With the hull of the 56ft 1926-built Conor O’Brien ketch Ilen now restored and painted in the building shed in Oldcourt near Baltimore, attention shifts increasingly to the long list of detail work that is needed to complete the project writes W M Nixon.
Much of this is ideally suited to the facilities available in the Ilen Boat Building School in Limerick, where director Gary MacMahon and his team have assembled a group of all the talents for teaching and learning. These days, the evocative aromas and sounds of traditional ship-building and its associated tasks permeate both the school in the city, and the building shed beside the Ilen River.
Conor O’Brien’s global circumnavigation in the 42ft ketch Saoirse in 1923-25 inspired the Falkland Islanders to ask for a larger sister-ship to the same concept for their inter-island communications vessel, and the resulting Ilen was able - among other things - to transfer up to 200 sheep on the inter-island channels.
With her larger size, she also enabled O’Brien and master shipwright Tom Moynihan of Baltimore to give more space to the steering gear. As O’Brien later admitted, they’d tried to pack so much into Saoirse’s compact 42ft hull that her steering wheel was awkwardly placed for long spells at the helm, so in Ilen they made a point of installing a more substantial arrangement which can now be seen re-created in Limerick.
In both the school in the city and the Old Cornstore in Oldcourt, it’s an immersive maritime experience of being transported back in time to the 1920s and far beyond.