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Limerick Ketch Ilen Becomes the Nautical Pied Piper of Greystones

13th July 2021
The
The "Pied Piper of the Ocean” - the Limerick Trading Ketch Ilen at Greystones on Saturday, where she proved a magnet for young (and not-so-young) folk dreaming of “running away to sea Credit: Ilen Marine School

The restored 56ft Limerick ketch Ilen of 1926 vintage is such an eye-catcher - when you can get a proper view of her - that she immediately arouses, in both young and old, the secretly cherished dream of running away to sea. So perhaps it’s as well that, in most secure harbours, pontoon berths, and marinas, the safest spot to locate her often means that it’s difficult to get the complete mind-blowing total view of this unique and characterful ship.

However, during her 2021 programme of voyaging anti-clockwise round Ireland on a project associated with our historic walled ports, this past weekend found her in Greystones, and for once she had a berth in which she could be seen in all her eccentric glory, yet at the same time her location was secure while permitting access by those with a genuine interest. Inevitably, the crew found themselves inviting folk aboard who revealed that they dreamt of running away to sea. And they weren’t all young people by any means. Not surprisingly, after 17 months of lockdown, there are many adults who dream of simply running away to sea, and letting the challenges of voyaging in a vessel like Ilen blow away the cobwebs of covid concern.

The Ilen will be in the Dublin area for the next couple of weeks, based mainly in Howth, but taking in visits to the Port of Dublin and Dun Laoghaire Harbour as well. The contact is Ilen Marine School, and maybe you should get your old sailor’s kitbag suitably packed, ready to fulfil the dream if you can manage to find your way aboard.

Ship of Dreams…..the ketch Ilen at Ilfracombe in the Bristol Channel in 1926 shortly before departing on her voyage to the Falklands under Conor O’Brien’s command, while on the quay young boys dream of running away to sea.Ship of Dreams…..the ketch Ilen at Ilfracombe in the Bristol Channel in 1926 shortly before departing on her voyage to the Falklands under Conor O’Brien’s command, while on the quay young boys dream of running away to sea.

Published in Ilen
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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