Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

Duncan and Maura Sclare's local cutter Little Egret (left) heads out to meet AK Ilen in Clew Bay, County Mayo
The historic Irish ketch, Ilen, has docked at Westport, County Mayo to deliver a unique addiction recovery programme. The boat, which was built in the 1920s and underwent a full restoration in 2018, is now part of the award-winning charity…
The first boat ever to be awarded a major perpetual cruising trophy was Royal Ulster YC member Dr Howard Sinclair’s 26ft Brenda, which received the new Challenge Cup of the Cruising Club in 1895 for a Round Ireland cruise. Built as a straight-stemmed racing boat to W E Paton’s designs in Belfast in 1886, Brenda was converted for cruising in 1891, and in 1894 she was lengthened forward with a “modern” stem to Dr Sinclair’s own designs by John Hilditch of Carrickfergus
In a week’s time, Sailing on Saturday will resume normal service with a preview on December 23rd of the up-coming Cruising Yacht Club of Australia Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race on December 26th, both generally and from an Irish angle, for we…
Ger O’Rourke of Limerick’s Cookson 50 Chieftain slicing her way through the Solent at the start of the 2007 Rolex Fastnet Race, from which she emerged as overall winner
The Cruising Group can often emerge as the backbone of any sailing club, particularly in the winter. Back in the day when the new Howth Yacht Club premises opened in March 1987, fresh concepts were needed to ensure that the…
ICC Rear Commodore Seamus O’Connor - he cruises regularly in southwest Ireland and on Iberian and Mediterranean waters
By October, the last of the remarkably varied international fleet of boats that had attended the Irish Cruising Club’s Conor O’Brien & Saoirse Centenary Rally in Madeira had returned to their often very distant home ports. Thus it was felt…
Historic Irish vessel the AK Ilen departing the Port of Funchal, Madeira, as the Saoirse Centenary Rally draws to a close
The centenary international Irish sailing event called the ‘Saoirse Rally’ has come to a successful end on the 8th of July 2023 after a series of celebrations hosted in Funchal, Madeira by the Clube Naval de Funchal, Madeira Tourism Board…
A hundred years down the line. Ilen leads the Conor O’Brien Centenary Parada Nautica at Funchal
A hundred years ago on this day, Conor O’Brien of Limerick’s 42ft own-designed ketch - newly-built by Tom Moynihan of Baltimore with some of the West Cork shipwright’s small but very effective hull shape improvements - was well into a…
In the buildup to the Centenary of Conor O'Brien's significant arrival with Saoirse at Funchal in Madeira next Monday (July 3rd), the restored 1926-vintage O'Brien-designed 56ft trading ketch Ilen, under the command of James Lyons of the Sailing Into Wellness…
The Howth 17s, on their Quasquicentennial (125th Anniversary) Cruise-in-Company in West Cork, are on target with their arrival this afternoon (Tuesday) from Schull at their furthest west port of Crookhaven. There, it was discovered that Billy O'Sullivan, second generation host…
The Grandnieces and Grand nephew of Conor O'Brien with their children onboard the restored Ilen that departed Dun Laoghaire for Madeira to celebrate the Centenary of Limerick man Conor O’Brien’s circumnavigation of the globe in June 1923
An international Irish sailing event called the “Saoirse Rally” organised by the Irish Cruising Club, launched from Dun Laoghaire harbour, Co. Dublin, Ireland last Saturday, 17th June 2023, to commemorate the heroic achievements one hundred years ago of legendary Irish…
The Conor O’Brien/Saoirse Circumnavigation Centenary Celebrations get underway with the Ilen at the Royal Irish Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire on Saturday, preparing for departure for Madeira
The Commemoration of the Centenary of the pioneering global circumnavigation south of the Great Capes by Conor O’Brien of Foynes, sailing the 42ft ketch Saoirse between June 20th 1923 and June 20th 1925, was put underway yesterday (Saturday) from Dun…
The ketch Ilen alongside the Royal Irish Yacht Club at an Irish Cruising Club/Royal Cruising Club gathering to mark the beginning of celebrations of the centenary of Conor O'Brien's departure in Saoirse from Dun Laoghaire Harbour
The Royal Irish Yacht Club was the focus on Saturday afternoon for the beginning of celebrations of the centenary of Conor O'Brien's departure in Saoirse from Dun Laoghaire Harbour on his pioneering global circumnavigation. An Irish Cruising Club/Royal Cruising Club gathering was hosted…
“A mystery to himself as to everyone else” – pioneering global circumnavigator Conor O’Brien of Foynes as portrayed by his wife Kitty Clausen
A hundred years ago next Tuesday, June 20th, Conor O'Brien (1880-1952) of Foynes took his departure with some fanfare aboard his 42ft Saoirse from the harbour her skipper preferred to call Dunleary, though most of its citizens saw it as…
Baltimore in the sunshine, and the re-born Saoirse (Fred Kinmonth) is the focus of the Woodenboat Festival 2023 with a salute from two generations of timber craft - the bermudan sloop Curlew, and Brian Marten’s 1890s vintage Guillemot
With just three weeks to go to the Centenary of the departure from Ireland on June 20th 1923 of Conor O’Brien’s world-girdling 42ft Baltimore-built ketch Saoirse, the public debut of the re-born Saoirse (Fred Kinmonth) at last weekend’s Baltimore Wooden…
Preserving maritime tradition at Baltimore in West Cork
Wooden boats will dominate Baltimore Harbour this weekend when the West Cork village welcomes back the annual gathering of traditional vessels. Like many other events the Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival, which had been held annually for seventeen years from 2002,…
Gary Mac Mahon aboard the restored Ilen in Greenland, July 2019
Twenty years ago, the thought that the two Conor O’Brien-designed and Baltimore-built ketches – the 1922 42ft world-girdling Saoirse and the 1926 56ft trader-ferry Ilen - would be sailing together at their birthplace in 2023, the Centenary Year of the…
Paula Marten’s evocative painting of the early stages of the new Saoirse under construction in the Top Shed at Liam Hegarty’s Boatyard in Oldcourt . It will feature in her exhibition in Bushe’s Bar at the Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival from May 26th to 28th 2023
Let us imagine that you are both an enthusiast for Conor O’Brien (1880-1952), the Shannon Estuary’s great pioneering voyager, and that you are also one of those number-crunchers who enjoy calculating on what particular day significant anniversaries will fall in…

Ireland's Trading Ketch Ilen

The Ilen is 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.

Returned now to Ireland and given a new breath of life, 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.

Wooden Sailing Ship Ilen FAQs

The Ilen is the last of Ireland’s traditional wooden sailing ships.

The Ilen was designed by Conor O’Brien, the first Irish man to circumnavigate the world.

Ilen is named for the West Cork River which flows to the sea at Baltimore, her home port.

The Ilen was built by Baltimore Sea Fisheries School, West Cork in 1926. Tom Moynihan was foreman.

Ilen's wood construction is of oak ribs and planks of larch.

As-built initially, she is 56 feet in length overall with a beam of 14 feet and a displacement of 45 tonnes.

Conor O’Brien set sail in August 1926 with two Cadogan cousins from Cape Clear in West Cork, arriving at Port Stanley in January 1927 and handed it over to the new owners.

The Ilen was delivered to the Falkland Islands Company, in exchange for £1,500.

Ilen served for over 70 years as a cargo ship and a ferry in the Falkland Islands, enduring and enjoying the Roaring Forties, the Furious Fifties, and Screaming Sixties. She stayed in service until the early 1990s.

Limerick sailor Gary McMahon and his team located Ilen. MacMahon started looking for her in 1996 and went out to the Falklands and struck a deal with the owner to bring her back to Ireland.

After a lifetime of hard work in the Falklands, Ilen required a ground-up rebuild.

A Russian cargo ship transported her back on a 12,000-mile trip from the Southern Oceans to Dublin. The Ilen was discharged at the Port of Dublin 1997, after an absence from Ireland of 70 years.

It was a collaboration between the Ilen Project in Limerick and Hegarty’s Boatyard in Old Court, near Skibbereen. Much of the heavy lifting, of frames, planking, deadwood & backbone, knees, floors, shelves and stringers, deck beams, and carlins, was done in Hegarty’s. The generally lighter work of preparing sole, bulkheads, deck‐houses fixed furniture, fixtures & fittings, deck fittings, machinery, systems, tanks, spar making and rigging is being done at the Ilen boat building school in Limerick.

Ten years. The boat was much the worse for wear when it returned to West Cork in May 1998, and it remained dormant for ten years before the start of a decade-long restoration.

Ilen now serves as a community floating classroom and cargo vessel – visiting 23 ports in 2019 and making a transatlantic crossing to Greenland as part of a relationship-building project to link youth in Limerick City with youth in Nuuk, west Greenland.

At a mere 56ft, Ilen is capable of visiting most of the small harbours of Ireland.

©Afloat 2020