By BRIAN MOORE
A PIECE of West Cork sailing history is coming back to life after years of loving care and attention in Hegarty’s boatyard at Old Court, just outside Skibbereen.
A 56ft wooden sailing ketch, the Ilen, was built in Baltimore in 1926 by local boat builder Tom Moynihan and designed by world-renowned sailor Conor O’Brien from Limerick.
‘The Ilen set sail for the Falkland Islands after it was launched and then spent the next 70 years as a trading vessel,’ Mary Jordan of the Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival told The Southern Star.
Then in 1998 the Ilen was returned to Ireland after being discovered beached on one of the islands in the South Atlantic. With the skills of Liam Hegarty and the Ilen School in Limerick, the project got underway to restore and ultimately relaunch Ilen.
‘The Ilen Project is an inter-community endeavour which brings together Oldcourt, Skibbereen and Roxboro in Limerick City for positive community collaboration,’ Gary MacMahon, director at the Ilen Project in Limerick, said. ‘The project is primarily recognised for its work on the rebuilding of the Ketch Ilen, Ireland’s sole surviving wooden sail trading vessel. And while the rebuild process is significant in many cultural and heritage ways, the Ilen Project is first and foremost a celebration of hands-on manual labour, the shaping of unrefined materials and the diffusion of marine craft skills. In this case, between two Irish costal communities – though the project also welcomes and cultivates participation nationally and internationally.’
Indeed, numerous ‘hands’ have helped to get the Ilen to a stage where she is almost ready to be removed from the shed at Hegarty’s Boat Yard and launched once more on familiar water.
‘Volunteers from across the country have come to Skibbereen to work on the Ilen since the boat arrived here in 1998,’ Mary Jordan said. ‘Now today, Liam Hegarty and his crew are about to place the final plank on the Ilen before they prepare for the next stage of the restoration which will be getting the boat back into the water.’
In fact, it is hoped that the Ilen may be exhibited at the Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival which takes place from May 26th-28th and the Glandore Classic Regatta from July 23rd-28. ‘The Ilen was first built and launched here in the boatyard back in 1926 and it is only fitting that Hegarty’s boatyard and the Ilen Project in Limerick are involved in putting such a beautiful boat back to where she belongs, on the water,’ Liam Hegarty said.
‘The Ilen Project evolves slowly but dynamically by reinforcing local community identity on one hand, and dissolving identity boundaries on the other. It has proven to be a worthwhile learning experience for all involved, and a transferable model of inter-community celebration,’ MacMahon added.