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Efficient travel between the Ilen Boat-Building School in Limerick and Liam Hegarty’s boatyard at Oldcourt near Baltimore, where work continues on restoring the 56ft 1926-built ketch Ilen, has been a key factor in progressing the project writes W M Nixon.

All the more detailed parts are assembled in Limerick before being transported to Baltimore for installation in the ship. The recent exceptionally bad winter weather saw the link disconnected for a few days, but now it’s running smoothly again. And next week will see Ilen’s massive mainmast being transported to Oldcourt for early stepping, as her new location in the open – albeit under a special tent structure which withstood the bad weather very well – enables work to proceed in all areas.

ilen propellor2For efficient working of the inter-island routes, it was essential that Ilen operated as a true auxiliary ketch, and the recent fitting of this impressive propellor has been a marker of real progress. Photo Gary MacMahon

ilen tankage3Getting the newly-made tanks from Limerick to Oldcourt, followed by their rapid transfer into the ship, was a typical function of the Limerick-Baltimore “corridor”. Photo: Gary MacMahon

The impressive propellor has been fitted, work on the interior has seen Limerick-made tankage of all kinds being installed, and once the mast is in place we’ll be seeing a ship reflecting the Ilen in her working days, though in a much brighter paint scheme to reflect her future educational role.

Once in place, the rig will appear to have it own delicate tracery, but as the images from the Ilen workshop reveal very clearly, the spars and their rigging are on a really heavy and workmanlike scale.

ilen mastwork4The workshop in Limerick has provided the ideal facilities for the initial assembly of the mainmast. Photo: Gary MacMahon

ilen mastwork5Definitely a grown-up piece of work – detail of the fittings at the hounds. Photo: Gary MacMahon

The restoration has been followed with increasing interest by the Falkland Islanders she used to serve, and recently they sent Gary MacMahon in Limerick some photos from the 1970s showing Ilen berthed with the other inter-island communications vessel, the German-built Penelope ex-Feuerland, which like Ilen has been re-patriated to the land of her berth for restoration, in this case in Hamburg.

To the quiet pleasure of the Ilen team, the word from the islands is that Ilen was always the faster of the two, even when her skipper was the youngest commander of all, the recently-recruited 16-year-old Stephen Clifton.

ilen rig profile6Ilen as she will look when fully rigged again, something which takes a sigificant step forward next week when the main spars are transported from Limerick to Baltimore

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The historic 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien trading ketch Ilen is now comfortably under shelter again after her midwinter adventures (on the Ilen River, naturally) at Oldcourt near Baltimore writes W M Nixon.

With her hull, deck and deckhouses restored in a project shared between Oldcourt and the Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick, Ilen had to vacate the top shed (aka the Old Grainstore) to provide space for boat-builder Liam Hegarty and his team, with senior shipwright Fachtna O’Sullivan, to begin work in January on the re-construction of Conor O’Brien’s world-girdling 42ft Saoirse. She was originally built in Baltimore in 1922, and is now being re-created at Oldcourt for leading Hong Kong sailor Fred Kinmonth.

Space is so limited ashore in the Oldcourt boatyard that the only way Ilen could be moved to her new berth in the yard was by the river, using Vincent O’Driscoll’s West Cork islands ro-ro freight ferry. We’ve detailed all this in recent postings on Afloat.ie, but with the operation being undertaken as December became January, nobody liked to dwell too much on the strong possibility of extreme weather seriously disrupting the various moves, let alone the chances of serious damage to the 30-ton Ilen herself.

ilen tent frames2Grabbing another brief spell of quiet weather, the shelter frames – pre-fabricated in the Ilen school in Limerick – are installed on Ilen in Oldcourt.

With patience, and then remarkable group efforts when brief weather windows occurred, the entire delicate operation was completed in different stages. And if the photos give the impression that West Cork usually enjoys exceptionally balmy and gentle sunny conditions in late December and early January, then that is clear evidence of the shrewd way in which the moving team made their decision day choices.

But West Cork is no stranger to rain even if it seldom sees snow, so it was essential to get a robust tent-style structure erected over the ship in her new berth as soon as possible. The basic of this waited in Limerick where it had all been pre-made in the Ilen School, and then in some gentle weather last week, James Madigan and Tony Daly zapped down to Oldcourt and the new “house” was in place before the weekend’s rain arrived.

ilen tent3Blue skies of West Cork in January as Ilen tent frame is completed.

ilen tent finished4The new on-deck workshop may be a bit cramped in places, but it shelters boat and workers alike, and is in keeping with the economical style of the project.

It’s provides a bright and airy place that is now one of the workshops for the installation of Ilen’s interior, which will be of a modified design to facilitate her new role as a marine educational centre. And while she won’t have the ancient Raeburn stove which was a feature in her working days in the Falklands, there’ll be a comparable Canadian marine stove which will be the heart of the vessel.

As to the business of starting the project in cramped conditions which have since been had to be vacated for the move to a compromise outside berth, that’s central to the way the Ilen ideal has been moved along. It simply wouldn’t have happened if it had been launched as some grand project, seeking some anonymous place with a huge boatyard shed. But by growing it organically in a crowded little place where the ships of Conor O’Brien have a special meaning, it has now reached a viable stage where the Ilen and the Saoirse have a new international significance, a deeper spirit to which like-minded people worldwide are positively responding.

Pappy Minto in ilen galley5Home sweet home. Down below in Ilen during her working days in the Falklands. Caption reads: “Pappy Minto below in Ilen for a smoko, photo Fred Strebeigh”. In the restored version of Ilen, the ancient Raeburn will be replaced by a Canadian marine stove.

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The east coast of Ireland may have endured vile weather on Saturday, but in West Cork there was almost a touch of sunny spring in the air when the historic restored ketch Ilen completed the final stage of her short but complex journey from the building shed to her shoreside completion berth writes W M Nixon.

Liam Hegarty’s boatyard at Oldcourt is such a crowded place that it required some lateral thinking to work out how to move the Ilen. She weighs well north of 25 tons, and the ultra-simple four wheel trolley ultimately assembled under her is far indeed from the multi-wheel vehicle which had been hinted at as the complex nature of the move became clear.

ilen arrives2Roll-on, roll off delivery of the pre-restoration Ilen to the Top Shed at Oldcourt. Photo: Gary MacMahon

Ilen before and after3Two images which say it all – Ilen as she arrived in the Top Shed (left) and as she left it (right). Photos: Gary MacMahon

But doing such things in unusual ways is the norm at Oldcourt, and the absence of a proper slipway to receive Ilen at the access end of the Top Shed had been solved many years ago by bringing her in at high water on Vincent O’Driscoll’s inter-island freight ferry.

It was roll-on, roll-off when Ilen arrived all those years ago, and it was the same again on Saturday. But the old ketch herself has now been born again. And Vincent and his crew have a new ferry, memorably called the Sabrina II.

ilen four pix4A sunny Saturday at Oldcourt, and Ilen is taken afloat for a short sea voyage on the Sabrina II. Photo: Gary MacMahon

Having been given full approval by the Top Shed yard cat, the Ilen waited patiently for the right conditions, while inside the shed work got underway on the first stages of the re-build of Ilen’s more famous older but smaller sister, Conor O’Brien’s world-girdling Saoirse.

Came Saturday, the sun rose up, the wind went down, the tide lifted high, and Sabrina II thrust her ramp in under Ilen’s stern and the characterful old ketch was taken on board with style. Then with textbook efficiency, after a very short voyage up the Ilen River, she was taken off the ferry in another part of the yard with the tide at a height that ensured a very smooth progression.

Ilen brought ashore5At the perfect tidal height, Ilen is brought ashore again in another part of the yard to access her shoreside completion berth. Photo: Gary MacMahon
Ilen is now comfortably in the shore berth which she’ll only leave to be put afloat. Meanwhile in Limerick – home base of the Ilen Project – director Gary MacMahon has overseen the assembly of a pre-fabricated roof structure which will be assembled at the yard to protect the Ilen work from the West Cork weather. For even in Oldcourt, the sun doesn’t shine all the time.

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The historic 1926-built 56ft trading ketch Ilen has been undergoing a painstaking restoration at Oldcourt near Baltimore in Liam Hegarty's boatyard for several years now for the Ilen Boat-building School, which is directed by Gary MacMahon in Limerick writes W M Nixon. While the heavy boat-building work has been completed in Oldcourt, much else has been built in Limerick, and as December 2017 came to a close, the stage had been reached where it was time to move the historic vessel out of the shed.

A substantial multi-wheel trolley was assembled under the ship – which may weigh as much as 30 tons – and a complicated move to an onshore commissioning berth involving the use of an inter-island ferry was planned for Tuesday January 2nd. But the imminent arrival of Storm Eleanor caused a delay until yesterday (Friday), when the post-storm calm provided ideal conditions, and the slow process finally got under way.

We’ll be carrying a fuller version of this fascinating latest stage in the story of Ilen in the near future on Afloat.ie when the move is completed, but meanwhile here are three photos to show just how very much alive this remarkable new-old ship looked as she emerged into the light from the dark confines of the shed.

ilen out2So far, so good…………

ilen out3The fading daylight is still sufficient to provide a fresh look at the ship, and she is shown to have a very handsome stern

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When we recall the exposed conditions in which some coastal boat and ship-builders had to work in the days when life and labour were cheap, and health and safety were considered more important for thoroughbred animals than for workers, then it has to be said that that the spar-makers of Limerick assembling the rig for the restoration of the 1926-built 56ft ketch Ilen are creating their finished sections in some comfort in the Ilen Boatbuilding School  writes W M Nixon

ilen spar making2In its way, each spar has emerged as a work of art. Photo: Gary MacMahon

ilen spar making3Spar-making is a mixture of traditional and newer techniques. Photo: Gary MacMahon

ilen spar making4The gaff jaws may have to be used for rugged work, but that’s no reason why they shouldn’t be assembled with style Photo: Gary MacMahon

ilen spar making5The Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick has sufficient space to lay out the complete mainmast with topmast, gaff and boom – shipwright James Madigan provides a sense of scale.

But though they have a decent amount of space and the benefits of modern equipment, the fact that the Douglas Fir for the new spars has been donated from the stores of the much-lamented Asgard II puts an even greater onus on the team to produce work of world class.

That said, the temptation to stray into the realms of classic yacht style is ever-present when you have wood and facilities of this quality. But it has always to be remembered that Ilen is the sole surviving Irish-built sailing trader of this size and type. Thus Project Director Gary MacMahon has to ensure that the work remains true to traditional workboat style rather than veering towards anything too ornamental.

ilen spar making6Engineering the connection of the topmast and mainmast at the hounds, Pete Speake (left) working with James Madigan (lower right) Photo: Gary MacMahon

ilen spar making7The test assembly of mainmast and topmast. Photo: Gary MacMahon

But as the simple functionality of each spar and fitting which has been made has its own inherent beauty, ornamentation would be superfluous, and as our gallery of photos reveals, in its way each piece is a work of art.

 

ilen spar making8An early stage in creating the senior and junior mast partners, crafted by Matt Dirr Photo: Gary MacMahonAn early stage in creating the senior and junior mast partners, crafted by Matt Dirr Photo: Gary MacMahon

ilen spar making9The senior and junior mast partners completed, one for the mainmast, the other for the mizzen. Photo: Gary MacMahon

ilen spar making10At Liam Hegarty’s boatyard in Oldcourt near Baltimore, 180 kilometres from Limerick, the mainmast partner is offered up aboard ship – and fits to perfection. Photo: Gary MacMahon

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The restoration of classic yachts and traditional craft to the recognised international standard is still relatively new in Ireland writes W M Nixon. In fact, it could be argued that the major project in Dunmore East, completed in 2005 on the 1894 G L Watson-designed 37ft cutter Peggy Bawn, is still the only example we have in Ireland of the painstaking and meticulous research and work of the highest quality that is required on a vessel of this size for total authenticity.

The Peggy Bawn project was for maritime historian Hal Sisk, and while Michael Kennedy was the lead shipwright, many specialist talents were involved in creating a widely-admired masterpiece.

hal sisk2Hal Sisk aboard the restored 1894 Peggy Bawn in Dublin Bay in 2005. In the background is the Jeanie Johnston – in those days, she still sailed. Photo: W M Nixon

Now Hal Sisk is working on a completely different idea, a revival of the legendary Dublin Bay 21 class, the famous Mylne design of 1902-03. But in this case, far from bringing the original and almost-mythical gaff cutter rig with jackyard topsail back to life above a traditionally-constructed hull, he is content to have an attractive gunter-rigged sloop – “American gaff” some would call it – above a new laminated cold-moulded hull which is being built inverted but will, when finished and upright, be fitted on the original ballast keels, thereby maintaining the boat’s continuity of existence, the presence of the true spirit of the ship..

It’s a fascinating and complex project to which we’ll be returning in future postings on Afloat.ie. For now, the first DB 21 to get this treatment is Naneen, originally built in 1905 by Clancy of Dun Laoghaire for T. Cosby Burrowes, a serial boat owner from Cavan who had formerly owned Nance, the 1899 Dublin Bay 25 which was the only DB25 to be built by designer William Fife’s own yard in Fairlie – she still sails in the Mediterranean, now under the name of Iona.

As for Naneen, she was soon under new ownership as Burrowes interests turned elsewhere. She raced with the class in Dublin Bay under the original gaff rig until 1964, and then under the masthead Bermudan sloop rig, which kept these attractive boats going as an active racing class until August 1986.

In that fateful year, the after-effects of Hurricane Charlie in Dun Laoghaire Harbour resulted in their damaged hulls of the Dublin Bay 21s being retrieved and stored in a Wicklow farmyard while everyone worked out various schemes to make good use of this historic flotilla of seven very significant and attractive boats.

Hal Sisk and DB21 “Guardian” Fionan de Barra, after much research, have now developed this moulded hull/simpler rig philosophy which revives the class while retaining its character. And in Steve Morris at Kilrush in County Clare, they have a skilled boat-builder who has already shown with the Shannon cutter Sally O’Keeffe and other projects that he brings very special talents that work well in a wide variety of boat-building challenges.

db21 zanetta3The proposed rig for the new-style Dublin Bay 21s will be a variation on this rig which Alfred Mylne designed for the DB21 sistership Zanetta, which was built in Scotland for a Clyde owner in 1918, but was used as a cruiser and never joined her sister-ships in Dublin Bay

However, in order to maintain the integrity of the project, the actual design of the Dublin Bay 21 hull had to be agreed to very close limits, far removed from the free-and-easy approach of boat-builders in the early 1900s. For this, they have been able to draw on the highly-trained skills of designer and classics consultant Paul Spooner, who worked with Duncan Walker’s famous Fairlie Restorations company for twenty years, and has seen through some extremely demanding projects thanks to his fully-qualified status as a naval architect and engineer.

Using Paul Spooner’s drawings, the work in Kilrush has been proceeding steadily since late summer, and in recent days a stage had been reached where Paul Spooner’s presence was required on-site in order to finalise some key decisions. But he’s a very busy man, so to optimize his presence here, Hal Sisk linked-up with Gary MacMahon of the Ilen Project of Limerick and Baltimore, as the riggers developing the restored sail-plan of the 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien ketch Ilen had also been seeking Paul’s expert advice on their work.

While logistically challenging, it was all just possible in three recent days, and despite freezing damp weather in the west, Paul Spooner put in useful time in Kilrush where Steve Morris’s work is a joy to behold, and then he was transferred to the care of the Ilen team and whisked from Limerick to Baltimore.

ilen team paul spooner4Paul Spooner (top right) with some of the Ilen team aboard the ship in Baltimore with the restored wheel steering system. With him are (top left) Jim McInerney and James Madigan (wooden boat builder), on wheel is Tony Daly (Shannon fisherman & wooden boatbuilder), while right foreground is Matt Dirr (“Builder of Curved Structures”). Photo: Gary MacMahon

There, in The Old Corn Store in Oldcourt Boatyard where Ilen has been re-born, many assembled parts that we’ve seen recently on Afloat.ie being built in the Ilen Boat-Building School in Limerick has now been fitted in the ship, and here too the Paul Spooner presence brought reassurance that they were working in the right direction.

As for which direction Paul Spooner himself was going, it would have been overly-demanding for any lesser man. But having given advice of gold dust quality to two major restoration projects in Ireland, he then hopped on a plane in Dublin Airport and went to Japan, where he is being consulted on the restoration of a large 1927-vintage Camper & Nicholson ketch. That’s how it is at the leading edge of classic restoration projects.

matt dirr cockpit5Dream on…..Ilen School’s Matt Dirr in thoughtful mood aboard Ilen after the new Limerick-built footwell has been installed on board in Baltimore. Photo: Gary MacMahon

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The process of restoring the 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien ketch Ilen in Limerick and Baltimore has seen a countrywide network developing, a network in which anyone with access to redundant classic quality timber has been happy to see it finding a new use in the Ilen Boatbuilding School’s very special project writes W M Nixon.

Afloat.ie recently carried the story of how traditional rigging dead-eyes had been crafted from that rare timber lignum vitae, which in this case had been sourced from a former shipyard in Cork.

Now there has been a useful re-direction from nearer home, with teak which had provided slats for the seating in the old Markets Field Gaelic Stadium in Limerick for more than a century finding a new life as slats on the sole of the Ilen helmsman’s footwell.

ilen footwell2Less is more. A little bit of teak, tastefully installed as slats on the sole of Ilen’s beautifully-completed new footwell, sets the Antique White finish off to perfection. Photos: Gary MacMahon

A hundred and more years ago, teak – the king of timbers - was much more readily available than it is today, and was sometimes used to excess. But modern boat-builders have learned that with the scarcity of this lovely wood, less can be more, and the way that the relatively small amount of teak has been usefully installed in the beautifully finished Ilen footwell certainly bears this out.

Having made a couple of journeys between the Ilen herself in Oldcourt near Baltimore and the boat-building school in Limerick, the elegant footwell will finally be fully installed on the ship within the next week.

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The process of transforming the restored hull and deck of the 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien historic ketch Ilen into a living ship continues writes W M Nixon. The programme is co-ordinated and combined between the Ilen Boatbuilding School in Limerick, where they’re busy on the benches making or re-conditioning many items of gear and equipment, and in and around the ship herself with Liam Hegarty in Baltimore in West Cork. There, it finally all comes together, and last weekend provided a real sense of a new stage reached in the project.

ilen november3James Madigan in the Ilen School in Limerick with a workshop-mockup of the traditional steering arrangement, including the helmsman’s footwell which has since been fitted in the ship. Photo: Gary McMahon

ilen november3In Oldcourt, the hydraulic steering actuator – renovated in Limerick – is ready for final fitting to the rudder stock. Photo: Gary McMahon

Lights gleamed from below where the accommodation is being created, and traditional timberwork shone with warmth in the homely setting of The Old Cornstore on the banks of the Ilen River. This much-loved waterway runs from Skibbereen down towards Baltimore to provide the home training waters of some of Ireland’s greatest contemporary rowers, as well as a sheltered setting for the always-fascinating boatyard complex.

The unique atmosphere of this special boat-building location is more cherished than ever. It had been feared that the Old Cornstore and the surrounding Oldcourt Boatyard were right in the path of serious damage from Storm Ophelia three weeks ago. But although a gust of 191 km/h was recorded out at the Fastnet Rock, and 135 km/h was logged at Sherkin Island just across from Baltimore, Oldcourt came through relatively unscathed. The place leads a charmed life.

ilen november3Starting to look like a ship again. Snug under the Ophelia-surviving vintage roof in the Old Cornstore at Oldcourt, Ilen is now giving a much better impression of what she’ll be like to be aboard at sea. Photo: Gary MacMahon

As for the ketch’s restoration project, a stage had been reached where teams from both Ilen Boatbuilding centres could usefully combine forces last Saturday to clear up the boat from end to end the better to appreciate what has been achieved, and to appraise what still needs to be done. In comparing the photos below which show Ilen as she was when last in commission at the Glandore Classics of 1998, and as she was on Saturday, there’s no doubting that the spirit of the old ship is being re-born.

ilen november3Aboard Ilen as she was in 1998 at Glandore (left) and on deck last Saturday in Oldcourt (right). Photo: Gary MacMahon

As is the way with restorations, it’s intriguing to learn how various specialist items of equipment have been retrieved or saved. In a city with a metal-working tradition like Limerick, there’s an instinctive appreciation of the quality of the workmanship which has gone into the rigging hardware for shrouds and masts alike.

ilen november3Some of Ilen’s rigging hardware, in a time-honoured style much-appreciated in a city with a metal-working tradition. Photo: Gary McMahon

And although we’ve shown photos of the Ilen dead-eyes made from lignum vitae before, there’s something so fascinating about this densest of timbers (in this case “contributed from a former shipyard in Cork”) that a second or third look is surely justified, appreciating them as works of art shaped in the Ilen school in Limerick by Matt Dirr.

ilen november3Matt Dirr crafting dead-eyes in the Ilen School. Photo: Gary McMahon Photo: Gary MacMahon

ilen november3Dead-eyes finished and varnished. There is an eternal fascination in lignum vitae, the “wood of life”, one of the densest timbers in the world. Photo: Gary MacMahon

As for that rather choice bronze fairlead, we immediately fired back an enquiry to Ilen School Director Gary McMahon as to who made it, for it too is a work of art. The answer is he doesn’t know who made it, but having worked in metal himself he has long been an inveterate collector of special items which would otherwise be on their way to the scrapyard, and this came off an old vessel which was being dismantled in Limerick. Now, thanks to the Ilen Project, it will once again sail the seas.

ilen november3A proper little work of art – a bronze fairlead, salvaged from a breaker’s yard many years ago. Photo: Gary MacMahon

ilen november3Unlike the fairlead, this deck eyebolt is new-made, but it wouldn’t look out of place as a piece of functional art on a modern gallery. Photo: W M Nixon

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Many people have dropped by the Old Cornstore on the riverside at Oldcourt in West Cork to see work progressing on the restoration of the 1926 Conor O’Brien ketch Ilen writes WM Nixon. And naturally they’ll have the impression that they’re at the main scene of the action. After all, the 56ft vessel certainly looks the part - a complete ship, full of promise in her distinctive new colour scheme.

But as Gary MacMahon of the Ilen Boatbuilding School in Limerick points out, even with a hefty traditional vessel like Ilen, the finished hull with deck in place is only about 35% of the complete and fully commissioned vessel. And though the assembly of the various parts inevitably has to take place in Oldcourt with Liam Hegarty and his team, much of what you’re looking at on the Ilen today was actually built in the Ilen School’s efficient workshops in Limerick city.

ilen painted2The Ilen herself in Oldcourt near Baltimore, newly painted and looking very well. Photo Ilen BS

Ilen deckhouses3The new deckhouses, hatches etc on the Ilen were all made in Limerick. Photo Ilen BS

There, young people – indeed, people of all ages and from many backgrounds – are finding that working with wood, and creating parts for boats or building complete boats, is a profoundly interesting and fulfilling experience. In recent years, the Ilen School has turned out impressively authentic versions of the traditional Shannon gandelow, and in a completely different direction, sailing dinghies of the distinctive CityOne class to a very special design by the late Theo Rye.

gandelow limerick4One of the Ilen Boatbuilding School’s traditional gandelows on the Shannon in Limerick, heading upriver towards King John’s Castle. Photo: Gary MacMahon

Gandelow venice5It makes a change from the Shannon Estuary - the Ilen Boatbuilding School’s gandelows in Venice. Photos: Gary MacMahon

These smaller craft have been imaginatively used by those who built them for various expeditions to events such as the Baltimore Woodenboat Festival and the Glandore Classics Regatta. And in 2014, the Gandelows somehow managed a remarkable double by taking part in the Thousandth Anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Clontarf (wasn’t Brian Boru a Limerick man, after all?) and yet somehow also took in a Marine Festival in Venice, as it’s reckoned that the word “gandelow” originated from gondola, but mutated along the way.

Having taken such things and various other projects in their stride, the Ilen people in Limerick have enthusiastically lined up to build the deckhouses, hatchways, skylights, lignum vitae rigging deadeyes and many other items for Ilen herself. Each is an exquisite bit of marine joinerywork in its own right, and when fitted on the ship, they go so well with the overall concept that you’d be hard-pressed to guess that they were built many miles away, in the characterful city on Shannonside, rather than among the rolling green hills and woodland of West Cork.

finished deadeyes6Deadeyes made in Limerick from rare lignum vitae – the word is that this very high density wood “was sourced from a former shipyard in Cork”. Photo: Gary MacMahon

spar bands7Group discussion in Limerick with Liam, Trevor, Pete and Robert to sort and assess items of rigging gear. Photos: Gary MacMahon

iIen stanchions8Modern safety requirements dictate that the original guard-rail stanchions (left) have to be replaced by longer ones (right) to provide one metre clearance. Photo: Gary MacMahon

steering box9The hydraulic steering actuator is cleaned and serviced before being sent for pressure testing. Photo: Gary MacMahon

But such is the case, because for all his fondness for West Cork, Conor O’Brien’s spirit is in Foynes Island on the Shannon Estuary, and Limerick is his city, the city of the O’Briens since time immemorial. And recently, Limerick has been turning out the stanchions for the Ilen’s guard-rails, something which is well in line with the city’s engineering traditions. But most impressive of all is the final work on finishing the spars.

When Ilen was shipped back from the Falklands in 1998, some of her surviving spars were in a decidedly poor conditions. But the new Limerick-built replacements are robust works of art, with a natural functional beauty. It really will be a show on the road, and then some, when they’re taken on that winding journey from Limerick down to Baltimore.

engine control10An authentic marine bronze Kobelt heavy duty engine control is sourced “by good fortune” – it cleans up a treat

ilen mast painting11Finally getting there – Liam O’Donoghue gives Ilen’s new mainmast its finishing coats of paint – the special colour is “US Navy buff” Photo: Gary MacMahon

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With the hull of the 56ft 1926-built ketch Ilen fully restored in Oldcourt near Baltimore, attention has been turning to detailed items of equipment such as the steering system and the stern gear writes W M Nixon. And the “offering up” of the athwartships cathead, which will support the net under the mighty bowsprit as well as other more traditional functions such as lifting the anchor, has continued the migration of shaped wooden parts from the Ilen Boatbuilding School in Limerick to Liam Hegarty and his shipwrights with the hull in West Cork.

first ilen cathead2Ilen’s new cathead (left), and the original one (right) from 1926. The simplification of the design to make do with one spar, instead of the traditional two at an angle, might have been Conor O’Brien’s own idea. Photo (left) Gary MacMahon

ilen cathead3The new cathead is athwartships, forward of the jaunty little foredeck hatch which originally provided access to the cramped crew accommodation in the eyes of the ship. Photo Gary MacMahon
As the historic photo taken from aloft of Ilen’s foredeck in her original form shows, the simplified cathead was one athwartships spar, whereas in larger vessels it could be two spars, one each side, and angled at about 45 degrees to the fore-and-aft line. In Ilen’s case, it was long enough to help in the business of keeping the bowsprit in place, while maximizing the amount of clear space on the foredeck and over the rail.

Overall, attention is now also well focused on working out a friendly layout in the capacious accommodation. Originally, in her days as the freight vessel in the Falkland Islands, the best part of Ilen’s roomy hull amidships was taken up with the cargo hold. The crew quarters were cramped places, either right forward, or crowded in down aft at the little deckhouse.

ilen wheel4The steering system is introduced to the ship for the first time. Photo Gary MacMahon

sterngear parts5All the hull fittings are in the best marine bronze. Photo: Gary MacMahon

But with the restoration, the deckhouse is enhanced, and though a classic hatchway has been installed right forward, the team have to take decisions on how best to lay out the amidships below-deck area for a vessel which will have to fill several roles

When fully commissioned again, Ilen will be based in Limerick with her programme built around the Shannon Estuary and further afield. But the plan is to have only seven sleeping bunks rather than the twelve which might be possible if she were going to be used only as a sail training vessel.

While the Ilen project may be all about the restoration of a very traditional vessel, doubtless a non-traditional computer will be used to envisage the best possible use of all that lovely space below. And even when CAD facilities have been utilised, the best plan is to make a mock-up before finalising the details, for even the smallest modification of one part of the layout affects the way that everything else falls into place in a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.

It’s worth persevering, for a traditionally-styled yet ergonomically friendly and welcoming layout below would make Ilen the little ship that everyone wants to be aboard.

ilen accommodation6An interesting amount of space to be filled. James Madigan of the Ilen Boatbuilding School in Limerick down at Oldcourt in what used to be Ilen’s cargo hold, while behind him is the massive strengthening in the way of the mainmast. And on the left is ship’s dog Luna…… Photo: Gary MacMahon

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