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Conor O'Brien, Circumnavigator
Saoirse by moonlight off Ibiza at New Year, 1932. Saoirse was rigged as a brigantine when she sailed to Ibiza, but thanks to Conor O’Brien’s willingness to have a notably long main gaff boom aloft on the aft mast, the rig change had been done using the same compact ketch masts that sailed her round the world
Conor O'Brien’s outstanding pioneering achievement was in demonstrating that a sailing vessel as small as his own-designed 42ft Baltimore-built ketch Saoirse could complete a global circumnavigation through the vast expanse of the Southern Ocean, south of the Great Capes. The…
The first boat ever to be awarded a major perpetual cruising trophy was Royal Ulster YC member Dr Howard Sinclair’s 26ft Brenda, which received the new Challenge Cup of the Cruising Club in 1895 for a Round Ireland cruise. Built as a straight-stemmed racing boat to W E Paton’s designs in Belfast in 1886, Brenda was converted for cruising in 1891, and in 1894 she was lengthened forward with a “modern” stem to Dr Sinclair’s own designs by John Hilditch of Carrickfergus
In a week’s time, Sailing on Saturday will resume normal service with a preview on December 23rd of the up-coming Cruising Yacht Club of Australia Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race on December 26th, both generally and from an Irish angle, for we…
Ger O’Rourke of Limerick’s Cookson 50 Chieftain slicing her way through the Solent at the start of the 2007 Rolex Fastnet Race, from which she emerged as overall winner
The Cruising Group can often emerge as the backbone of any sailing club, particularly in the winter. Back in the day when the new Howth Yacht Club premises opened in March 1987, fresh concepts were needed to ensure that the…
Historic Irish vessel the AK Ilen departing the Port of Funchal, Madeira, as the Saoirse Centenary Rally draws to a close
The centenary international Irish sailing event called the ‘Saoirse Rally’ has come to a successful end on the 8th of July 2023 after a series of celebrations hosted in Funchal, Madeira by the Clube Naval de Funchal, Madeira Tourism Board…
A hundred years down the line. Ilen leads the Conor O’Brien Centenary Parada Nautica at Funchal
A hundred years ago on this day, Conor O’Brien of Limerick’s 42ft own-designed ketch - newly-built by Tom Moynihan of Baltimore with some of the West Cork shipwright’s small but very effective hull shape improvements - was well into a…
The Grandnieces and Grand nephew of Conor O'Brien with their children onboard the restored Ilen that departed Dun Laoghaire for Madeira to celebrate the Centenary of Limerick man Conor O’Brien’s circumnavigation of the globe in June 1923
An international Irish sailing event called the “Saoirse Rally” organised by the Irish Cruising Club, launched from Dun Laoghaire harbour, Co. Dublin, Ireland last Saturday, 17th June 2023, to commemorate the heroic achievements one hundred years ago of legendary Irish…
The Conor O’Brien/Saoirse Circumnavigation Centenary Celebrations get underway with the Ilen at the Royal Irish Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire on Saturday, preparing for departure for Madeira
The Commemoration of the Centenary of the pioneering global circumnavigation south of the Great Capes by Conor O’Brien of Foynes, sailing the 42ft ketch Saoirse between June 20th 1923 and June 20th 1925, was put underway yesterday (Saturday) from Dun…
The ketch Ilen alongside the Royal Irish Yacht Club at an Irish Cruising Club/Royal Cruising Club gathering to mark the beginning of celebrations of the centenary of Conor O'Brien's departure in Saoirse from Dun Laoghaire Harbour
The Royal Irish Yacht Club was the focus on Saturday afternoon for the beginning of celebrations of the centenary of Conor O'Brien's departure in Saoirse from Dun Laoghaire Harbour on his pioneering global circumnavigation. An Irish Cruising Club/Royal Cruising Club gathering was hosted…
“A mystery to himself as to everyone else” – pioneering global circumnavigator Conor O’Brien of Foynes as portrayed by his wife Kitty Clausen
A hundred years ago next Tuesday, June 20th, Conor O'Brien (1880-1952) of Foynes took his departure with some fanfare aboard his 42ft Saoirse from the harbour her skipper preferred to call Dunleary, though most of its citizens saw it as…
Baltimore in the sunshine, and the re-born Saoirse (Fred Kinmonth) is the focus of the Woodenboat Festival 2023 with a salute from two generations of timber craft - the bermudan sloop Curlew, and Brian Marten’s 1890s vintage Guillemot
With just three weeks to go to the Centenary of the departure from Ireland on June 20th 1923 of Conor O’Brien’s world-girdling 42ft Baltimore-built ketch Saoirse, the public debut of the re-born Saoirse (Fred Kinmonth) at last weekend’s Baltimore Wooden…
Preserving maritime tradition at Baltimore in West Cork
Wooden boats will dominate Baltimore Harbour this weekend when the West Cork village welcomes back the annual gathering of traditional vessels. Like many other events the Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival, which had been held annually for seventeen years from 2002,…
Gary Mac Mahon aboard the restored Ilen in Greenland, July 2019
Twenty years ago, the thought that the two Conor O’Brien-designed and Baltimore-built ketches – the 1922 42ft world-girdling Saoirse and the 1926 56ft trader-ferry Ilen - would be sailing together at their birthplace in 2023, the Centenary Year of the…
Kevin O'Farrell's new book's cover shows Liam Hegarty and his team as the re-born Saoirse emerges from
Anyone who doesn't respond at several emotional levels to the atmosphere in an ancient boat-building shed when a traditional wooden boat is being re-created in the time-honoured style can only be soul-dead. And when the boat in question is Conor…
Paula Marten’s evocative painting of the early stages of the new Saoirse under construction in the Top Shed at Liam Hegarty’s Boatyard in Oldcourt . It will feature in her exhibition in Bushe’s Bar at the Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival from May 26th to 28th 2023
Let us imagine that you are both an enthusiast for Conor O’Brien (1880-1952), the Shannon Estuary’s great pioneering voyager, and that you are also one of those number-crunchers who enjoy calculating on what particular day significant anniversaries will fall in…
Valentine’s Day with a difference – the new-build of Conor O’Brien’s global pioneering Saoirse steps out in style under sail for the first time at Baltimore on Tuesday February 14th 2023
The magnificent pioneering voyage round the world south of the Great Capes in 1923-1925 by Conor O’Brien (1880-1952) of Foynes, sailing his new-built engine-less 42ft Baltimore ketch Saoirse, was of such heroic proportions that any attempts at a re-enactment to…
Conor O'Brien's Saoirse departs Dun Laoghaire  on her round-the-world voyage
Following Vincent Murphy's presentation on the life of circumnavigator Conor O’Brien at Foynes Yacht Club on the Shannon Estuary last Friday evening, Professor Patrick Frawley, a member of the Club, and a native of Foynes donated an unedited version of one of…

About Conor O'Brien, Irish Circumnavigator

In 1923-25, Conor O'Brien became the first amateur skipper to circle the world south of the Great Capes. O'Brien's boat Saoirse was reputedly the first small boat (42-foot, 13 metres long) to sail around the world since Joshua Slocum completed his voyage in the 'Spray' during 1895 to 1898. It is a journey that O' Brien documented in his book Across Three Oceans. O'Brien's voyage began and ended at the Port of Foynes, County Limerick, Ireland, where he lived.

Saoirse, under O'Brien's command and with three crew, was the first yacht to circumnavigate the world by way of the three great capes: Cape Horn, Cape of Good Hope and Cape Leeuwin; and was the first boat flying the Irish tri-colour to enter many of the world's ports and harbours. He ran down his easting in the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties between the years 1923 to 1925.

Up until O'Brien's circumnavigation, this route was the preserve of square-rigged grain ships taking part in the grain race from Australia to England via Cape Horn (also known as the clipper route).

At a Glance - Conor O'Brien's Circumnavigation 

In June 1923, Limerick man Conor O’Brien set off on his yacht, the Saoirse — named after the then newly created Irish Free State — on the two-year voyage from Dun Laoghaire Harbour that was to make him the first Irish amateur to sail around the world.

June 1923 - Saoirse’s arrival in Madeira after her maiden passage out from Dublin Bay

2nd December 1924 - Saoirse crossed the longitude of Cape Horn

June 20th 1925 - O’Brien’s return to Dun Laoghaire Harbour

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