril and early May:

  • Ilen familiarisation courses
  • Ilen will sail the Lower Shannon on experimental community voyaging.
  • May Weekend sailing demonstration just west of Shannon Bridge, Limerick City.
  • Onboard the Ilen, a marine survey of the tidal Shannon from Loop Head to Thomas Island will also unfold. This schools survey, both actual and online, will - among other areas - focus on water quality, measurements of salinity, and plastic pollution. Ilen is getting fully equipped for such marine surveys.
  • Traditional rigging courses.
  • A navigation course on the Lower Shannon will also unfold.
  • As part of Ilen Marine Schools 2021 Kingship Community Educational Programme, carefully monitored community sailing days on the Lower Shannon will be part of the schedule.

All of the above courses and activities will be delivered, without charge to the communities and individuals who participate, and interest is high.

The Ilen Marine Schools' Kingship Programme symbol draws its inspiration from the city's historic interaction with the River Shannon.The Ilen Marine Schools' Kingship Programme symbol draws its inspiration from the city's historic interaction with the River Shannon

Foynes Yacht Club and Shannon Foynes Port Company are generously collaborating to provide Ilen with berths at the head of the Estuary in Limerick City, and down towards the sea at Foynes in County Limerick on the Shannon Estuary's southern shore.

The remaining season is still at the planning stage in view of the "unknowables" inherent in the emergence from the pandemic restrictions, but all being well the newly-certificated Ilen's 2021 season will be a very active one, built on experience gained with a necessarily limited but successful programme in 2020.

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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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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