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Ketch Ilen is Lead Vessel in Saoirse Rally to Celebrate Legendary Irish Sailor Conor O'Brien

20th June 2023
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
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. Credit: Eugene Langan

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 sailor Conor O'Brien from Foynes, Co. Limerick.

Conor O'Brien was the first sailor to circumnavigate the world in a small yacht via the 3 Great Capes, a remarkable achievement and one that many contemporary sailors aspire to follow. Conor O'Brien designed and commissioned the Saoirse, a 42-foot ketch for the circumnavigation, which was built in Baltimore in West Cork in 1922. Conor O Brien’s circumnavigation commenced from Dun Laoghaire on 20th June 1923. The Port of Funchal in Madeira, Portugal, was his first port of call, where he arrived on 3rd July 1923.

Alex Delamer, a direct descendant of circumnavigator Conor O'Brien, aboard the Ilen at the Royal Irish Yacht Club immediately prior to the ketch's departure for Maderia, a 2,500 mile voyage to celebrate the Centenary of the Limerick man sailors circumnavigation of the globe in June 1923 Photo: Eugene LanganAlex Delamer, a descendant of circumnavigator Conor O'Brien, aboard the Ilen at the Royal Irish Yacht Club immediately prior to the ketch's departure for Maderia, a 2,500 mile voyage to celebrate the Centenary of the Limerick man sailors circumnavigation of the globe in June 1923 Photo: Eugene Langan

As Afloat reported previously, an international gathering of yachts voyaging from multiple locations was launched from Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, Ireland on Saturday, 17th June 2023 and are now sailing to the Madeira Islands, Portugal, arriving on the 3rd July 2023, at the capital city’s Port of Funchal to mark the centenary of Conor O Brien’s circumnavigation of the world.

Speaking during a planning meeting for the 'Saoirse Rally’ Irish Cruising Club Commodore David Beattie remarked that:

'This rally is a great example of modern Irish sailors being inspired by the adventures and achievements of innovators such as Conor O Brien a century ago. His inspiration and influence were such that sailors from Ireland have experience in every ocean, with club members enthusiastically cruising worldwide, including Arctic and Antarctic waters.’

O Brien’s restored Falkland Islands trading ketch boat the AK Ilen, is the leading vessel for the Saoirse Rally and is skippered by Conall Morrison, assisted by crews of fourteen members from the Irish Cruising Club.

Saoirse Rally in Madeira

The authorities in the capital city of Funchal, Madeira, Portugal were so captivated by the historic nature of Conor O Brien’s circumnavigation that they have committed significant resources to hosting the rally welcoming yachts from various nationalities and countries. The international “Saoirse Rally” will be hosted in a specially installed marina in the Funchal Events Basin. The “Saoirse Rally” will become a featured event in the Madeira tourist calendar. Clube Naval do Funchal (CNF) is acting as host club for the rally in Funchal supported by Madeira Ports Authority (APRAM), and the Regional Tourist Authority (DRT). Welcome events are planned, including a reception at the Events Basin, a series of tourism activities for visiting Irish sailors to experience the islands, a Regatta with members of The Cruising Club of Funchal (CNF) and a closing event on 8th July 2023.

Conor O Brien (1880-1952)

Conor O Brien (1880-1952) was a legendary Irish sailor who made significant contributions to the world of sailing. O'Brien was also an accomplished mountaineer, patriot, architect and author. O'Brien began his sailing career at a young age, and his love for the sea would eventually take him on adventures around the world. One of O'Brien's most notable achievements was his circumnavigation of the world in his boat, the Saoirse. This journey, which began in 1923, took him two years to complete and covered over 40,000 miles. Saoirse was a 42-foot ketch designed by O'Brien himself, and it was the first Irish-built boat to complete a circumnavigation under the new tricolour.

O'Brien's voyage was a major accomplishment, as it was the first circumnavigation south of the three Great Capes by a small yacht. His journey inspired other sailors, and he is still celebrated today as a pioneer in the world of sailing. In addition to his circumnavigation, O'Brien was also an accomplished writer and wrote several books on his sailing adventures.

His books, such as "Across Three Oceans" were popular among sailors and adventure enthusiasts and provided insight into his experiences and the challenges he faced during his voyages. O'Brien's passion for sailing, his adventurous spirit, and his pioneering achievements have left a lasting impact on the world of sailing, and he will always be remembered as one of Ireland's most accomplished sailors.

Published in Conor O'Brien, Ilen
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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).

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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