Heritage award for Ilen restoration project

The AK Ilen under sail. Photo: Dermot Lynch
The AK Ilen under sail. Photo: Dermot Lynch

THE Limerick-based AK Ilen Company received a Special Recognition Award at this year’s Industrial Heritage Association of Ireland (IHAI) Awards last week.

Founded in 2005, the organisation is responsible for restoring a 1920s 50ft timber ketch, The Ilen, which was built in Baltimore, Co Cork and deployed around the Falklands in the South Atlantic for 70 years.

Much of the reconstruction of what is the last of Ireland’s traditional wooden built ships was completed by volunteers in Limerick and Baltimore, with the help of professional boat builders.

The 45-ton Ilen was originally built in Baltimore for Conor O’Brien who sailed around the world from 1924-25. When he stopped in the Falklands en route, the islanders admired his boat, the Saoirse, and asked if he could design and build a bigger and better one for them.

When he returned to Cork he designed and the ketch, Ilen, which was named after a local river.

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The price was £1,500 including delivery. He delivered the Ilen to Port Stanley in January 1927 with the help of two Clare island boatmen, Con and Denis Cadogan.

After 70 years of inter-island trading work, it was bought back by a group of Limerick people, led by Gary McMahon and returned to Baltimore in 1998.

Over the past 20 years, it has been beautifully restored in the Hegarty Boatyard near Baltimore and in the Ilen boat building school in Limerick.

The boat is currently back in Kinsale where it is to be based for sail training and helping people sail back into wellness.

The restoration project is a celebration of the heritage of wooden boat building of Limerick and West Cork alongside the history of the fishing industry of the late 19th and early 20th century Cork coastline.


by Kathy Masterson

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