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Plain sailing up coast for historic Ilen wooden boat

Wednesday, 10th October, 2018 11:55am

Story by Jackie Keogh

FOR the first time in 20 years, the fully restored historic trading ketch the Ilen sailed out of Baltimore.

The 56ft boat has the distinction of being Ireland’s last surviving wooden sailing ship. It was designed by Limerick-man Conor O’Brien, who made his own piece of history by being the first Irishman to sail around the world in a small wooden boat, the Saoirse, and Tom Moynihan, the foreman in charge of the Baltimore Fisheries School. 

The ketch, which was built in 1926, 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 10-year collaboration between the Ilen Project in Limerick and Hegarty’s Boatyard in Old Court, near Skibbereen.

In May, the Ilen took pride of place at the village’s annual Wooden Boat Festival, but shortly afterwards it returned to the boatyard to continue its re-fit in preparation for sailing to her new home port in Limerick, where she arrived last Sunday.

On Thursday, the Ilen motored down the river from old court and, on Friday, it went for its sea trials, which it passed with great success before its Saturday sail.

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 last 10 years, he estimated that the two teams have collectively put 40,000 hours into re-building the boat.

Gary told The Southern Star: ‘The Ilen had a very fast voyage to Limerick and that is credit to the marine crafts people of West Cork, particularly Hegarty’s Boatyard.

The boat 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 for a chance to see the boat and experience sailing on her, go to the website: www.ilen.com.