Menu
Allianz and Afloat - Supporting Irish Boating

Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

Limerick Ketch Ilen Finds Another Weather Window to take Valuable Cargo Down Shannon Estuary

21st May 2021
The Ship and her City – Ilen comes into Steamboat Quay in Limerick to take on valuable cargo for West Clare and Foynes
The Ship and her City – Ilen comes into Steamboat Quay in Limerick to take on valuable cargo for West Clare and Foynes Credit: Ivan O'Riordan

In the decidedly unsettled weather of this 2021 Spring and early Summer, the restored 56ft trading ketch Ilen of Limerick is acquiring the reputation of being a lucky ship in finding gentler conditions when sea work has to be done in periods of storms. Thus although we're currently in three or four days of meteorological mayhem, as recently as Tuesday Ilen found idyllic conditions in her Community & Cargo Programme to get from her berth at Foynes up to Limerick for the collection of barrels of Thomond Gate Distillery's Limerick Whiskey for delivery to Cappa, the all-tide quay for Kilrush in County Clare. And then a sunny evening westerly swept her back up the Estuary to Foynes and further cargo discharging. Skipper Gary Mac Mahon takes up the story.

Westward bound – the whiskey for West Clare on Steamboat Quay. Photo: Ivan O'RiordanWestward bound – the whiskey for West Clare on Steamboat Quay. Photo: Ivan O'Riordan

Focus of attention – Ilen at Steamboat Quay in Limerick. The quay is so called because the passenger & freight steamships serving the Shannon Estuary berthed here at high water to take on people and cargo for prompt departure towards ports down the estuary as the ebb started to make. Limerick's very big tides mean that ships wishing to stay longer have to go through the sea lock into what is now the Ted Russell Dock. Photo: Ivan O'RiordanFocus of attention – Ilen at Steamboat Quay in Limerick. The quay is so called because the passenger & freight steamships serving the Shannon Estuary berthed here at high water to take on people and cargo for prompt departure towards ports down the estuary as the ebb started to make. Limerick's very big tides mean that ships wishing to stay longer have to go through the sea lock into what is now the Ted Russell Dock. Photo: Ivan O'Riordan

"The elemental pull of a favourable tidal current is a motive power source a lively sailor will never let slip by his ship. And on Tuesday, the spritely Ilen on a cargo voyage took the Lower Shannon tidal current of two floods and one ebb to sail east and west for a logged distance of ninety nautical miles.

Tuesday's Lower Shannon Cargo Voyage enjoyed many cultural and historical synchronicities;

  • 100 years since a cargo of whiskey was loaded on a vessel 
in the city to be sent downriver towards a West Clare bonded stores.
  • 50 years since a commercial vessel got loaded at Steamboat Quay, Limerick.
  • 70 years since the last Lower Shannon cargo sailing vessel 'Alzina' sailed west from 
Limerick, never to return.


And it was all done by Ireland's only surviving wooden sailing trading Ketch 'Ilen'. 
In the early morning, Ilen slipped her lines at the Port of Foynes and - with a tidal flood - made her way to Limerick City, arriving at high water-noon. At Steamboat Quay, Limerick City, she firstly discharged her cargo from Foynes - a cultural gift to Limerick.

A pet day and reflections galore….Ilen approaching Limerick from Foynes in the morning calmA pet day and reflections galore….Ilen approaching Limerick from Foynes in the morning calm. Photo: Dermot Lynch  

With the ebb well made at Cappa, an extending forklift was a help in getting the valuable cargo ashore. Photo: Ian Riordan   With the ebb well made at Cappa, an extending forklift was a help in getting the valuable cargo ashore. Photo: Ian Riordan  

Skipper Gary Mac Mahon looking thoughtful – "You'd look thoughtful if you'd seven thousand euros-worth of whiskey swinging around aloft…" Photo: Ian Riordan   Skipper Gary Mac Mahon looking thoughtful – "You'd look thoughtful if you'd seven thousand euros-worth of whiskey swinging around aloft…" Photo: Ian Riordan  

Loading a cask of whiskey and cargo boxes for discharge at Cappa Quay, West Clare, was an efficient process delaying Ilen no more than 20 minutes. 
Soon she was making downriver toward the west on a Lower Shannon ebb - coming alongside Cappa Quay at 4.30 pm. With crew efficiency matching that displayed at Limerick City, the whiskey cask and cargo boxes were soon discharged onto the magnificent 1830 extension to Cappa Quay, a living relic of the great days of the Shannon steamers.


The final run - Cappa to Foynes, some 20 nautical miles, was covered with a soldiers breeze from west, and tide making east, rounding out a gloriously long and fulfilling day concluding with an evening cargo discharge at Foynes.

Published in Ilen, Shannon Estuary
WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

Email The Author

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.

We've got a favour to ask

More people are reading Afloat.ie than ever thanks to the power of the internet but we're in stormy seas because advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. Unlike many news sites, we haven’t put up a paywall because we want to keep our marine journalism open.

Afloat.ie is Ireland's only full–time marine journalism team and it takes time, money and hard work to produce our content.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

If everyone chipped in, we can enhance our coverage and our future would be more secure. You can help us through a small donation. Thank you.

Direct Donation to Afloat button

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

Featured Sailing School

INSS sidebutton

Featured Clubs

dbsc mainbutton
Howth Yacht Club
Kinsale Yacht Club
National Yacht Club
Royal Cork Yacht Club
Royal Irish Yacht club
Royal Saint George Yacht Club

Featured Brokers

leinster sidebutton

Featured Associations

ICRA
isora sidebutton

Featured Webcams

Featured Events 2021

vdlr21 sidebutton

Featured Sailmakers

northsails sidebutton
uksails sidebutton
quantum sidebutton
watson sidebutton

Featured Chandleries

CHMarine Afloat logo
osm sidebutton
https://afloat.ie/resources/marine-industry-news/viking-marine

Featured Marinas

dlmarina sidebutton

Featured Blogs

W M Nixon - Sailing on Saturday
podcast sidebutton
mansfield sidebutton
BSB sidebutton
wavelengths sidebutton
 

Please show your support for Afloat by donating