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Displaying items by tag: Ilen

#woodenboats – It's an interesting time for old wooden boats. They may be traditional craft, or classics, or simply ordinary timber boats which have reached a stage in life where they need serious and special attention. Whatever the circumstances, it's clear that their situation strikes a chord with sailors everywhere. And when there's good news about a restoration, it heartens the maritime community to know that worthwhile plans are being implemented. W M Nixon takes us on a tour.

The maritime highlight of this past week was down in the far southwest, at the ceremony in Liam Hegarty's boatyard at Oldcourt above Baltimore on the River Ilen when the "whiskey plank" was fastened in place to complete the hull re-build of the 1926 Conor O'Brien 56ft trading ketch Ilen. It has been a long haul since Ilen was brought back to Ireland from her working area in the Falkland Islands in 1997. Yet somehow, despite all sorts of problems of which the economic recession was only one, the Ilen really is starting to look ship-shape again.

Then in another part of the country, the word had come through that one of the Belfast Lough 27ft S Class sloops, twenty of which were built on the shores of Ballyholme Bay between 1946 and 1963, was facing extinction in a corner of County Louth. The news resulted in a flurry of photos on the Afloat.ie website spurred on by the indefatigable Pat Murphy, and soon the Sorona found herself a new home in a yard in Newry.

There, the story is that she'll be sharing space with the vintage ketch Silvery Light, a substantial vessel built in 1884 on the beach at St Ives in Cornwall to be a herring drifter, and now undergoing a much-needed restoration in Newry after being brought by new owners into Carlingford Lough last Autumn.

Sorona may have been only 52 years old. But her deteriorating condition was a reminder that the climate of Ireland and the seas around us can be merciless to a wooden vessel unless - whether deliberately or by happy accident - the boat is stored in a timber-friendly sheltered environment which is not too hot or cold, nor excessively wet or dry.

wooden2.jpgA formidable restoration challenge. The 1884-built ketch Silvery Light – seen here in Carlingford last October – will be undergoing restoration in Newry. Photo: Peter Redmond

In the middle of the Irish Sea in the ancient capital of the Isle of Man at Castletown, the 26ft schooner Peggy had survived remarkably well in her harbourside "boat cellar" under Bridge House. In fact, her survival was miraculous, as Peggy was built in 1789, making her probably the oldest yacht in the world. But in recent years, it became clear that a major conservation project was going to be needed to preserve this unique craft.

And just three weeks ago, for the first time in 180 years, the Peggy was removed from her private space in a skilled operation. She is now safely ensconced in a specially prepared conservation workshop in the island's modern capital of Douglas, where it is anticipated the painstaking process of preserving this exceptional gem of maritime heritage could take five years.

Once you have the ideal conditions of micro-climate in place for doing the job, conservation is a long haul, a project of infinite patience. One of the best examples of how it can be done successfully is in Dublin with the Asgard, now on display in Collins Barracks. John Kearon, who learned his shipwright skills in Arklow and then broadened them to include historical work with the Liverpool Maritime Museum, was to lead the team working on this from 2007 until its completion in 2012.

The result is a multi-value display, as the 1905-built Asgard has her place in Irish history through the 1914 gun-running to Howth, she is also totally associated with Erskine Childers which takes us, among other elements in a complex history, into the world of his 1903 best-selling espionage novel The Riddle of the Sands, and she is a marvellous example of the work of the great designer-builder Colin Archer of Norway in creating a very able seagoing yacht of the era, one of the best cruising vessels of her time.

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The Asgard in Collins Barracks is a fine example of conservation. A group of Erskine Childers enthusiasts from the Royal Cruising Club is seen here listening intently to a talk by conservator John Kearon about the vessel and the preservation work done with her by his team. Throughout her ownership by Erskine & Molly Childers from 1905, Asgard played a prominent role in the activities of the RCC, and in 1913 their friend Gordon Shepherd was awarded the club's historic Challenge Cup for his remarkable Autumn cruise with Asgard from Norway to North Wales via the Shetland Islands and the Hebrides. Photo: W M Nixon

In her day, the little Peggy was also something of a unique star. Though based in the Isle of Man and most active during the 1890s, she was never in Ireland. Had she been seen on the Irish coast, it would probably have been because she'd been captured by the privateers and smugglers of Rush in North Dublin, who were the capture and contraband industry leaders of their day.

So when Peggy's owner George Quayle (1751-1835) took her "abroad", it was prudently to northern England to race successfully against a small fleet of early yachts on Windermere in the Lake District, though we can be sure that if the men of Rush had come anywhere near him, Quayle would have put up a gallant fight, as Peggy was an armed yacht with miniature cannons which most certainly weren't toys.

But it's the realization that Quayle was active at sea with the Peggy in the years after Luke Ryan of Rush was at his busiest, yet before James Mathews of the same port was at his most active, which helps us to grasp her historical significance. She was sailing the Irish Sea well before the Battle of Trafalgar. But thanks to being immured for a hundred years in her boat cellar after George Quayle died in 1835, this small but significant vessel has survived to become something of extraordinary value today.

Her inevitable deterioration was accelerating in recent years because of mineralization of her fastenings, which were not only consuming themselves, but were damaging all the timber about them. However, her conservation was not something to be undertaken lightly. The provision of a proper facility had to be organised, and then the liftout, clear over the tops of the harbourside houses, had to be planned within inches.

It was all relatively new territory for many of those involved, with much preparatory work. So what had originally been planned as an Autumn 2014 lift finally became possible in late January 2015, just when the weather went to pot, with one gale after another making for impossible conditions. But then one cold Thursday morning at the end of January, the wind maps suggested the arrival of a brief lull in the northwest gales. It arrived exactly on time on a sunny day suggestive of early Spring, and gently but steadily the Peggy emerged.

As Chris Weeks of Manx Heritage remarked as he watched from the parapet above George Quayle's little boat dock, the one thing
they didn't want to hear was any creaking or groaning. If the special lifting cradle was doing its job, the Peggy would rise from her nest of 180 years in perfect silence. And that's exactly how it went, with the lift done in two stages as they were working in very confined streets and spaces.

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Of course, after all the fuss those of us in the Peggy Appreciation Society have been making for years, when she did finally come into the open the inevitable reaction was: "But she's very small". What on earth did they expect? Something like Nelson's Victory rising up over the old houses of Castletown? How many times do we have to reiterate that she's only 26ft in overall length, just a foot longer overall than a Folkboat, though with greater bulk and a longer waterline.

What her emergence did properly reveal, for the first time in all those 180 years, is just how much the Peggy is a vessel of her era. This is indeed a ship – albeit a miniature one – of the 18th Century. But she's an 18th Century high performance mini-ship nevertheless – this is undoubtedly a vessel well worth conserving.

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Peggy aloft. The newest crane in the Isle of Man lifts the oldest boat in the Isle of Man. Photo: Michael Kneale

So the day went well. And for those with a technical interest in such things, the word is that the delicate lifting of the oldest boat in the Isle of Man was done by the newest crane on the Isle of Man, a Japanese made Tadano recently delivered (for a cool £550,000) to Mann Crane Hire whose boss Chris Barnes was understandably proud of the smooth work put in by his supervisor Colin Fitzgerald and crane driver David Hooper.

Thanks to their good work everyone was able, for the first time in 180 years, to fully admire and savour the Peggy's lines. To the uninitiated, she may look like just another 26ft clinker-built boat. But for connoisseurs, she's living history with a stylish hull, as she has the most gorgeous hollow waterlines forward, and a sweet run aft – George Quayle had himself a flyer.

wooden5.jpgTo a casual observer, this may look like just another 26ft clinker-built boat. But for connoisseurs, this is a genuine miniature of a 17th Century ship - the Peggy is very special. Photo: Michael Kneale

So it's a bit sad that, as with the Asgard, we have to accept that conservation means the Peggy will never sail again. But thanks to John Kearon's painstaking work, the plans of Asgard as she was originally in 1905 are readily available for any group wishing to build a seagoing replica. Stranger things have happened. And as the Peggy is of such a manageable size, it's even more likely that a new seagoing replica of the little Manx schooner will appear some time, and maybe sooner rather than later. After all, she'd be much the same size as the "new" Shannon hooker Sally O'Keeffe down in Kilrush, which is absolutely on target as a community maritime project.

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The 2012-built Sally O'Keeffe on the Shannon Estuary is much the same size as the Peggy of Castletown.

wooden7_1.jpgA genuine community project. Some of the team who built Sally O'Keeffe in Querrin aboard the boat in Kilrush with lead builder Steve Morris second left in the trio up forward. Photo: W M Nixon

Nevertheless after immersing ourselves in the dusty academic topic of proper boat conservation, it's like a breath of fresh air to consider the Ilen, for she will definitely sail again. Tom MacSweeney of this parish was at the ceremony, so we'll defer to himself for his detailed report on the occasion in the fullness of time. But just from looking at the photos, you can get some idea of the quality of the workmanship that Gary MacMahon and his team from the Ilen Trust and Boatbuilding School in Limerick are getting from Liam Hegarty and his shipwrights at Oldcourt.

The pure style of the new planking is a joy to behold. And as for the use of classic bronze spikes for the fastenings, they're a work of the craftsman's art in themselves. Gary MacMahon brought one along to the recent Sail Training Ireland Annual Awards ceremony in the Mansion House in Dublin, and in that setting and on that occasion, you couldn't help but think that if our impoverished nation had been able to utilise bronze fastenings of this standard in Asgard II when building her in the late 1970s, rather than the galvanized steel fastenings that had to be used, then our beloved sail training brigantine might still be sailing today.

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Quality work at every level. The superb workmanship on the Ilen restoration by Liam Hegarty is much in evidence as Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney supports Kate Jarvey of the Ruth Lilly Philanthropic Trust as she drives the bronze fastening to complete the "whiskey plank". Photo: Kevin O'Farrell

But Asgard II is long gone, and so too is Conor O'Brien's Saoirse, the 42ft Baltimore-built ketch in which the Limerick sailor made his extraordinary voyage round the word south of the Great Capes in 1922-25. Thus Ilen is the only tangible link to that remarkable and very historic achievement. For those who enjoy looking at line drawings of boats (not everyone does - there are some who claim that such technical stuff makes them feel "disenfranchised"), it's intriguing to compare the lines of the 42ft Saoirse and the 56ft Ilen.
They're clearly sisters, but you'll note that the Ilen people have made sure that Tom Moynihan of Baltimore is given a significant amount of credit for the design, for down in West Cork they'll tell you that for all that Conor O'Brien was an architect by profession, it took Tom Moynihan's skills to turn his rough concept sketches into vessels capable of sailing so ably across the oceans.

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The lines of Ilen as taken off the hull by laser scanner

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The hull lines of Saoirse as interpreted by Myles Stapleton (designer of Sally O'Keeffe) from basic drawings by Conor O'Brien

An Irish designer who didn't need anyone's help to make his creations look like proper boats was John B Kearney (1879-1967). He may have started his working life as a boy apprentice at Murphy's Boatyard in Ringsend in the early 1890s, while his working life was to be spent with Dublin Port & Docks where he rose to be Superintendent of Engineering Works. But his lifetime ambition was always to be a yacht designer, he trained and studied for it in his very limited spare time from boyhood, and then he worked at it throughout his long retirement. When he finally died at the age of 87, his gravestone in Glasnevin says it all, as it simply reads: John Breslin Kearney.....Yacht Designer. Beloved and respected by all that knew him.

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Mavis in her element under Skipper Kearney's command, on her way to winning Skerries Regatta in 1928

For everyone who sailed with him in his many successful cruises and races, he was always Skipper Kearney, and Skipper Kearney's finest creation was the 38ft yawl Mavis which he designed and built himself in Ringsend in 1923-25. Mavis went to America in 1956, and from time to time we've mentioned the continuing process of restoration on her in Camden, Maine, which has been going on for quite a few years now. It has been a lengthy process as owner/restorer Ron Hawkins has to take time out now and again to earn extra funds as a shipwright in order to to keep the Mavis restoration show on the road.

But it's getting there at last. So much so, indeed, that having given the hull of Mavis its first coat of paint in more than twenty years just a couple of weeks ago, Ron and his partner Denise Pukas are now talking of a re-launch date of July 4th 2015 for the restored ship, this treasure of the Irish yacht designer's art and craft.

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The quality of workmanship in the restoration of Mavis is clearly displayed. Note how John B Kearney skillfully carried the beam well aft in order to provide a wide and comfortable afterdeck despite incorporating a canoe stern. Photo: Denise Pukas

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The canoe stern on Mavis with its first coat of fresh paint in 20 years. Here we can appreciate again how John Kearney managed to have an elegant canoe stern while providing plenty of deck space aft. Photo: Denise Pukas

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The most famous Kearney hull of all begins to emerge from restoration. It is hoped to re-launch Mavis on July 4th 2015. Photo: Denise Pukas

It would be pleasant to keep this week's commentary on a good news theme right through to the end, but the various emails about saving the Sorona from an untimely end in County Louth brought the information that there are skilled boatbuilders in places like Arklow who are looking for boats needing restoration - not as a commercial venture, but rather as a worthwhile private project.

The secret of it all is surely being able to assess if a particular boat is too far gone to be within your restoration capabilities and resources. Be that as it may, it was sadly ironic to reflect that within yards of the bright and cheerful festival which celebrated the final plank being installed on the Ilen, there's a derelict little boat which would be very rewarding to restore, but it's likely that she's so far gone it's actually a re-build you'd be contemplating.

We're talking of the Englyn, the Harrison Butler-designed 26-footer which came up on the radar last May when were discussing the new 31ft Harrison Butler-designed Khamseen class which Steve Morris, lead builder of the Sally O'Keeffe, is constructing beside his house near Kilrush. But while Steve's boat is starting to look very healthy indeed, sad little Englyn is anything but as she lies abandoned within yards of the Old Cornstore where Ilen is being so beautifully re-born.

Part of the problem in getting anyone interested in the Englyn – which was built in 1934 in Southampton – is that her only link to Ireland was through various owners later in her life. Yet in her day she was considered a classic, so much so that when Eric Hiscock's defining book Cruising Under Sail was published in 1950, Englyn was one of the featured designs. And as the designer Harrison Butler was professionally an ophthalmic surgeon who put heart and soul into everything he did, when Hiscock asked him for the plans he went to infinite pains to bring them to life as a vision of a proper little cruising yacht, even to having a trussed chicken shown in the meat locker.

Over and above that, when looking at Englyn's plans it's not unreasonable to think that, 25 years before Lyle Hess was starting to design his first characterful boats, Harrison Butler was thinking along much the same lines. And he had the boats afloat to prove it.

But that piece of thinking is another day's work. For now, give us a moment of your time to consider the drawings of Englyn as she was in her prime. Then pause briefly to consider sadly how she looked last Monday as Ilen was re-born nearby. And then let's hear it from those who say they're looking for a worthwhile restoration project.

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Englyn as she was last Monday at Oldcourt, as the re-birth of Ilen was being celebrated nearby. Photo: John Wolfe

Published in W M Nixon

#ilen – As previously reported by Afloat.ie, the good ship Ilen's whiskey plank was jointly nailed home by Minister For The Marine, Simon Coveney, Mrs Kate Jarvey of Ruth Lily Philanthropic Trust, Mr Gerry Boland of JP McManus Charitable Foundation, Rear Admiral Mark Mellett, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces and Gary MacMahon, director of Ilen School.
Minister Simon Coveney praised the educational model of the Ilen School and the quality of it's community work. He also delighted in the high quality of shipbuilding in the ongoing reconstruction of the good ship Ilen.
As a sailor of wooden boats he related his deep appreciation and enthusiasm for the great traditions of vernacular boatbuilding, and further added that there should be many ships in the style of the Ilen plying a new contemporary trade in community education and national tourism on the south and west coast of Ireland. He also remarked on the unique capacity of boats to unit coastal community – in this particular case the communities of Limerick City and Baltimore, West Cork.
– Over 150 guests attended the ceremony in the Cornstore of Hegarty's Boatyard, leaving little room to swing the custom cast bronze maul.
– Brother Anthony Keane of Glenstal Abbey, director of Ilen School, was MC for the occasion and gave a wonderful and numenious address, evoking the great sea myths of Ireland, and, in the immemorial custom of boatbuilding, doused the wooden hull with Irish whiskey, generously sponsored by Teeling Whiskey.
Michael Byrne of Sail Training Ireland also attended the ceremony – his organisation plan to extend their national sail training programme to include youth in Limerick this year in a joint venture with the Ilen School, and go on to place trainees on the Ilen, when with a fair wind she might enter her operational phase in 2017.
The event was also attended by participants and instructors from the Ilen School, the shipwrights of Hegarty's Boatyard, Oldcourt as well as many officanados from the maritime sphere.
The event was also attended by Tom MacSweeney, who interviewed and recorded the principal project personalities for his maritime radio programme This Island Nation.

Published in Ilen

#ilen – Simon Coveney T.D. Minister for Agriculture, Food & The Marine and Minister For Defence will hammer home the final 'whiskey plank' of European larch on the hull of the good ship Ilen on Monday, 16th February.

The whiskey plank is the final crafted plank nailed to the hull of a wooden sailing ship. It is a significant milestone in the build and is traditionally marked by a celebration.

The Ilen is the last of Ireland's traditional sailing ships. Built in 1926, it was delivered by Munster men to the Falkland Islands where it served valiantly for seventy years, enduring and enjoying the Roaring Forties, the Furious Fifties, and Screaming Sixties.

Returned now to Ireland and given a new breath of life with powerful ribs of grown Irish oak, and long planks of European larch from our gallant allies in the Bavarian Alps, she pitches impatiently in the trammels of the great Corn Store in Hegarty's Boatyard, as eager as a young salmon to get to the sea.

Published in Ilen

President Michael D Higgins has been in Limerick this week in honour of its status as Ireland's City of Culture 2014. In addition to other events, a highlight was his award of the Freedom of Limerick, something very special to him as he was born in the Shannonside port.

Ireland's Head of State is keenly aware of the Shannon and Limerick's rich maritime heritage, and he and his party spent almost an hour visiting the "Naumachia in the Cathedral", the exhibition in St Mary's Cathedral of the CityOne sailing dinghies built by trainees with the Ilen Boatbuilding School in the city.

The Ilen Boatbuilding School has several significant cultural aspects, as it was brought into being by Limerick designer Gary MacMahon and Brother Anthony Keane of Glenstal Abbey initially to teach boat-building skills by restoring the 1926-built 56ft ketch Ilen, which was designed by noted Shannon Estuary ocean voyager and adventurer Conor O'Brien.

But then as the work of the school developed, it took on the project of also building 23ft boats of the traditional Shannon gandelow type, specialized craft which evolved over the centuries to deal with the challenges of using the shallow and muddy waters of the Shannon Estuary with its exceptional tidal range.

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The President of Ireland is welcomed to the Naumachia in the Cathedral by Brother Anthony Keane of Glenstal Abbey. Also foreground are the Dean of Limerick the Very Reverend Sandra Bragnell, Mrs Sabina Higgins, and Gary MacMahon of Ilen Boatbuilding School.

It was the first time any new gandelows had been built in well over thirty years. This project was then further developed to build the CityOne Sailing Dinghies specifically for Limerick use, the unique design of these boats being drawn by naval architect Theo Rye to a detailed Limerick specification. With the new dinghies planned for completion at the height of Limerick's year as City of Culture, a CityOne International Graphic Arts Competition was also launched to create innovative ideas for the colour layouts on the sails and the hulls of the boats. It attracted 61 entries worldwide, and the four selected designs were from graphic artists in Kenya, Ireland Portugal and Texas.

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Participants in the Ilen School at the Cathedral included (left to right) Robert Smalle. Tony Broe, Liam O'Donoghue, James Madigan (Ilen School Instructor), Michael Grimes and Gary Wilmott.

It was the CityOne dinghies with their striking colour schemes which formed the centrepiece of the Naumachia in the Cathedral. But there were other exhibits linked to the many aspects of the Ilen School's work too, and in addition to meeting the boatbuilders and crews that sail the CityOnes, the President also met the "Gandelow Gang", who are drawn from the Limerick area both to make up the building teams for gandelows and CityOnes alike, and to row the gandelows in competition and traditional boat gatherings at home and abroad.

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The Presidential party inspect the exhibits detailing the work of the Ilen School

In concluding his speech, the President summed up the mood of the day:

"I very much want to thank everyone involved in staging this exhibition here in this magnificent 12th Century building. What a great tribute it is to those who put all the original stones in place, that there is something new of the human spirit and craft being exhibited here. These boat builders, they are consummate craftsmen.

The international design dimension to the CityOne project is to be highly commended, and it is such a pleasure to be here with you today. I am delighted that the Ilen School project is part of the Limerick City of Culture. Isn't it wonderful that these skills are being passed down and developed, so that more and more people can take part, and for the community to see such inspiring craft?"

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The President meets members of the Gandelow Gang and the Ilen Boatbuilding School including (left to right) James Madigan, Michael Grimes, Gary Wilmott and Tony Broe.

Published in Shannon Estuary

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, the senior TD in Limerick, yesterday morning launched a "Naumachia in the Cathedral" with the boats built in the visionary CityOne project in the Shannonside city. On Monday afternoon, President Michael D Higgins will also see the boats in St Mary's Cathedral, and meet those involved. It has all become a key part of the Limerick City of Culture 2014, but as W M Nixon reveals, the success of the CityOne dinghies is just part of a remarkable continuing series of creative boatbuilding programmes.

Gary MacMahon of Limerick has a remarkable talent for publicity. Yet he doesn't court it personally. On the contrary, he tends to keep to one side when events he has brought about are in full swing. But because he keeps coming up with visionary ideas which no-one else had thought of before, and also has the ability, patience and quietly persuasive powers to bring them to fruition in the fullness of what is sometimes a very long time, inevitably the novel brilliance of what he has achieved hits the attention button big time.

By profession, he is a graphic and website designer running Copper Reed Studios in Limerick city with his wife Michelle and a staff of six. But like all Limerick people, he has a passion for seeing his home town doing better, improving its image, and making itself a more enjoyable place. And when that passion is allied to the MacMahon powers of vision and dreaming the dream, the results can be extraordinary.

He first came to national attention within Ireland's maritime community back in 1998, when he inspired and organized the return of Conor O'Brien's ketch Ilen from the Falkland Islands. In 1923-25, the magnificent voyage by Conor O'Brien of Foynes on the Shannon Estuary round the world in the 42ft ketch Saoirse – which he'd designed himself to be built in Baltimore – had in turn resulted the Falkland Islanders being so impressed by Saoirse when she sailed in to their lonely archipelago after rounding Cape Horn, that they ordered a larger sister sister-ship to be built for their inter-island service vessel.

This resulted in the cargo and passenger carrying 56ft ketch Ilen, designed by O'Brien (an architect by training though a writer by vocation)) and Tom Moynihan, who'd built Saoirse and now built the new vessel in Baltimore in 1926. The ketch finished, the difficulty was getting her to her new owners in the Falklands. In the end, to get insurance for the delivery trip in which he would be in command, O'Brien had to register the Ilen as a yacht, and he sailed her out to the Falklands as he'd sailed Saoirse, under the burgee of the Royal Irish Yacht Club, with Ilen crewed by two islanders from Cape Clear.

Meanwhile Saoirse, having gone through a few mostly happy ownerships, was wrecked after being driven from her moorings in a hurricane in Jamaica in 1979. The gallant Ilen, still working away in the Falklands and now fitted with a larger auxiliary engine, continued to give good service. But by the 1990s the word was that she was no longer in use, having been laid up on moorings at Port Stanley, reportedly in basically quite good order but inevitably suffering from the region's severe weather.

Ilen was now unique as the only surviving O'Brien seagoing design. So one crisp morning in the winter of 1997-98, Gary MacMahon suddenly found himself possessed by the notion that the Ilen should be brought back to Limerick just as soon as possible to act as a re-birth symbol for the revitalization of a riverine city and its mighty Shannon Estuary, all of which were going through turmoil with industrial decline and the moving of Limerick port's operations downstream to Foynes and other deep-water pier locations.

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The Conor O'Brien-designed, Baltimore-built 56ft ketch Ilen back in Irish waters in 1998 for the first time since 1927. She is seen here in Dublin Bay before being sailed to Oldcourt on the Ilen River in West Cork. Photo: W M Nixon

Quite how he managed it all we can only guess, but within what seemed like a matter of days he found himself in Port Stanley with the deal done to buy the Ilen, and in the early Spring of 1998 she was unloaded from a ship in Dublin docks. Now what? Clearly, the old ketch needed massive restoration work in order to make her fit for any regular seagoing service under sail with trainees or passengers on board. But with her size and the special demands of her age and construction, there was only one place in Ireland where the work could be confidently undertaken, the Hegarty boatyard at Oldcourt on the River Ilen in West Cork just a few miles upstream from Baltimore where the ketch had been built 72 years earlier.

So in the summer of 1998 she was commissioned in Dublin Bay, and sailed under the command of Paddy Barry to Baltimore and a rapturous welcome. Then in time she was hauled into and old stone waterfront shed in Oldcourt, and here she has been ever since while a continuing programme of restoration has become, as is so often the case with old well-used boats, a virtual re-build, but done in such a way that the shape of the original vessel is exactly replicated, and at any time in going into the shed you are in fact looking at the Ilen.

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Work in progress – and it's still in progress. Boatbuilder Liam Hegarty (left) and Gary MacMahon at an early stage of the Ilen restoration, when the stem had been replaced.

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Replacing frames in Ilen at Oldcourt. Once the frames are all located, planks can also be replaced where necessary without any loss of the vessel's shape.

To do this, trainee boat-building schemes were implemented, with a strong Limerick emphasis in the recruiting. It soon acquired an international element with an input from many renowned traditional boatbuilders, until five years ago it was given a more formal structure with the establishment of the AK Ilen Boatbuilding School. The work continued in Oldcourt, but they also had bright new premises in Limerick where deckhouses and so forth for the Ilen could be built. But it was very quickly realized that a building programme for smaller boats in the Limerick premises would also provide a rewarding interest for people from all sorts of backgrounds who could find fulfillment – often unexpected fulfillment and mental serenity – in working with wood and building boats.

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Ship's carpenter JimMcInerney with the new deckhouse for Ilen in the boat-building school's Limerick premises

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The objective – Ilen as she will look when restored. Her underwater profile was shaped to facilitate landing people and goods at drying quays, or even directly onto a beach.

Initially they used a simple dory design, but then came a typical MacMahon stroke of genius. There's a type of boat unique to the Shannon Estuary known as the gandelow. The classic gandelow is around 23ft long, and while above the water she may look like a hefty version of a typical Irish clinker-built lakeboat as beloved by the mayfly fishermen, underneath she is completely flat-bottomed in order to have minimum draft, and to be capable of slithering across the gooey mud with which the 60-mile long Shannon Estuary, with its 5 metre tidal range, is generously provided.

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New gandelows a-building. The project eventually fused into the programme for Limerick City of Culture 2014

Quite how the name "gandelow" emerged back in the mists of time from a mangling of the Venetian word "gondola", if indeed it did, is anyone's guess. But the old boats are still actively used – a good place to see them is just below the bridge at Bunratty. However, with the encroachment of glassfibre workboats and robust aluminium knockabouts, it was at least thirty years since a new gandelow had been built in traditional style. But when Gary MacMahon and his team had their lightbulb moment to build a flotilla of 23ft gandelows in the Ilen base in Limerick, everything began to come much more strongly to life, and the Gandelow Gang was born.

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The elegant drawn-out transom of a gandelow.......Photo: W M Nixon

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...contrasts markedly with the no-nonsense shape of the bow. Photo: W M Nixon

The real secret of the success of such a project is that once the boats are built, they must as more than interesting maritime objects. They have to be used, and used as much as possible, taken to different venues and rowed in active competition both for team building and the sheer sport of it all. The classic gandelow is rewarding to row. She's hefty enough, but with proper teamwork quite a respectable speed is possible, and the sport is good but as with any boat racing, skilled mark-rounding can be crucial to success, particularly so with these flat bottomed skid-pans which can slide sideways when you're trying to cut through on the inside curve.

As for locations, in 2014 alone the Gandelow Gang have been making the scene at the Battle of Clontarf re-enactment in April (after all, the original winner Brian Boru was a Limerick man, even if he was killed at the end of it). Then in late April they were in Venice. Just like that. For where else in Europe would you feel obliged to take a gandelow?

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Getting afloat in Venice, Limerick style. The Gandelow gang had to make their own launching arrangements when they arrived in the Serenissima.....

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.....but once established in Venice, they were soon part of the scene

When Limerick folk decide to up and go from their homely city, they get on and do it, and though they were co-ordinating with the Serenissima's Master of Waterborne Ceremonies in Venice, they did many things their own no-nonsense way. And as for how a squad of ordinary Limerick people can afford a six-day stay in one of the most expensive cities in the world, the word is they sussed out a convent right at the heart of things where deserving guests can stay for €25 per night.

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The Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival in May provided another showcase for the gandelows. Seen here rowing their classic Limerick boat towards the gaff ketch Sile a Do are Liam O'Donoghue, Anthony Kenny and Robert Smalle

For the gandelows back from Venice, in addition to races at home, 2014 continued with the Baltimore Wooden Boat festival at the end of May, the Lough Scur Midsummer Festival in June, and the Ballydehob Gathering of the Boats in August (see this blog September 6th). This would be enough for most of us to be getting along with, but back in the Ilen base in Limerick another project was rapidly taking shape, the CityOne sailing dinghies.

Inner city interest in small boats in Limerick had been aroused by the gandelows, so the building of a class of sailing dinghies was seen as adding a logical new element. But while some people thought something like a GP 14 or the heftier Wayfarer might best fill the bill, this was to miss the point of the Ilen experience entirely. To work, the boats had to be built in Limerick in the first place, and be to a unique design.

If this sounds a bit crazy, look at it as the small boat version of craft beers. Just about every town and village in Ireland now has its own craft brewery, and they cater for a thriving home and export trade for public tastes jaded by standardization and centralization. The making of the beers is as much part of the interest as their tasting and consumption. Equally so is the Ilen School philosophy for boats. The new CityOne dinghies were to be built from scratch, and their team-led construction, by people from every walk of life who had found a worthwhile interest in building small boats, would be vital to the success of the project.

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Gary MacMahon (left) with Theo Rye, designer of the CityOne. Photo: W M Nixon

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Hal Sisk (left) assembled a team to publish the G L Watson book, and from that Theo Rye (right) became the designer of the CityOne. Photo: W M Nixon

Everything hung on finding the right design. But with typical MacMahon serendipity, the right man was brought in. Gary had been much involved in his work as a designer with Hals Sisk's Peggy Bawn Press in creating that masterful and massive volume, the copiously-illustrated "G L Watson, the Art & Science of Yacht Design" by Martin Black, a wonderful account of the story of the great Scottish yacht designer which has deservedly won international awards since its publication in 2011. And among the team of all the talents involved in its creation was naval architecture historian and innovative boat designer Theo Rye, who was soon absorbed by the challenge of creating a design for a sailing dinghy which would be rewarding to sail, yet could be built in Limerick in timber – mostly plywood – by enthusiasts many of whom had little or no skill in boatbuilding, or even elementary woodwork.

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Early building stage of the first CityOne

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The basic hull is lifted clear........

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....and the attractive wood engineering of the interior is completed.

The result is a basically simple flat-bottomed design but with some beautiful wood engineering, as you'd expect with Hal Sisk donning his other hat as an engineer to make input into the construction details. Yet overall the concept is one of attractive simplicity. To move on from this, the Ilen group organized an international graphic design competition for ideas for the colour schemes for the first four boats. They attracted 61 entries worldwide, and the four selected schemes were from Cale Funderburk of Texas, Andre Aguiar of Portugal, Kashyap Gohel of Kenya, and Con Ryan of Limerick.

We've had teaser photos on Afloat.ie in recent weeks showing the first of these hyper-colourful boats having their trial sails, but believe me folks, you ain't seen nothing until you've seen them all together, and that only became possible last Saturday morning as the last of the foursome had only had her final coat of paint on Friday night.

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The first four CityOne dinghies racing together on the Shannon in the heart of Limerick on Saturday September 20th 2014 are decorated in the colour schemes created by (left to right) Con Ryan (Ireland), Kashyap Gohel (Kenya), Andre Aguiar (Portugal) and Cale Funderburk (Texas).

It was just in time, and what a time we had down on Shannonside in Limerick last Saturday, with the CityOne flotilla making their debut in the heart of town in a series of races masterminded by Geoff O'Donoghue of Lough Derg YC, while the gandelows staged a regatta in tandem with the sailing with some mighty oarsmanship.

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Off to the races. Gandelow stalwart Liam O'Donoghue rows across the river with oars and pennants ready to race. Photo: W M Nixon

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Geoff O'Donoghue of Lough Derg YC calls the first start of the gandelow races, which got off to a slightly ragged beginning.......Photo: W M Nixon

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......but soon the crews were settling into their stride......Photo: W M Nixon

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.......and by the finishes, the winning crews were setting a ferocious pace. Photo: W M Nixon

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The Ladies Crews were allowed one man on board....Photo: W M Nixon

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....but when it came to the racing, they were equally determined. Photo: W M Nixon

The sailing and rowing images which have resulted project a Limerick many people won't recognize from popular perceptions of that once-gritty town, but Limerick in its year as City of Culture is being re-born at astonishing speed. Thus the comfortable suburbs along the west side of the river provided an affluent, well-established and leafy background, but across on the east side, right in the heart of the old city's waterfront, the re-born Howley's Quay, with rugby legend Peter "The Claw" Clohessy's pub at the centre of it, provided an ideal regatta headquarters.

Pride of place in the Clohessy super-pub establishment is a completely re-vamped fine dining venue. As Gary MacMahon happened to be the design consultant on that, he persuaded the boss that it should be re-named The Gandelow Restaurant. So with the gandelows effecting their crew changes at the steps inside the new boardway right at the pub, all our ducks – and swans too – were neatly in a row to get a photo of a gandelow at The Gandelow.

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Peter Clohessy's famous bar-restaurant on Howley's Quay in Limerick provided an ideal regatta base......Photo: W M Nixon

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....and he in turn has re-named his fine dining venue in honour of the local traditional boats. Photo: W M Nixon

As to the CityOne racing, it was basically between teams from Culaun SC in Clare, Lough Derg YC, NUI Galway SC, two teams from Garrykennedy SC, Foynes YC, Killaloe SC, and the "Constructors Sailing Club" team which included Gary MacMahon, Theo Rye, Hal Sisk, and Steve Morris the talented New Zealand shipwright who led the building of the superb Sally O'Keeffe down in Kilrush (see this blog on May 10th), and whose guidance in the CityOne project was invaluable.

Many others were involved as RIBS were on hand to bring about crew changes and get as many people as possible, experienced and newcomers alike, out sailing in these remarkable little boats. But in the end, after working out a formula which only he fully understood, Geoff O'Donoghue declared that the winners were NUI Galway led by Cian Walsh.

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A dream comes true. New boats of the CityOne class sailing together in the heart of Limerick. Photo:W M Nixon

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The Shannon in Limerick becomes busy towards high water. Two new boats of the CityOne class are in pre-start manouevres while crews are conveyed to other boats by RIB, and at the west bank a four-oared racing shell from St Michael's Rowing Club finds a clear passage upriver. Photo: W M Nixon

However, the complexity of the racing formula tested even the commentary skills of another of the Ilen team, Brother Anthony from Glenstal Abbey. But his real strength being words which emerge from a quiet study, his thoughts came clearly forefront yesterday, as it was he who thought of calling the current display of the CityOne boats in St Mary's the "Naumachia in the Cathedral".

In this blog in times past, we've outlined the difficulties of making sailing a spectator sport by referring to the experiences of Roman Emperors who occasionally flooded the Colosseum to stage naval battle re-enactments, but even they found these bloodthirsty shows prohibitively expensive. However, thanks to Brother Anthony's research we find that the ancient Greeks were there first, as they coined the phrase Naumachia to capture the flavour of an enclosed naval engagement in a stadium setting. Now, down in Limerick, they've revived it, but with entirely peaceful connotations for boats on harmonious display in a cathedral.

That said, there was once something of a battle in St Mary's Cathedral, and it brings our story full circle by noting that it involved Conor O'Brien of Saoirse fame. Though he didn't practice very much as an architect, one job he took on shortly before leaving on the great voyage of the Saoirse was the design of a screen for St Mary's commissioned by the Glentworth family.

It had been mostly completed in the workshop before he departed in June 1923, but it wasn't installed until he was thousands of miles away in the midst of his voyage. They managed to put it in back-to-front. And it was only O'Brien himself who noticed his on his return. He was a man with a notoriously short fuse. It boggles the mind to imagine the scene.

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The Glentworth Screen in St Mary's Cathedral in Limerick was originally installed back-to-front while its architect Conor O'Brien was away on his famous voyage around the world in Saoirse..

But now, with the Glentworth Screen the right way round, all is sweetness and light in St Mary's Cathedral for the boats of the Ilen school. Michael Noonan TD launched the exhibition yesterday. President Michael D Higgins will be there on Monday afternoon. And as the boats are in the Cathedral for another two weeks , it's well worth seeing for a project which has helped to give unexpected added meaning to Limerick's role as City of Culture.

For as Minister Noonan put it at his launching of the exhibition: "I have always had the notion that the divisions between art and craft were too separate in Ireland, and that not enough credit was given to people that can do things with their hands, and are truly expert in their craft. There is a much wider concept where the artists and craftsmen come together and you get an integrated culture, and we can all celebrate that coming together here today".

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Sea and city intertwine. The new boardwalk bridge at the Howley's Quay Steps was ideal as a viewing platform, while the steps greatly aided crew changes for the gandelows. Photo: W M Nixon

Published in W M Nixon

#cityone – The Ilen School's new sailing boat CityOne will be on exhibition for Culture Night in Limerick City, Friday September 19th. A fleet of four CityOnes will be on view from 6pm to 9pm on Howley's Quay.

Culture Night, an annual all-island public event which celebrates culture, creativity and the arts, is a wonderful platform from which to exhibit the boats, whose dynamic graphics are the four selected designs from a very sucessful CityOne International Graphic Arts Competition. The boats have recently been designed and built in the Ilen School, Limerick City, as part of City of Culture celebrations.

The CityOnes will race the following day, September 20th from 1.30pm Saturday at Howleys Quay, Limerick City.

Published in Ilen

#cityone – The Ilen School CityOne Design Competition invites designers to submit designs for the sails and hull of a new CityOne performance sailing dinghy. Four of these CityOne dinghies are currently under construction through an innovative social educational programme in Limerick City.

As Afloat reported previously, The CityOne dinghy is a new performance dinghy, developed by the Ilen School and designed by naval architect Theo Rye as a legacy project of Limerick City of Culture 2014.

This exciting and challenging competition is open to all designers and high levels of creative freedom are encouraged for the task of designing a concept for application to the hull and sails.

Submissions must be sent by email to [email protected] There is no entry fee.

Three designs will be chosen by a judging panel and each single participant and group design chosen will receive €500* and enjoy the opportunity of seeing their designs creatively applied to the City One sail and hull before they take to the water for racing on the River Shannon, Limerick. The judging panel may also award additional non-monetary, special mentions.

Closing date for submissions Friday 25th July 2014. More on this on the City One competition page here.

Published in Shannon Estuary

#gandelow– The Ilen School Gandelow Races in Venice were a great success. The Venetians threw open their port to Limerick's superb traditional boat. Having trained our crews on Canal Grande and Bacino di San Marco the main race was held on a six mile course out from the main island to Burano, on Thursday May 1st.

Wherever the Limerick racing crews went they won great admiration for their seamanship and their fleet of four beautiful Gandelows, which have been built at the Ilen School over the last four months. This welcome, as if for a long lost boat, was found everywhere the Limerick Gandelow fleet went. People stopped on the canal sides to offer their precious moorings and to admire this fine expression of culture as if it were that missing element from their own fleet.
The raid was lead by Mayor of Limerick Kathleen Leddin, who was very well received in the Palace of the Commune. The Venetian master of ceremonies is planning to arrange another visit by the Ilen School to Venice later in the year.
For more information about Gandelow Boat Building and Gandelow Racing

Published in Historic Boats
Tagged under

#cityone – An international and local team of boat builders and naval architects have assembled at the Ilen School, Roxboro, as part of the Limerick City of Culture 2014 celebrations. The school is well underway towards the rollout of its Limerick City of Culture Sport and Legacy Project, which involves, as Afloat reported earlier the design and build of a new innovative sailing dinghy for Limerick City and a fleet of new 23′ rowing Gandelows.

The school, which is devoted to excellence in teaching and learning through the medium of boat building and related crafts, offers to the local and wider community, direct involvement in boat building, rowing, sailing or visits to the school workshop, to see at first hand the ongoing work.

Published in Ilen
A new scheme to teach traditional boatbuilding skills to university level could be of huge benefit to young people from disadvantaged areas of Limerick.
The Irish Times reports that degree programmes in traditional boat craft accredited by the UK's University of Middlesex are set to take their first students in 2012.
Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney also confirmed that partnerships have been developed with the US Northwest School of Wooden Boat-building and Sail Training International.
Some 40 trainees, mostly from Limerick's designated regeneration areas, have already taken part in the restoration of the ketch Ilen, designed by record-breaking sailor Conor O'Brien.
The AKA Ilen project, set up by boat-builder Gary McMahon, is intended to "nurture self-belief and confidence through the medium of wooden boatbuilding and maritime education".
The Irish Times has more on the story HERE.

A new scheme to teach traditional boatbuilding skills to university level could be of huge benefit to young people from disadvantaged areas of Limerick.

The Irish Times reports that degree programmes in traditional boat craft accredited by the UK's University of Middlesex are set to take their first students in 2012.

Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney also confirmed that partnerships have been developed with the US Northwest School of Wooden Boat-building and Sail Training International.

Some 40 trainees, mostly from Limerick's designated regeneration areas, have already taken part in the restoration of the ketch Ilen, designed by record-breaking sailor Conor O'Brien.

The AKA Ilen project, set up by boat-builder Gary McMahon, is intended to "nurture self-belief and confidence through the medium of wooden boatbuilding and maritime education".

The Irish Times has more on the story HERE.

Published in News Update
Page 14 of 14
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