Jeremy attends Ilen boat restoration project

project_team Find out more about the project at

from The Southern Star Newspaper – Co. Cork

‘Ilen’ restoration project begins at Oldcourt

By Jackie Keogh

Saturday November 15th, 2008

Film producer, Lord David Putnam, and award-winning actor, Jeremy Irons, were among the group who turned up at Hegarty’s Boatyard to see work commence on the re-fitting of the Ilen ketch. Also included are Eoin MacMahon, Ross Kelly, Christopher Meehan, Pat McCormac, Justin McDonagh, Paul Keane, Anthony Keane, Mary O’Driscoll, Kieran Clancy, Donal O’Sullivan, Liam Hegarty, Fachtna O’Sullivan, Mary Jordan, Diarmuid Murphy, Colm O’Cuileanain, Pat Tanner. (Photo: Eoghan Daly)

A unique boat renewal project has got under way in Hegarty’s Boatyard at Oldcourt.

Ireland’s last coastal trading vessel in existence, the Ilen, is being refitted in a series of week-long workshops under the expert guidance of Mr. Liam Hegarty, his brother, Mr. John Hegarty and Mr. Fachtna O’Sullivan, three of the few remaining traditional shipwrights in Ireland today.

The Ilen was originally commissioned by Limerick man Mr. Conor O’Brien, and was built by the Fisheries School in Baltimore – Ireland’s first vocational school – in the mid-1920s.

When the boat was launched in 1926, Mr. O’Brien together with two Cadogan brothers from Cape Clear Island sailed her to the Falkland Islands, where it was delivered to the Falkland Island Company for inter-island trading.

For the next seventy years, it served in the seas of the South Atlantic until the mid-1990s when another Limerick man, Mr. Gary McMahon found it abandoned on one of the islands.


There was great excitement when he sailed the Ilen ketch back into Baltimore in 1998.  The refitting of this eighty-two year old vessel is now being used as an opportunity for people to experience first-hand the skills of wooden boat building.

An enthusiastic supporter of the project, Ms. Mary Jordan of Baltimore, explained to The Southern Star that each of the ten people participating in the workshop will “understand how our traditional wooden boats were built and acquire some of the skills involved.”

The first workshop, on Monday, November 3 last, began with a talk entitled “Tree to Sea” by Br. Anthony Keane, forester of Glenstal Abbey, on the type of timber used in boat building.  The talk was followed by an introduction to wooden boat construction by Mr. Liam Hegarty and Mr. Gary McMahon.

The five working days, according to Ms. Jordan, “are designed and structured to inform the participants on all aspects of traditional boat construction, examining each piece of timber in the hull, frames and floor, taking patterns, shaping moulds, preparing timber for refitting.”

Each day, the participants had a defined objective to learn one aspect of the traditional boat building skills. One of their first tasks was to remove the cover sheets of copper and felt, which were used to protect the wooden hull from attack by the treado worms that live in the waters of the South Atlantic.

The workshop has attracted widespread interest and the ten spaces on the first course were quickly filled.   The participants included Bro. Anthony Keane from Glenstal Abbey; two young men from Limerick, who were sponsored by the Moyross Rejuvenation Project; and local participants, Mr. Diarmuid Murphy of the Bantry Long Boat Project, Ms. Mary O’Driscoll, Crookhaven, and Mr. Colm O Cuileanain of Baltimore.

the sole

According to the project leader, Mr. Gary McMahon: “The Ilen is the sole surviving example of our once thriving maritime culture.

“Thanks to Hegarty’s Boatyard, and the ten people participating in the workshop, we are taking the first steps on the long road of returning the Ilen to its former sailing glory.”

Mr. McMahon also expressed the hope that the Ilen could become part of “a new era of sustainable development by demonstrating that trading under sail is still viable.”

Further five-day workshops are planned for next year.  People from all over Ireland have helped fund the re-fitting project through donations that have been sent to the AK Ilen Company, which is a registered non-profit company.

The participants in the workshops have also raised funds for the programme of works. More information about the project can be obtained on

Anyone interested in making a donation, or joining one of workshops over the next two years, can e-mail or phone Mr. Gary McMahon on 086 2640479.