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The eclectic new exhibition in the Hunt Museum in Limerick, which outlines the Shannonside city’s maritime connections, its traditional local boats and its links to the historic sail training ketch Ilen, has been proving popular with local schools and their pupils writes W M Nixon. The display attracted more than 1,000 visitors on its opening day, and the staff have been intrigued by the variety of questions they’ve been asked, and the enthusiasm of the young people to interact fully with everything the exhibition has to offer.

The Ilen herself is now nearing full seagoing commission at Oldcourt near Baltimore in West Cork, and the link with Limerick should be made complete in the near future. Meanwhile, in the Hunt Museum the Ilen Exhibition - co–ordinated by Gary MacMahon and the Ilen Network (formerly the Ilen Boat-building School) - will continue until November 14th.

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The successful ten-year restoration of the 1926 Baltimore-built 56ft trading ketch Ilen, originally constructed by Tom Moynihan and his shipwrights in West Cork to designs by pioneering global circumnavigator Conor O’Brien of Limerick, has been a continuing story in Afloat.ie writes W M Nixon.

While the heart and soul of it is in Limerick, the ultimate focal point for the restoration work at its busiest stages was Liam Hegarty’s boatyard at Oldcourt near Baltimore. In recent months there, the detailed final work of the restoration has been coming to a conclusion with continuing finishing work on the accommodation and rig, while the painstaking and multi-facetted official process of surveying the ship in order to provide her with a Certificate as a Passenger Vessel has also been undertaken.

ilen oldcourt2Getting there – Ilen’s four lower sails have now been delivered to Oldcourt. All the hatchways and deckhouses were made in the Ilen Boatbuilding School in Limerick. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

ilen oldcourt3The staysail goes aloft for the first time. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

The Ilen restoration has reached this successful stage through a parallel work effort between the Oldcourt Boatyard in West Cork and the Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick, a community project inspired and operated in the city by Gary MacMahon and several other dedicated supporters and helpers. They began by introducing hands-on training projects in the city such as building traditional Shannon gandelow workboats, and the CityOne sailing dinghies to a novel but very practical design by the late Theo Rye.

ilen oldcourt4Shipshape and Bristol Fashion – Ilen is developing a seamanlike look. Photo: Gary MacMahon

For the Ilen herself, the workshops in Limerick built many of the detailed features of the restored ship, notably the deckhouses and hatchways, while also shaping the massive new spars to re-create her rig as originally designed by Conor O’Brien. In addition, the school provided the focal point for the many marine engineering challenges which were integral to the project.

"a new Ilen Exhibition installation in the renowned Hunt Museum"

Now the Limerick element of the project has been brought centre stage, with a new Ilen Exhibition installation in the renowned Hunt Museum in its classic 18th Century former Customs House building on the waterfront in the heart of what was formerly the Shannon port’s centre of maritime trade.

hunt museum night5The Hunt Museum, the former Customs House in its elegant Shannonside setting in the heart of Limerick, is noted for the eclectic nature of its Exhibitions, and it provides the ideal setting for the new Ilen display.
The Shannon Estuary’s impressive and increasing levels of shipping may have moved downriver to nearby Limerick Docks, and further seaward still to Foynes Port, but at the old Customs House the Hunt Museum provides the ideal setting to display, study and celebrate Limerick’s many centuries of commercial interaction with the sea, and particularly the great days of sail. The new Exhibition, which was informally opened to the public on Friday (September 14th), is a self-contained unit in the Hunt Museum’s impressive Gallery Room, and will run until November 11th.

The restoration of the Ilen may have been a project of fascination to serious maritime historians and students, and indeed to anyone who is interested in traditional sailing craft. But one of the Ilen’s main functions in future will be as an important maritime educational focal point, particularly in bringing to life Limerick’s long and often colourful interaction with ships and the sea.

With this in mind, four large Limerick primary schools are already on board for close involvement with the interactive educational opportunities that the restored Ilen will provide, so visitors to the Ilen Exhibition in the Hunt Museum will find it a fascinating mixture of Limerick-built local-style boats on display beside instructional panels which may be aimed at all levels of interest, from precise adult information on Limerick’s maritime history and the Ilen story, to a primary school child’s vision of Ilen’s prospective voyage back to her home port of Limerick.

ilen exhibition6Final stages of the installation of the Ilen Exhibition in the Hunt Museum, with two products of the Ilen Boatbuilding school – a gandelow and a Valentine punt – in the foreground, while the wall display beyond focuses on Ilen’s history and restoration. Photo: Gary MacMahon

ilen exhibition7The other educational approach of the Ilen Exhibition, with the Ilen story as seen by young eyes for the wall display. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

It is a modern museum feature using several novel techniques, and as it was Gary Mac Mahon in his role with Limerick’s highly-regarded Copper Reed Studio who created it, we’ll let him have the final word on this very special display:

“It is a light and colourfully-styled exhibition, which draws upon many of Limerick cultural and historical elements; rich maritime elements which uniquely converge at Limerick’s Custom House building - home today to the Hunt Museum.

The Custom House riverside aspect is no accident of 18c urban planning - under its roof, the City’s vital activities of sailing ships, maritime trade and associated custom collections were regulated.

The exhibition takes as it central theme, the ten-year adventures of the Ilen community boat building project, and its chief prize the sailing ship ‘Ilen’, which sails beautifully rebuilt towards Limerick this October, after an absence of 92 years.

ilen exhibition8The fusion of adult of and junior images – the Ilen’s profile plan as visualised for young folk, seen along the length of a traditional Shannon gandelow. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

Many of the maritime traditions of Limerick, which this exhibition seeks to explore through the work of the Ilen Project, are universally shared with many other riverine port towns.

Drawing upon humour, illustration and tradition, the exhibition offers the young and not-so-young among us a convivial opportunity to partake in a renewed awareness of Limerick’s age-old connectivity with the world, through the inimitable ways of river, sea and ocean, and the beautifully crafted wooden ships and boats which plied their trade upon them.

Integral to the exhibitions offering is the opportunity for hands-on engagement - learning the ropes, so to speak: visitors will be certain to depart with a new found aquatic awareness.”

ilen childrens panel9A new and youthful way of looking at the 92-year-old Ilen, as seen in the Hunt Museum in Limerick

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A video, by Paul Fuller, features the restored historic ketch Ilen motoring down the Ilen River towards Baltimore for her celebratory launch last week at the Wooden Boat Festival in the West Cork town.

Conor O'Brien's famous traditional vessel, that has been faithfully restored by the boat building school of the same name at Hegarty's Boatyard, was splashed the previous day, and with time running out the launch crew took her down river with a little less for ballast - consequently, as keen observers will note, she was floating a little high.

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On Saturday I was at the relaunch of the Ilen at the Wooden Boats Festival in Baltimore, West Cork.

It was a special occasion, one of emotion and memories, but also pride in what determined people can achieve.

I have written before about them, this edition of my Podcast takes you to the ceremony at Baltimore to hear what it was like….

brother anthony ilenAfloat's Tom MacSweeney records Brother Anthony's dedication and prayers for the Ilen at her relaunch. Listen to the podcast below Photo: Kevin O'Farrell

This is a vessel which spans two centuries and was designed by Ireland’s legendary sailor Conor O’Brien from Foynes Island in the Shannon Estuary. After serving as a trading boat for 70 years in the Falkland Islands it was brought back to Ireland where it was returned to the water in the fishing village where it was built in 1926, Baltimore in West Cork. This podcast comes from the deck of the vessel as it was relaunched at the Wooden Boats Festival.

Please listen to the Podcast below…. this is an occasion when the written word is surpassed by the spoken. 

Ilen launch oldcourtIlen is launched at Oldcout (above and below) Photo: Kevin O'Farrell

Ilen Launch

Ilen Ketch Afloat

Ilen Afloat Oldcourt

Brother anthony Ilen GaryBr Anthony Keane and Gary Mac Mahon sitting on the cathead travelling down the Ilen River. Photo: Kevin O’Farrell

Ilen BaltimoreIlen arrives in Baltimore Photo: Kevin O'Farrell

Ieln cockpitIlen's cockpit Photo: Kevin O'Farrell

Crew aloft IlenA crew man is sent aloft on Ilen's rig Photo: Deirdre Power

Waiting to launch ilenWaiting for the Ilen launch ceremony at Baltimore Photo: Kevin O'Farrell

Ilen stern‘Ilen’ is an old Irish word, meaning the inimitable way light reflects off the water Photo: Kevin O’Farrell

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In 1926, Tom Moynihan and his shipwrights on the waterfront in Baltimore built the 56ft ketch trading Ilen to Conor O’Brien's designs at their boatyard in the heart of the West Cork fishing village writes WM Nixon.

However, Baltimore nowadays is a pace-setting sailing and holiday port, so the main boatyard facilities in the neighbourhood are further inland towards Skibbereen, up the Ilen River at Oldcourt where Liam Hegarty and his expert team restored the old vessel to back to healthy life, working in concert with the Ilen Boat Building School directed by Gary Mac Mahon from Limerick.

After successfully-re-launching at Oldcourt last week, on Saturday it was to Baltimore’s Woodenboat Festival that Ilen made her way on Saturday to be formally re-born under the spiritual guidance of Brother Anthony Keane of Glenstal Abbey in Limerick. On a perfect early summer’s morning she was piloted down the river after which she was named by noted Baltimore sailor Dermot Kennedy and Liam Hegarty himself, and finally, after so many years being restored in the Top Shed at Oldcourt, there was the “new” Ilen looking her very best for all to see.

Having gone public, she is now back in Oldcourt for final preparation towards being ready for her first sail, which is expected to take place in July.

Afloat.ie’s Tom MacSweeney attended the Baltimore ceremonies and will tell us all about it in his regular podcast on Wednesday.

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The hard-working boat building team behind the restoration of the historic ketch Ilen in West Cork have successfully launched the 1926–built vessel in time for this weekend's Wooden Boat Festival at Baltimore.

As Afloat.ie reported earlier this week, the final touches were being put to the Ilen at Hegarty’s boatyard in Oldcourt, Skibbereen, prior to her going down the Ilen River this week, heading for Baltimore.

This Saturday afternoon, at the Wooden Boats Festival, will be her first public appearance since she was restored in a long project by Gary McMahon's Boat Building School based in Limerick.

While she is still very much a serious seagoing proposition, the restored 56ft Conor O’Brien ketch Ilen takes to the waters with a new and positive educational purpose emphasised by a fresh colour scheme (voted on by Afloat.ie readers last year) and a brighter style.

More on this by Afloat.ie's WM Nixon here

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The restoration of the 56ft 1926-built ketch Ilen by Liam Hegarty and Fachtna O’Sullivan and their team in the boatyard at Oldcourt near Baltimore in West Cork, working in concert with the Gary Mac Mahon-directed Ilen Boat-Building School in Limerick, will be moving into the next stage this weekend when the historic vessel makes her debut afloat in her new colours at the Baltimore Woodenboat Festival on Saturday writes W M Nixon.

ilen 1998 dublin bay2Ilen’s workaday appearance as it was for the first 85 years of her life. She is seen here sailing in Dublin Bay in 1998 after being shipped back to Ireland from her long years as the trading, transport and passenger-carrying ketch in the Falkland Islands. Photo: W M Nixon

As with many thing to do with boats and ships, the nearer you move towards the completion of a major project, the slower the final precise tasks seem to become. The devil is indeed in the details. But in Oldcourt, as memories of the long winter recede, impressive marine machinery - like the bronze windlass re-created by specialist David Webster - gets installed on the ship to add to her sense of purpose.

ilen windlass3Ilen’s windlass, designed and made by David Webster while being developed from Conor O’Brien’s original drawings, is a work of art in itself. Photo: David Webster

At the stern, where an extra flourish has been given to Ilen’s shapely transom with the gold escutcheon crafted from the sound remains of an original hull timber, wood carver James O’Loughlin of Cobh has been painstakingly creating a classic name and port-of-registry configuration that will elegantly tell everything in properly restrained style to complement the ketch’s new image.

Ilen transom4The gold escutcheon on Ilen’s transom is made from saved sound bits of an original timber which otherwise had to be replaced. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

Ilen transom5Now she’s official……wood carver James O’Loughlin of Cobh inscribes the classic lettering for name and port of registry on the transom. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

Ilen bowsprit6The bowsprit is so long that its staying has to be seen as supporting an almost-horizontal mast. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

And all those bits and pieces which followers of the Ilen project have seen emerging from workshops in Limerick and elsewhere are now in place to take on their specific tasks as Ilen and her highly individual ketch rig – which manages to be both complex and simple – prepare to test themselves at sea.

ilen chainplates7Details of the classic chainplates, mounted on channels to provide a fair lead for the traditional deadeyes and lanyards supporting the main shrouds. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

Some of the bits and pieces have a special resonance for those who have been involved with the Ilen Project from its earliest days. When the mainboom gooseneck was unveiled, its simple functionality projected a beauty all of its own. And as for the final spar to be delivered from Limerick down to Oldcourt, that is something very special indeed, as it is the square-sail yard which will do its work well aloft.

Ideally, it should be as light as possible while providing great strength, so the late and much-missed Theo Rye, expert in all to do with classic and traditional restorals and reconstruction, agreed to design a sweetly tapered hollow spar whose creation seriously tested the developing skills of the Ilen Boat-Building School. But now, every time the square sail is up and drawing, Ilen’s crew will fondly remember the many kindnesses of Theo Rye.

ilen gooseneck8Effective functional simplicity – Ilen’s mainboom gooseneck. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

ilen squaresail yard91An eloquent testimonial to the design skills of the late Theo Rye – creating Ilen’s tapered and hollow squaresail yard tested the skills of the Ilen Boat-Building School in Limerick. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

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The final touches are being put to the Ilen at Hegarty’s boatyard in Oldcourt, Skibbereen, prior to her going down the Ilen River this week, heading for Baltimore. There, on Saturday afternoon, at the Wooden Boats Festival, will be her first public appearance since she was restored in a long project, writes Tom MacSweeney.

Work continued on her over the weekend and her appearance at Baltimore is eagerly awaited.

The historic 1926-built 56ft trading ketch Ilen has been undergoing restoration in Liam Hegarty's boatyard for several years. This was supported by work at the Ilen Boat Building School, in Limerick.

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The 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien ketch Ilen, painstakingly restored in a visionary joint operation by the Gary MacMahon-directed Ilen Boat Building School in Limerick working in concert with master shipwrights Liam Hegarty and Fachtna O’Sullivan at Oldcourt Boatyard near Baltimore, is nearing the stage where she will have her first dip in the sea, most appropriately in the Ilen River itself writes W M Nixon

This procedure is anticipated as happening some time in the next nine days. But it will only be a dip as opposed to a full launching, The plan is to check for any leaks before the little ship is lifted out again for final work, and the installation of the internal ballast, whose presence would make any precise leak-location a difficult task.

ilen topmast2Ilen’s main topmast in place and rigged. Photo: Gary MacMahon

Externally, it has been all change in recent weeks, with the top-mast fitted and the massive bowsprit put in place. Conor O’Brien made a speciality of extra long bowsprits, and something similar is seen in his 1922-world-girdling 42ft ketch Saoirse. But with Ilen, everything is on such a significantly larger scale that getting the bowsprit set up was quite an operation in itself. And as for giving it sufficient staying, the reckoning is that it is best to think of it as “an almost-horizontal mast”.

ilen bowsprit3Ilen’s battering-ram of a bowsprit – in rigging terms, it makes sense to think of it as an almost-horizontal mast. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

All being well, the Ilen will then be ready to perform duties as the flagship – the “Belle of the Ball” if you prefer – at the Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival from May 25th to 27th. The Festival poster features a new-style image of Ilen by Gary and his team. This fresh image is still work-in-progress, with Ilen’s appearance being re-imagined to make her appearance central to an Inter-regional Education Project for schools.

ilen deadeyes4Traditional rigging – deadeyes and lanyards are used on both mainmast and mizzen on Ilen. Photo: Gary MacMahon

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Away back in 1997 I stood on the quayside at Alexandra Basin in Dublin Port, watching a very old boat being unloaded from a freighter … I was the only reporter there. The media generally weren’t interested in the story of an old boat, even if she had been brought back from the war-torn Falkland Islands and was part of Irish maritime history….. The television news camera crew with me thought she looked a bit decrepit and were wondering how I had convinced the RTE News Desk that what was happening deserved coverage. In my turn I had been convinced that it did by a Limerickman who has never lost his enthusiasm for a project that I have followed and reported upon over the past 21 years.

Yes, it has been that long as he determinedly followed his aim but this week when I was marking a centenary of sort of my own – presenting the 100th edition of my current radio programme, This Island Nation, that man brought me a bit of very good news. Gary McMahon, who has determinedly led the project I have covered for 21 years, told me of its final stages being reached -. The restoration of Ireland’s last traditional sailing ketch and that “sailing ILEN is looking “all the more achievable this Summer…”

It was a great piece of news to get and it really made my day as I looked at the photographs he had sent me from Liam Hegarty’s boatyard in Skibbereen, with the message:

“After a long and challenging winter on the ‘Ilen’, it was not unpleasant to draw back the big tarpaulin covering ….. affording a glimpse of what an uncovered Ilen might look like, it was also an opportunity to discern if weeks earlier the bowsprit had been steeved up appropriately. Happily it had. As this is more an aesthetic appraisal, than a structural one.

“Main mast rake was another of today’s considerations, as progressive tension was slowly introduced to the rig over the previous week. Mainly from two load-bearing chain blocks, acting in unison on two opposing wire shrouds on opposite sides of the ship. At any rate Ilen’s new rig responded very capably to the increased loads placed upon it - the credit for which is directly attributable to the dedicated team who designed, made and assembled it at the Ilen Workshop, LEDP, Limerick over the previous four years.

“But for now, it’s hardly time to rest on one’s laurels as many weeks of rigging work lie ahead. Nonetheless a sailing ‘Ilen’ for summertime 2018 is looking all the more achievable, on each passing week.”

What great news!

Gary is self-effacing, always praising those who have worked with him, supported him and kept the project going, while keeping himself in the background. The work at Hegarty’s yard has been astounding, so has that at the Ilen Workshop in Limerick, but every project needs a leader who surmounts challenges …

Ireland’s boating history owes a lot to Gary McMahon

Having seen the Ilen as she was when landed 21 years ago and what has been achieved, Ireland’s boating history owes a lot to Gary McMahon.

Pictured, in another piece of history, are the crew, including Gary McMahon, which sailed Ilen from Dublin Port to West Cork after she had been landed in 1997:

SAILING ILEN SOUTH TO WEST CORK AFTER SHE WAS LANDED AT DUBLIN PORT IN 1997Paddy Barry, Gary MacMahon, Padraic de Bhaldraithe, John Reen, Paul Murphy, Martin O'Neill and Pat Redmond, sailing towards Glandore, West Cork. That's Gary on the port side of mizzen mast at the wheel

• Listen to Podcast here:

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Page 6 of 11

The Half Ton Class was created by the Offshore Racing Council for boats within the racing band not exceeding 22'-0". The ORC decided that the rule should "....permit the development of seaworthy offshore racing yachts...The Council will endeavour to protect the majority of the existing IOR fleet from rapid obsolescence caused by ....developments which produce increased performance without corresponding changes in ratings..."

When first introduced the IOR rule was perfectly adequate for rating boats in existence at that time. However yacht designers naturally examined the rule to seize upon any advantage they could find, the most noticeable of which has been a reduction in displacement and a return to fractional rigs.

After 1993, when the IOR Mk.III rule reached it termination due to lack of people building new boats, the rule was replaced by the CHS (Channel) Handicap system which in turn developed into the IRC system now used.

The IRC handicap system operates by a secret formula which tries to develop boats which are 'Cruising type' of relatively heavy boats with good internal accommodation. It tends to penalise boats with excessive stability or excessive sail area.

Competitions

The most significant events for the Half Ton Class has been the annual Half Ton Cup which was sailed under the IOR rules until 1993. More recently this has been replaced with the Half Ton Classics Cup. The venue of the event moved from continent to continent with over-representation on French or British ports. In later years the event is held biennially. Initially, it was proposed to hold events in Ireland, Britain and France by rotation. However, it was the Belgians who took the ball and ran with it. The Class is now managed from Belgium. 

At A Glance – Half Ton Classics Cup Winners

  • 2017 – Kinsale – Swuzzlebubble – Phil Plumtree – Farr 1977
  • 2016 – Falmouth – Swuzzlebubble – Greg Peck – Farr 1977
  • 2015 – Nieuwport – Checkmate XV – David Cullen – Humphreys 1985
  • 2014 – St Quay Portrieux – Swuzzlebubble – Peter Morton – Farr 1977
  • 2013 – Boulogne – Checkmate XV – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1985
  • 2011 – Cowes – Chimp – Michael Kershaw – Berret 1978
  • 2009 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978
  • 2007 – Dun Laoghaire – Henri-Lloyd Harmony – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1980~
  • 2005 – Dinard – Gingko – Patrick Lobrichon – Mauric 1968
  • 2003 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978

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