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The new MARITIME IRELAND Quarterly Journal

This month the first edition of the new Maritime Ireland Quarterly Journal is being published as a supplement in the MARINE TIMES monthly newspaper. Our purpose in this supplement is to broaden interest and widen readership about Ireland’s maritime sphere, its history, development, tradition and culture. By doing so all sectors of the marine sphere can be drawn together. The first leading article is a discussion on whether maritime education could be introduced to the schools’ curriculum, based on the first circumnavigation of the world by an Irish sailor.

The centenary this year of the legendary Foynes Islander Conor O’Brien’s circumnavigation of the world in a boat built in the Baltimore Fisheries School  could be the foundation on which to build the introduction of the marine sphere into the Irish education curriculum system.

That suggestion has come from the Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival in the West Cork village with which O’Brien’s world voyaging is indelibly linked as part of Ireland’s maritime history. The Festival last month commemorated the centenary of his circumnavigation of the world, the first Irishman to do so.

Conor O’Brien made his pioneering circumnavigation in Saoirse a vessel that was 42 feet in length overall, just 38 feet on the waterline, a beam of 12 feet and drawing six feet in depth. Converted to metres from those 1923 original measurements, Saoirse was 12.8 metres long, 11.5 on the waterline, 3.6 metres width (beam) and 1.8 metres depth. She was built by master shipwright in Baltimore Fisheries School,Tom Moynihan and his men. While her accommodation was modern in layout, reflecting her owner’s architectural skills, the outward appearance was described as ‘old-fashioned,’ which O’Brien said was because he trusted then proven construction techniques for the voyage.

Saoirse was the first vessel to sail around the world flying the Irish Tricolour.  It was sold on in 1941 and wrecked in a storm off Jamaica in June 1980. Hegarty’s Boatyard at Oldcourt near Skibbereen has built a new Saoirse for Fred Kinmonth.

The Auxiliary Ketch Ilen, the last of Ireland’s traditional wooden sailing ships was also designed by Limerick man Conor O’Brien from Foynes Island and built in Baltimore in 1926, from where she was sailed to the Falkland Islands by O’Brien and Cape Clear Island fishermen and was a local services vessel there for 70 years before being returned to Ireland and restored at Hegarty’s yard. She has been successfully back sailing over the past few years in Irish and overseas waters through the AK ILEN company of Limerick.

“Conor O’Brien’s iconic voyage could be the start of including Irish maritime history in the schools, a good start to a definite approach to bringing marine into the school curriculum. Marine education and history has been neglected ,” said Mary Jordan of the Baltimore festival organising committee. “What better way to focus on maritime education at all levels, with at least a first module about what he achieved? One of the reasons that we are so pleased there is interest growing in wooden boats is that we really feel our maritime history could and should be included in our education system. The festival was honoured to launch the new Saoirse to the public, built on the lines of the original in Hegarty’s Boatyard, which also built her sister ship Ilen. We are doing our bit to maintain the tradition, culture and history of the wooden boats.”

The photograph is from Kevin Farrell’s book about the construction of the replica of Saoirse.

Tom MacSweeney

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