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It was good to know of the sail training ketch Ilen lying serenely in the Scotsman’s Bay-Sandycove anchorage south of Dun Laoghaire Harbour last night, like a proper sailing ship of ancient times taking a useful break to await a fair tide and a proper breeze while passage-making. But as it happens, in some ways, the 56ft ketch designed by Conor O’Brien of Limerick and built in Baltimore in West Cork in 1926 to be the inter-island service vessel for the Falkland Islands had some ideas ahead of her time.

During his six “resting” weeks in the Falklands after rounding Cape Horn in the 42ft Saoirse in December 1924, O’Brien had been briefed on the requirements for the hoped-for new inter-island ferry and transport vessel, and he particularly noted the smallness and confined nature of some of the coves and piers from which she would have to work.

So although Saoirse made her voyage round the world without an auxiliary engine, he asserted that the new vessel would require an auxiliary engine which would do much more than merely provide forward movement when the wind failed. On the contrary, it would have to be a real asset when manoeuvring and berthing in tight corners.

“Good morning Forty Foot, I’m Fifty-Six Foot…..” Ilen making her presence felt at Sandycove“Good morning Forty Foot, I’m Fifty-Six Foot…..” Ilen making her presence felt at Sandycove Photo: Afloat 

At the time, when small sailing vessels were being fitted with auxiliary engines and the propellor shaft was in the centre line, the necessary aperture for the propeller would mostly – and sometimes entirely – be taken out of the rudder. The alternative was an offset prop, which made any close-quarters manoeuvring an even more dicey business. Either way, the valuable prop thrust which is such a manoeuvring virtue in modern craft was absent, particularly if the rudder was also – as was common - installed with the shaft markedly raked aft.

O’Brien looked at all this with an architect’s rather than a sailor’s eye. And thus, although Ilen was to take her general appearance from Saoirse, which in turn was based on an Arklow fishing boat of the 1860s that O’Brien had admired, underwater down aft she was arguably state of the art.

By taking Ilen’s propellor aperture entirely out of the deadwood in the hull, Conor O’Brien gave this hard-worked boat impressive manoeuvrability under the auxiliary engine. These photos were taken while preparing for the passage from Ireland out to the Falklands. Conor O’Brien’s Yachtmaster certificate failed to provide insurance for a commercial vessel, so Ilen sailed to the Falklands as a yacht of the Royal Irish YC. It is believed the temporary nameplate of 1926 is now in Ireland. Photo courtesy Gary Mac Mahon/Ilen.ieBy taking Ilen’s propellor aperture entirely out of the deadwood in the hull, Conor O’Brien gave this hard-worked boat impressive manoeuvrability under the auxiliary engine. These photos were taken while preparing for the passage from Ireland out to the Falklands. Conor O’Brien’s Yachtmaster certificate failed to provide insurance for a commercial vessel, so Ilen sailed to the Falklands as a yacht of the Royal Irish YC. It is believed the temporary nameplate of 1926 is now in Ireland. Photo courtesy Gary Mac Mahon/Ilen.ie

For O’Brien gave her a large and almost vertical rudder, and he took the propeller aperture entirely out of the deadwood, so much so that the stern post was retained for added structural integrity. It’s an installation of practicality, beauty and effectiveness, and ensures that half the propellor thrust can be very usefully re-directed as wished.

And if you’re wondering why the ghostly appearance of Ilen off Sandycove in Dun Laoghaire has provoked such a line of thought, the answer is there’s been some cyber-discussion of late about an otherwise exquisite new long-keel modern classic which has such a large propeller aperture taken out of her raked rudder that the fitting of a bow-thruster became an essential for any close-quarters manoeuvring. They should have taken a look at Ilen before starting the project…

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Sailing into Wellness, which offers educational and therapeutic programmes for “at-risk” young people and adults, has been recognised for its expansion as a result of a Rethink Ireland Sports to Impact Fund award.

It is one of three national sports organisations – the other two being Special Olympics Ireland and ExWell Medical - which use sport to increase inclusivity for marginalised groups.

Rethink Ireland says the groups have thrived and expanded to reach more socially excluded people despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Sports to Impact fund is made up of 50% private philanthropic funding, self-raised by the three awardees. The other half comes from Government, through the Department of Rural and Community Development via the Dormant Accounts Fund.

As The Irish Examiner reports, Sailing into Wellness founded by Colin Healy and James Lyons was declared a critical service during the Covid-19 pandemic and was able to continue its invaluable work.

The project acquired two 20-foot (six-metre) Hawk class sailing vessels which can be launched by trailer from any pier. Healy and Lyons also acquired use of the 56 ft (17-metre) timber ketch, Ilen, which was built in Baltimore, West Cork to a design by Conor O’Brien, the Irishman who sailed around the world in 1923-25.

Last year, it offered courses in Kinsale, Howth, Co Dublin, on the River Shannon, in Dunmore East, Co Waterford, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, and has extended to Carlingford, Co Louth.

With over 900 participants to date, it hopes to extend to the west this autumn. Those who wish to progress from day sailing to longer voyages can do so through three-day “voyages of recovery”.

At first, it was difficult to convince potential backers of the value of the model. As Tessa Kingston, counsellor and psychotherapist from Kinsale, explains, adventure therapy is well developed in North America, Canada, Australia and Scandinavia, but not so advanced here. Along with Leonie Conway, she is a full-time instructor with Sailing into Wellness.

“It has a different impact on everyone,” Kingston says. “The impact may seem so slight that it happens organically.”

Read more about the experiences of Colin Healy and participants Eoin Barnes and Natasha O’Brien in The Irish Examiner here

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"Ilen came back from London so quickly we got ahead of ourselves" said Ilen Marine School Director Gary MacMahon in Baltimore today, where the Limerick trading ketch had prudently put into port yesterday (Monday)
evening in acknowledgement of near-gale westerlies forecast for the Blasket Islands area.

"To be quite honest" he continued, "we were exhausted. The London visit had been so hectic with unexpected visitors turning up in the gaps in the scheduled programmme that a night's rest without social and sea-going pressures in Baltimore seemed very appealing. The crossing of the Celtic Sea had been fast but bumpy, with plenty of salt-water flying around - our decks have never been cleaner. And while we're here, we can get a couple of jobs done by Liam Hegarty before heading on to Limerick in a day or two".

Two particularly memorable though unexpected visitors in London were international architect Ian Ritchie and his wife. He designed the Dublin Spire in O'Connell Street, and was fascinated to see what a qualified
architect like Conor O'Brien had made of the project to design Ilen way back in 1925-26.

London-based Dublin Spire architect Ian Ritchie (right) with his wife on board Ilen in St Katharine Docks. Photo: Gary Mac MahonLondon-based Dublin Spire architect Ian Ritchie (right) with his wife on board Ilen in St Katharine Docks. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

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The business of the City of London is business. Thus last week's visit there by the Limerick trading ketch Ilen saw many boxes being ticked in an efficient style, including a clear affirmation that The Dey of Kilcoe takes precedence over The Knight of Glin. But for any sailing ship, favourable winds take precedence over everything. So after the experience of dealing with headwinds while getting to London, the developing prospect of a favourable weather pattern saw events in the latter part of the week being compressed, and Ilen headed seawards on Friday instead of Saturday as originally planned.

It's a move which has paid off handsomely. This afternoon (Monday) Ilen is already off the coast of southwest Ireland, after a storming fair-wind sail across the Celtic Sea, and all being well she should be into Limerick on the tide tomorrow (Tuesday) at lunchtime.

1700hrs update - With rising winds and a difficult forecast, Ilen came into Baltimore this (Monday) evening

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The River Thames in the heart of London is a lively piece of intensely tidal water, so for vessels bound for the sea-locked haven of St Katharine Docks beside Tower Bridge, it can be restless enough lying in
the waiting berth in the river until your allotted time for passing through the tidal lock comes up on the clock.

Eight days after leaving Limerick, the 56ft 1926-vintage ketch Ilen locked through today (Sunday), and is now in the deep peace of the dock where skilful urban planning has resulted in restful groves of trees
cheek-by-jowl with buildings ancient and new. Skipper Gary MacMahon and his crew have a busy schedule lined up during their city-linking venture, with the highlight being next Wednesday (May 4th) at 3.0pm, when Glin Castle-linked actor Dominic West will host a reception bringing together and celebrating the many international strands in Ilen's remarkable history.

A final glimpse of Tower Bridge before Ilen moves into the haven.A final glimpse of Tower Bridge before Ilen moves into the havenAncient and modern: Ilen's London berth beside the Tower HotelAncient and modern: Ilen's London berth beside the Tower Hotel

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Following the departure last Saturday for her 700-mile Limerick-London voyage, the trading ketch Ilen under the command of Ilen Marine School Director Gary Mac Mahon was able to sail the track as far as Land's End
in Cornwall, which she rounded on Monday afternoon. But since then with persistent (and at times very cold) easterlies in the English Channel, in order to make progress, it has been necessary to knuckle down and rely on
the trusty classic Gardiner auxiliary diesel to move the 1926-vintage 56-footer on her way.

But as it happens, although the Ilen originator Conor O'Brien was a devoted sailing enthusiast, when the Falkland Islands Company insisted on an adequate auxiliary engine, he brought his practicality as an architect to the task. Thus as the profile of the ship in this Falkland Islands commemorative stamp of 2001 reveals, he ensured that the entire aperture for the propellor was taken out of the deadwood of the hull, while the almost vertical and complete rudder optimises prop-thrust for the tight manoeuvring essential in some of the very confined berthing areas in the islands.

Any boat with a heavily-raked rudder from which a large aperture has been removed to accommodate the propellor is at a complete manoeuvrability disadvantage by comparison with this setup. So not surprisingly, Ilen is
fondly remembered in the Falklands for her user-friendly handling characteristics under power, and when the restoration project was underway in 2001, they ensured that for possibly the first tme ever, the Irish tricolour appeared on a British postage stamp.

Progress has been good this week under O'Brien's excellent engine arrangement, and this morning (Thursday) Ilen is now on a westerly heading up the Thames Estuary, well on time for arrival in St Katharine Dock where the main official event will be staged next Wednesday (May 4th) at 3.0pm.

Ilen's track-chart this morning (Thursday) into the Thames Estuary also records the persistent easterliesIlen's track-chart this morning (Thursday) into the Thames Estuary also records the persistent easterlies

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Although she is now meeting easterly headwinds in the English Channel as she voyages towards London following her departure down the Shannon Estuary on Saturday, the 56ft Limerick Trading Ketch Ilen was able to lay the course from the Fastnet Rock to the Seven Stones Lightship close eastward of the Isle of Scilly with sheets slightly cracked.

In fact, as the track chart shows, a helpful slant off the south coast of West Cork enabled her crew to grab a bit of extra weathering before settling down for the long haul across the Celtic Sea. Progress was so good that they were able to take a five-hour break in Falmouth last night (Monday) before heading off again at sunrise this morning (Tuesday).

Ilen's track from Limerick to Falmouth, which she reached last night (Monday)Ilen's track from Limerick to Falmouth, which she reached last night (Monday)

Meanwhile, next week's programme in St Katharine Dock - which will see a special international ceremony hosted by actor Dominic West at 3.0pm on Wednesday, May 4th - is taking on further dimensions, as the interesting craft currently in the dock include the 90ft Royal Rowbarge Gloriana.

The complex building of Gloriana was successfully project-managed by Damian Byrne, who is from Cork, but went to school at Glenstal Abbey in Limerick. There, his teachers included Brother Anthony Keane who is much involved with the Ilen Project, and this link will become tangible in London with Ilen and Gloriana in port together.

On track. Ilen making goood progress yesterday (Monday) across the Celtic SeaOn track. Ilen making goood progress yesterday (Monday) across the Celtic Sea

The 90ft Rowbarge Gloriana, whose building was project-managed by former Glenstal Abbey pupil Damian Byrne of Cork, will be in St Katharine Dock during Ilen's visit next week.The 90ft Rowbarge Gloriana, whose building was project-managed by former Glenstal Abbey pupil Damian Byrne of Cork, will be in St Katharine Dock during Ilen's visit next week.

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The complex and long-standing relationship between the ancient city ports of Limerick and London will be celebrated with a ceremony on the historic Trading Ketch Ilen in the London city-centre St Katharine Dock, beside Tower Bridge on the River Thames, on the afternoon of Wednesday, May 4th at 3.0pm.

The host for the inaugural event on May 4th will be celebrated international movie and TV star Dominic West, who is himself a lifelong waterways enthusiast with the bonus of close links to the Shannon Estuary through his marriage into the FitzGerald family of Glin Castle.

The Ilen departs from Limerick city this Saturday – April 23rd – London-bound on a voyage towards a cultural exchange which will see the restored 1926-vintage Baltimore-built 56ft ketch staying on in St Katharine Dock as the focal point for number of events until May 14th.

A much-travelled veteran – the Ilen in Greenland in 2019 (left), and the voyage from Limerick to London which gets under way this Saturday (April 23rd).A much-travelled veteran – the Ilen in Greenland in 2019 (left), and the voyage from Limerick to London which gets under way this Saturday (April 23rd).  

ILEN DIRECTOR OUTLINES THE PROJECT 

Gary Mac Mahon, Director of the Ilen Marine School, takes up the story:

“The Ilen Marine School’s Limerick to London project is a celebration of Limerick-London and Anglo-Irish maritime links. The project involves sailing the Limerick-registered heritage ship Ilen from the Shannon Estuary to that of the Thames, departing April 23 from Steamboat Quay, Limerick and arriving at St. Katharine Dock, London, in the last days of April 2022. Port to port, a distance of approximately 750 nautical miles, and a voyage of nothing less than six days.

The Ilen, today in her 96th year, is owned and operated by the Ilen Marine School, Limerick, a not-for-profit community educational organisation whose mission finds expression through the medium of the marine. Specifically, the maritime traditions of western Ireland’s Shannon River and the Atlantic ebb and flow that gives her life.

The Ilen straddles two oceans and two nations. Built in Ireland in 1926 for the Falkland Islands, her genesis can be ascribed to a serendipitous 1925 encounter in London between Limerickman Conor O’Brien, the pioneering voyager and global circumnavigator, and a Mr Goddard of the Falkland Islands Company in London.

Goddard had been tasked with procuring a new service vessel for the island farms of East Falkland. O’Brien, a trained architect, took Goddard’s boat-building commission from London to his drawing board in Limerick, and later that year Ilen’s keel was laid at Baltimore, where she took her name from the nearby River Ilen.

Delivered under his own command by O’Brien, Ilen duly arrived in Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands in January 1927 - that same stout Baltimore-laid keel having cut straight through the waters of the North and South Atlantic oceans.

At the heart of a great port city - St Katharine Dock will be home to Ilen for two weeks in May.At the heart of a great port city - St Katharine Dock will be home to Ilen for two weeks in May

This May, Ilen’s first visit to her place of conception will see her provide a broad cultural platform for British-Irish events on the Thames River, in the shadow of London’s Tower Bridge. This programme of cultural events on the Thames River – which will include a visit to Greenwich - welcomes all who wish to celebrate British-Irish relationships through Limerick-London maritime links and the voyage of the good ship Ilen.”

LINEUP OF NOTABLE SPEAKERS ON ILEN IN LONDON

In his role as MC on May 4th, Dominic West will be introducing an eclectic line-up of speakers, including the Sheriff of the City of London, Alderman Alison Gowman, the Mayor of Limerick City and County Daniel Butler, Michael Lonergan of the Irish Embassy to Great Britain, 
and the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly Member for Port Stanley, Gavin Short.

The supporting organisations and individuals backing this unusual and intriguing venture include Ilen Marine School, Limerick 
Limerick City & County Council
, Limerick Civic Trust
, The University of Limerick 
Heritage Council - Irish Walled Towns Network, the Earl of Limerick, the JP McManus Benevolent Fund, the Port of London, the Irish Embassy to Great Britain, Tourism Ireland, the 
Falkland Islands Government, and the Royal Museum Greenwich.

A visit to historic Greenwich will also be included in the Ilen programme.A visit to historic Greenwich will also be included in the Ilen programme

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The restored 56ft trading ketch Ilen of 1926 vintage and Conor O’Brien fame has been blithely passage-making to and fro at speed – despite the unsettled weather – along the southwest coast in recent weeks, as Ilen Marine School Director Gary Mac Mahon and his colleagues prepare their ship for her “Culture Voyage” to London.

After a high-profile period of being hospitably wintered in Galway Docks, where her squaresail yard provided the structure for some industrial-grade Christmas tree lighting at the height of the festive season, Ilen zapped southward in the mad March days towards her re-birth home of Liam Hegarty’s boatyard at Oldcourt on the Ilen River above Baltimore.

vGoing about her business – the Limerick trading ketch Ilen will be London-bound in late April. Photo: Gary Mac MahonGoing about her business – the Limerick trading ketch Ilen will be London-bound in late April. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

Welcome aboard! Ilen’s hospitable saloon looking its best at the conclusion of the recent refit.Welcome aboard! Ilen’s hospitable saloon looking its best at the conclusion of the recent refit.

There, a fortnight of very concentrated survey and re-fit programme was put in hand, and with April upon them, the job was done. Despite the restlessness of the Atlantic – particularly in the Blaskets area – it was expedient to have the ship back in Limerick at the earliest opportunity, and now she is returned to her home port after a 23-hour passage quayside to quayside, with the benefits of the ketch’s big stove much appreciated.

Looking good – Ilen back in Limerick this week. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon   Looking good – Ilen back in Limerick this week. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon  

Departure for London in the latter half of April will allow a comfortable time window to be berthed at the beginning of May in St Katharine’s Dock beside Tower Bridge, with the dock authorities providing an accessible location for Ilen to stay until May 14th. There, she will act as the focal point for a series of events celebrating the positive links between ancient port cities.

Geography re-imagined – the logo for the Ilen’s London expedition.Geography re-imagined – the logo for the Ilen’s London expedition.

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The programme for the “cultural voyage” of the 56ft restored Limerick trading ketch Ilen to London in late April and through the first fortnight of May continues to take shape. The ship herself is now back in her birthplace at Liam Hegarty’s boatyard at Oldcourt
on the Ilen River in West Cork above Baltimore, after a brisk passage south at the end of the last week from winter quarters in the hospitable embrace of Galway Docks.

The annual Spring refit is underway, and Ilen Marine School director Gary Mac Mahon has confirmed that the successful Galway berthing is going to be replicated in London, where a prime berth for both visibility and accessibility has been allocated at the heart of the popular St Katharine’s Dock, immediately downriver of Tower Bridge in the midst of the city.

A much-travelled vessel. The Limerick ketch Ilen in Greenland (left), and the route of her proposed voyage to London in late April (right).A much-travelled vessel. The Limerick ketch Ilen in Greenland (left), and the route of her proposed voyage to London in late April (right).

Organisations that are involved with the Ilen Marine School in this visionary project include:

  • Embassy of Ireland, Great Britain
  • Falkland Islands Government
  • University of Limerick 
  • Port of London Authority
  • Limerick City and County Council
  • Royal Museums Greenwich
  • Edmund Limerick
  • Heritage Council - Walled Town Network 

Further details from [email protected]

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