Re-Building The Ilen

The eponymous Auxiliary Ketch Ilen, our flagship, the last of Ireland’s traditional wooden sailing ships.

Designed by Limerick man Conor O’Brien and built in Baltimore in 1926, she was delivered by Munster men to the Falkland Islands where she served valiantly for seventy years, enduring and enjoying the Roaring Forties, the Furious Fifties, and Screaming Sixties.

Ilen Ketch rebuild Ilen School Limerick Conor O'Brien Sailor
(l) Ketch Ilen, Falkland Islands 1948 (r) Conor O’Brien, centre, with Denis and Con Cadogan in Bristol, enroute to deliver Ilen to Port Stanley, Falkland Islands 1926

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 Corn Store in Hegarty’s yard, Oldcourt, as eager as a young salmon to get to the sea.

Ilen Ketch rebuild Ilen School Limerick Conor O'Brien Sailor
(l) Early stages of Ilen rebuild
Ilen Ketch rebuild Ilen School Limerick Conor O'Brien Sailor
(l-r) Fachtna O’Sullivan, John Hegarty, Pat Tanner steaming planks, spiling Ilen’s large larch planks. Photographs ©Kevin O’Farrell
Ilen Ketch rebuild Ilen School Limerick Conor O'Brien Sailor
(l) Planking the Ilen. Fairing deck beams (r) beautiful Bavarian larch glowing in the boat shed

Ilen may be described as the last of Ireland’s timber built ocean going sailing ships, yet at a mere 56ft, it is capable of visiting most of the small harbours of Ireland.

The Ilen – Reality and Myth

Once on the oceans, free of all ties save for the luminous silk threads of  the net, the Ilen will explore the world on behalf of many, and then, the greatest adventure of all, rediscover and retake Ireland from the sea, in a remake of Leabhar Gabhala Eireann*. From Roaring Water to Inis Glora, from the maelstroms of Mweelrea to the winter waves of Moyle, from nine waves and more offshore to the havens and hollow hills of Ireland, from the kingdom of Niamh to that of Oisin.

It is our hope that with the active participation of the young of all ages, the virtual and real, and the safely represented and the daringly direct, the thrilling, rejuvenating, magnificent exuberance of Ireland’s approaches from the sea will be rediscovered and shared.

*Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland) This book consists of a collection of poems and prose narratives on the mythic history of Ireland.

rebuilding Ilen sailing ship Ilen School Limerick Ireland
ILEN CEREMONIES (l-r) The good ship Ilen’s whiskey plank being jointly nailed home by Minister For The Marine, Simon Coveney and Mrs Kate Jarvey | The Baltimore West Cork community and project friends from Limerick and throughout Ireland gather at Hegarty’s boatyard for the blessing of the Ilen by School director Brother Anthony Keane OSB – Uniting Ireland’s Coastal Communities Through Educational Endeavour.