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An Irish circumnavigation

East Coast Gaffer, Joe Farrow, recounts the tale of ‘Saoirse’, setting out just under 100 years ago from Ireland.

Straying a little from the East Coast, I found myself stood on the quay, next to the banks of the River Ilen in West Cork, Ireland. In front of me, reborn from a total constructive loss, is Conor O’Brien’s ‘Saoirse’. She’s a 42ft ketch which during 1923-25 travelled more than 33,000 nautical miles around the world. Bizarrely, the choice made was to navigate against the prevailing trade winds (nothing more to say!) Setting out just under 100 years ago, the voyage ran exactly from 20 June, 1923 to 20 June, 1925.

Given the political troubles in Ireland as a newly formed free state, her departure from Cork in 1923 is significant, but comes second to the fact O’Brien was the first amateur to complete a circumnavigation under the then, new Irish tri-colour ensign.

It’s not the first restoration that Hegarty’s boatyard have undertaken of this nature. From 1998 onwards they were responsible for the re-birth of O’Briens 56ft ‘Ilen’, repatriated from the Falkland Islands. The ‘Ilen’ was rescued from Stanley, having spent her entire life there, since being delivered by O’Brien from nearby Baltimore where she was built. She’s now wintering in Cork, moored in Kinsale on the Bandon River, at the ferociously named ‘Viking Wharf’.

Find out more in WM Nixon’s column

Report and 2023 photos: Joe Farrow