FULLY-rigged and fully restored, the Ilen took pride of place at last weekend’s Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival.
The vessel ‘splashed’ on Thursday, May 24th but it wasn’t officially launched until Saturday, May 26th.
It was a significant event because the Ilen has the distinction of being Ireland’s last surviving wooden sailing ship.
It was designed by Conor O’Brien, the first Irishman to sail around the world in a small boat, and it was built in Baltimore at the Fisheries School in 1926.
The 80ft ketch was commissioned by the Falklands Islands Company and used as a cargo vessel.
The boat was much the worse for wear when it returned to West Cork in May 1998 and it remained dormant for 10 years before the start of a decade-long collaboration between the Ilen Project in Limerick and Hegarty’s Boatyard in Old Court, near Skibbereen.
Gary MacMahon, who has a life-long interest in traditional Irish wooden boats, established the Ilen Project as a community project in Limerick and, over the 10 years, he and his crew worked on the deckhouses, the spars, the decks, the interior accommodation and they rebuilt the engine.
Hegarty’s Boatyard, which is owned by Liam Hegarty, rebuilt the hull. Gary MacMahon spoke of the team’s enthusiasm and skill, saying: ‘They have a real passion for traditional wooden boats. If one has to build a boat, there is no better place in Ireland than Hegarty’s.’
Over the last 10 years, Gary estimated that 40,000 man hours have gone into building the boat and he said it will now be used by the Ilen Company to give members of the community an experience of Ireland’s last surviving wooden sailing ship. To apply, go to the website: www.ilen.com.
During the Wooden Boat Festival, there was a special presentation by Dr Jim McAdam, who went to work in the Falklands in the 1970s as an agricultural scientist and compiled a unique record of the AK Ilen’s working life as part of the island’s history.
Liam Hegarty, who supervised much of the restoration work to the hull of the vessel, said he was conscious of history being made and shipwright, Fachtna O’Sullivan, told reporters: ‘It is a day we thought would never happen. It is wonderful to see her floating again. We are very proud of her.