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Ilen prepares to sail the high seas

July 3rd, 2018 7:10 AM

By Brian Moore

The Ilen back at the dockside in Baltimore during the Wooden Boat Festival in May. (Photo: Paul Fuller)

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An ambitious and painstaking restoration project involving a collaboration between West Cork and Limerick saw the ketch Ilen, the country’s last wooden sail trading boat, take its first dip in Baltimore, where it was built back in 1926. Work is now continuing to make the 56 foot vessel fully sea worthy

IT’S been a long haul, but after almost a quarter of a century, West Cork’s and Ireland’s last wooden sail trading vessel, the Ilen is back in the water where her story started. 

Not only has the Ilen, a 56ft wooden sailing ketch, water under her magnificently restored keel once more, she has returned to the very spot she was designed, handcrafted and launched 70 years ago.

The Ilen, was built in Hegarty’s, Old Court, between Skibbereen and Baltimre, back in 1926 by local boat builder Tom Moynihan and designed by world renowned sailor Conor O’Brien from Limerick. 

From there it set sail for the South Atlantic and the Falkland Islands and spent the next 70 years transporting everything from cattle, sheep and coal, and of course people, back and forth between the wind-swept islands. 

In 1998  the Ilen was returned to Baltimore after being discovered by Gary McMahon  beached on one of the islands in the South Atlantic and a major restoration project was undertaken in a collaboration between West Cork and the  Ilen School & Network For Wooden Boat Building in Limerick.

That culminated in its first dip at the Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival in May, with work now continuing so it can once again take to the high seas hopefully by next year. 

Gary, director of the Ilen School declared: ‘I knew when I first saw her, back in 1998, that the Ilen was a good boat and would be once again.’

Liam Hegarty of Hegarty’s Boat Yard remembers the day the much neglected boat arrived at his yard. 

‘The Ilen was first built and launched here in the boat yard back in 1926 and it is only fitting that Hegarty’s boat yard and the Ilen Project in Limerick are involved in putting such a beautiful boat back to where she belongs, on the water,’ he said. 

‘There is a lot of pride especially in this area, with many of the volunteers who worked to restore what is a local boat, hailing from the Baltimore and Skibbereen areas, although, they came from all over Ireland and internationally to work on the restoration as well.

‘Over 200 hundred people and 40,000 manhours have gone into the work so far. If one has to build a boat there is no better place in Ireland than Hegarty’s.’

Mary Jordan, director at West Cork Maritime Heritage highlighted how the restoration ‘is the manifestation of the boat building skills of the original Old Fishery School in Baltimore.’

‘We need to celebrate not only these skills but also the incredible achievements of Gary McMahon in finding, transporting and raising the funds to begin the restoration. 

But also this is a testament to Liam Hegarty, his team at Hegarty’s Boat Yard and the hundreds of volunteers whose continuing work, passion and dedication to restore the Ilen to its former glory goes on.’  

Work continues on the Ilen to prepare the boat for the high seas.

‘There is more to be done before the Ilen is fully complete and can take sea once more,’ Gary said. 

Explaining the Ilen Project  he said: ‘It 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 in-volved, and a transferable model of inter-community cele-bration.’

And for Liam Hegarty there is one more special event that he is keenly looking forward to.

‘We’re getting ready now to complete our section of the restoration work,’ Liam said. ‘We’ll be fitting the ballast and completing one or two other jobs and then it is over the Limerick lads to tackle the deck work and interior outfitting in order to get the Ilen ready for sea trial.

‘I am looking forward to the day when I get to stand on her deck and watch as the wind fills her sails and the Ilen is back in its natural environment.  

It will be an incredible sight, no doubt.’

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