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Celebrating Conor O’Brien’s Pioneering Voyage Around the World 100 Years On

7th January 2023
Saoirse pictured in Dun Laoghaire before Conor O’Brien embarked on his historic circumnavigation in 1923
Saoirse pictured in Dun Laoghaire before Conor O’Brien embarked on his historic circumnavigation in 1923

The Journal has highlighted the upcoming centenary of Irish yachtsman Conor O’Brien’s pioneering circumnavigation.

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

His indirect route across the southern oceans, following the winds, took him past the three great capes: South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, Australia’s Cape Leeuwin and South America’s Cape Horn.

For many decades, however, O’Brien’s achievements were little more than a footnote in Irish history, due in part to his aristocratic background as the country forged a new identity post-independence.

But his legacy has been revived in more recent years, thanks to the traditional boat-building initiative in Limerick inspired by O’Brien’s Ilen — a similar vessel to the Saoirse that he had built in Baltimore for the Falkland Islands in 1926.

And what’s more, Saoirse herself re-emerged in 2018 in West Cork, where the 42ft ketch is proudly sailing once more.

The Journal has much more on the story HERE.

Published in Conor O'Brien, Ilen
MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy is a contributor covering all things on the water, from boating and wildlife to science and business

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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).