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Another homecoming: Historical Ilen ship finally returns to Limerick

Ilen skipper Gary MacMahon, Limerick City taking advice from crewman Mantas Seskauskis, County Clare on board the boat as it docks in Limerick City. PHOTOGRAPHY: DERMOT LYNCH

Limerick Docks is new home port for Limerick-designed and sole-surviving Irish wooden sailing ship, Ilen, which first sailed Shannon waters 92 years ago.

The arrival is very special moment for supporters of the project as the 56ft long wooden boat cut the Shannon waters to arrive in style at Limerick Docks.

The vessel was formally greeted by Mayor of the City and County of Limerick Cllr James Collins, and will remain at the Shannon Foynes Port Company operated docks ahead of a busy first full year back on the water in 2019.

Mayor Collins said: “We’re delighted that the Ilen is back here in Limerick. It’s been a labour of love really for the lads that worked on it, funded in part through Limerick City and County Council.

“It’s a ship that was designed in Limerick, it was rebuilt by Limerick people, sailed out of Limerick, recovered by Limerick people, renovated and now it’s back in Limerick and we’re delighted that she is here. It’s fantastic.”

Ilen arrives in Limerick City PHOTOGRAPHY: DERMOT LYNCH

The history of the Ilen

Designed by one of Ireland’s greatest sailors, Edward Conor O’Brien, from Ardagh, Co. Limerick – the grandson of Irish nationalist and MEP William Smith O’Brien. Edward was captain of the first boat to sail around the world under the tri-colour of the Irish Free State.

Ilen sailed out from Foynes to the Falklands in 1926 and spent 70 years there as an inter-island trader, ferrying passengers, sheep, cattle, commercial goods and all other commodities required by remote island communities.

That was until her distinct lrish profile was recognised on a Falklands War TV news bulletin, over 30 years ago by one of her delivery crew from Cape Clear, Co. Cork.

The project

A campaign, spearheaded by directors of the Limerick based Ilen Project, Gary McMahon and Brother Anthony Keane of Glenstal Abbey ensued and 20 years later, following a lot of sweat, funding and craftsmanship, the Ilen is finally back home on the Shannon.

Project Director Gary McMahon said that the boat is for the people of Limerick and, in particular, a learning platform for younger citizens for access to sailing and the marine environment.

“It’s a community boat and its new home port is Limerick Docks and we are grateful to Shannon Foynes Port Company for its hospitality. There’s an entire learning aspect to and we will continue to expand our current educational programmes around this project with schools. We are hoping also that the city will embrace the vessel and we will need support with this,” Gary said.

Br Anthony, co-director of the project said: “We’ve been working together for the last 20 years, trying to get this vessel to the fine condition she is in today, ready to serve as a portal for Limerick City.”

Welcoming its new guest to the Ted Russell Docks, Assistant Harbour Master at Shannon Foynes Port Company Hugh Conlon, said: “It took the bones of 20 years to get her finally sailing back into the Ted Russell dock. And we’re proud of the fact that we can lend a hand into the future and hopefully winter the boat here as time goes on and let her sail during the summer months.”

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