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Displaying items by tag: Ilen

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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The restoration of the 56ft ketch trading ketch Ilen (1926) and the re-build of world-girdling 42ft Saoirse (1922) at Oldcourt in West Cork has become a focal point of interest of what might seem to an outsider to be a secret brotherhood of the maritime world writes W M Nixon

It’s not that these people set out to be mysterious or secretive. It’s just that they operate on a different level to the rest of us. Typical of them is Jarlath Cunnane of Mayo. He’s always building boats for himself. He built the special aluminium 15 metre (49ft) exploration yacht Northabout with which he and Paddy Barry and a rugged crew transitted both the Northwest and the Northeast passages.

northabout clew bay2Northabout returns to Clew Bay and Croagh Patrick after completing the transits of the Northwest and Northeast Passages in 2005. Photo: Rory Casey

Yet despite Northabout’s alloy build, he’s very much a fan of traditional craft. So when he heard that Gary MacMahon of Limerick and his team were undertaking the ticklish job of stepping Ilen’s new masts in West Cork in a very limited time frame earlier this month, he and frequent shipmate Dr Mick Brogan (he owns the giant Galway Hooker Mac Duach and is much involved in Cruinniu na mBad at Kinvara) simply appeared at just the right time at Oldcourt, and their help was much appreciated.

swallow steel3The 40ft O’Brien Kennedy-designed Swallow, which Wally McGuirk built himself in steel. Photo: W M Nixon

wally mcguirk4Wally McGuirk in his on-board workshop in Swallow. Photo: W M Nixon

On the opposite side of the country from Mayo, Wally McGuirk of Howth is another enthusiast for traditional boat-building who nevertheless was not slow in using basic steel construction for his 40ft dream yacht Swallow, the last design by O’Brien Kennedy. Wally built her himself, and since then has introduced all sorts of inventive additions, a notable one being the legs which support the boat if she is going to dry out at low water.

Wally reckoned the traditional legs bolted on to the outside of the hull amidships are an unsightly nuisance. So he built a couple of hefty steel casings at a sight angle inside Swallow, and these neatly house the legs which are retracted virtually out of sight when not in use.

swallow legs5Wally McGuirk with one of his special legs on board Swallow. Photo: W M Nixon

swallow legs6The internal housings for Swallow’s legs intrude very little on the accommodation. Photo: W M Nixon

Yet although he enjoys the freedom of innovation which steel construction permits, Wally’s heart is in wood. And as he happens to be a property developer of sorts, quantities of choice vintage timber have come his way over the years. Thus when he was making major alterations to a 1798 building which had once been a brewery in Brunswick Street in old Dublin, he ended up with some lovely perfectly-seasoned pine of hefty proportions which he stored carefully, such that the rain has never fallen on it.

He could never think of a suitably idealistic use for it until the Ilen Project developed, and that hit the target. So last weekend the beautiful timber of 1798 journeyed to West Cork, and in time it will make a characterful cabin sole in the handsome ship.

ilen interior7Ilen’s interior has been finished in Douglas fir of 1831 vintage. Photos: Gary MacMahon

Meanwhile, Gary MacMahon had sourced some quality Douglas fir of 1831 from a building in Limerick, and that has already been deployed to good effect in Ilen’s cabins, where seven proper seagoing bunks will be provided.

As for the Ilen Project generally, the recent flurry of news about the re-development of the land around the Ted Russell Dock beside the city centre has reminded everyone that Limerick is now Ilen’s home port, and very well it looked too on a mock-up applied to Ilen’s handsome transom this week.

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Much of Ireland may seem to have endured one bout of meteorological mayhem after another for most of the winter, with this weekend being no exception writes W M Nixon. Yet the Guardian Angel of the Ilen Project has always intervened in a very helpful way when this fascinating two-strand restoration of a 1926-built 56ft ketch needs some gentle weather conditions for everything to go according to plan.

Back at the beginning of January, the world watched and waited with bated breath for suitable tidal conditions and a usable weather window to coincide. This was needed to move the 30-ton vessel from her re-build shed to her fit-out berth in the hyper-crowded circumstances of master shipwright Liam Hegarty’s boatyard at Oldcourt in West Cork.

The winter weather onslaught abated for a day, the complex move was made with even a tiny glimpse of January sunshine to brighten its progress, and then with the historic ship secure in her new shore berth, the weather closed in again with renewed vigour for a week, until it relented sufficiently for a robust deck-tent to be erected to allow work to continue.

The presence of the deck tent meant that when the new masts arrived from the Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick for almost immediate stepping, gentle conditions were once again required, as the job of craning them in was in effect being done blind.

Ilen mast move2
Ilen’s new mainmast in daylight for first time in Limerick on Thursday
ilen mast move3
On the ground, the mainmast is big, long and heavy
ilen mast move4
Load her up and away we’ll go…..
ilen mast move5
It may seem like just another load trucking down the highway, but for the people at either end of the journey, this is one very important cargo.

This week, everything that could be done to the masts in the Limerick workshop was completed. And the weather portents indicated that a smoothly-executed transport job, with 200 kilometres of trucking for the spars, would do the trick provided they were on their way from Limerick on Thursday, and everything was in place for the main part of the stepping on Friday.

This may all seem fairly straightforward to those accustomed to major industrial projects with abundant resources and every possible sort of equipment. But the Ilen Project is none of these things. It’s more of a wing-and-a-prayer shoestring operation. Yet despite their very limited resources, Gary MacMahon and Liam Hegarty and their teams at both locations have succeeded in restoring a fine little ship, and one of considerable historic significance, thanks to her links with Conor O’Brien.

ilen mast move6
Inside the tent…..will it fit?
ilen mast move7
Already, the mast is looking as though it belongs……..
ilen mast move8
….and yes, it does fit

And as the photos show, once again as soon as it was needed, the weather served up conditions even gentler than the most optimistic forecasts. The entire mast move from Limerick to West Cork, and the blind stepping, went like clockwork.

The process demanded the participation of 14 individuals, two forklifts, a 45ft foot road trailer, and a crane and a shorter trailer on arrival at the boatyard. Today, Ilen has two new masts, a prodigious bowsprit, and a very happy crew.

ilen mast move9
The two masts in place after everything has gone precisely to plan. And the sun is still shining. What on earth could anyone imagine might have gone wrong?


Photos: Deirdre Power, Dermot Lynch and Gary Mac Mahon

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You might well say that the Ilen Project has been galvanised into further action writes W M Nixon. The historic 1926-built 56ft ketch’s restoration has been a matter of the hull being re-born at Liam Hegarty’s boatyard at Oldcourt near Baltimore, while the Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick has moved forward in tandem, building smaller items including deckhouses, which have then been taken to the ship for fitting. And today (Thursday) the mighty mainmast and topmast are being trucked southwestward from the school for early stepping in the ship.

For modern sailors accustomed to silver aluminium extrusions or black carbon fibre, the sight of the beautifully-crafted wooden spars gives pause for thought. But in some ways even more impressive are the traditionally galvanized steel fittings. One upon a time, galvanizing steel fittings for marine use was looked on as something of a luxury. Indeed, it was argued that the “right kind of rust” was in itself a sort of protective coating. But then we went through a stage where galvanizing for everything maritime made in steel was the done thing, while the height of luxury was having bronze fittings in special marine grade.

ilen spars2Wood, beautiful wood………Photo: Gary MacMahon

Quite when stainless steel started to take over is hard to say, but these days grade A316 is the minimum standard stainless steel expected. But traditionalists would have it that if you’re restoring a traditional ship, you must have traditional galvanized fittings. So that was the code followed in assembling the steel bits and pieces which work together to make the Ilen’s mainmast assembly a thing of power and purpose.

ilen spars3Unto everything there is a purpose…….

ilen spars4….and what started as a piece of basic fabrication is beginning to acquire its own functional beauty. Photo: Gary MacMahon

Firstly they were made up as naked steel. Then they were given a test fitting. And then when everything had shown itself as right and proper, off they all went went to the nearby galvanizing works, for that’s the way you can do it in the heart of Limerick city.

This week it has all been coming together in its finished form in the boat-building school, and the Thursday journey to far West Cork is a time for mixed feelings. Those spars had become part of the character, the very soul, of the Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick. The place won’t seem the same without them, centrally present at some informative stage of their creation. But their departure is part of the continuing creative process. Now, a safe journey is the priority.

ilen spars5Useful reminder. When you’re working on specific items, it’s helpful to have some idea of the overall picture. Photos: Gary MacMahon

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