Barely audible whispers, mutterings and body movements were being exchanged by the three experienced shipwrights, brothers Liam and John Hegarty, and Fachtna O’Sullivan. Selecting suitable lengths of beautiful Irish oak from which to cut the individual scantlings and futtocks was a task not to be rushed. Fachtna disappeared repeatedly into the bowels of the old Ilen at this stage of the process, emerging each time clutching a handful of bevels and carefully marking each massive length of virgin timber prior to cutting it on the band saw
I had wondered would the presence of inexperienced men and women unnerve or annoy the shipwrights. As I tip-toed from frame to frame, at times swaying about unsteadily, there was no rebuke from the sure-footed shipwrights. Not at all, all three of them displayed admirable patience and good humour, pausing occasionally to listen to a story or to exchange good-humoured banter. Before I finished up on the Friday, I was convinced that not only did these shipwrights appreciate our assistance – however inexpert – they enjoyed too the colour and the banter and energy we brought with us.
Críostóir Mac Cárthaigh UCD National Folklore Collection Download the full testimonial (PDF format)
AK Ilen is out west in Oldcourt
Rebuilding her frames was some sport
with chain-mould and fresh oak
and the very best folk
Some day soon she’ll sail far from Oldcourt
Bridin Cannon – Workshop Participant
The workshop takes very practical and hands-on in approach and you are encouraged to get stuck in to the work from the start. Watching Fachtna select the most suitable sections of oak, helping to shape them into new frames and refit them inside the hull of the Ilen was extremely rewarding, especially when you can see the results of your labour on the last day.
Michael Dunne, Limerick Download the full testimonial (PDF format)
The whole process of taking a mould from the existing 80 year old frame, transcribing it to a huge oak plank and carving out the new frame initially by chainsaw was fascinating. Many hours were invested into each rough-hewn new frame to get the bevels bang on and hone each one to the precise, complex, three-dimensional, curved shape required. A little like Eve being created (allegedly) from Adam’s rib, bits of my DNA are forevermore part of the ILEN’s number one and number two frames.
Paul Murphy, Limerick Download the full testimonial (PDF format)
What can I say about Big Boat Build ? Where do I start ?
I really didn’t know what to expect before I went down to Baltimore.The workshop was fantastic, the crew in the boatyard were great, we all gelled together as a team and despite the busy social life, we managed to complete our work !!! The workshop really is only suitable for crazy people like me who have ‘Wooden Boat Disease’. I will be down again to help out and will round up some more recruits. I will stay in touch.
Mike Ruane, Co. Wexford
“I really enjoyed my few days at Big Boat Build in Cork. The shipwrights were a great bunch of lads. It reminded me of my early days as an apprentice electrician in the 80s. The work was REAL and you could see what you had achieved every day. It was fascinating to see the work of people who had spent their life learning their craft and trade.
The local people were very homely and the banter in Mary Ann’s pub was gas and everyone was included. Its easy to fit in there.
We fell into a great singsong in Baltimore which went on into the early hours. A great night.
We ate in some of the local restaurants which had great food and good value too.
All in all, I can’t remember a better break away (especially in January). I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in boat building or timber construction methods.”
Eddie Cleary, Co. Tipperary
In 2009, through my efforts in campaigning for the salvage of ASGARD 2, I learned of this wonderful maritime adventure which was taking place in West Cork, in Hegarty’s Boatyard, on the banks of the Ilen river, where one of my father’s fishing boats had been built in the early 1960s. I was surprised to learn that for a small contribution towards the restoration costs I could actually work in the boatyard, see first-hand these revered and amazing skills and be involved in the re-build of AK ILEN.
‘tis rare indeed, in these materialistic and self-serving times, to meet kindred spirits enthusiastically giving of their precious time and money to preserve and restore our proud maritime heritage and pass something beautiful on to the next generation.
For 3 days I was lost in time, watching and helping Fachtna & Liam turn out intricate frames from the rough-sawn slabs of oak, learning the facts about Irish Oak from Anthony and getting a run-down of ILEN’S history from Gary.
Every lunch-time we were fed to the gills with the finest West Cork Food in the adjacent Oldcourt Inn and new friendships were forged on the tranquil banks of the Ilen river from which the ship received her proud name.
Captain J.G. Burns, MNI, Serving Master Marine Download the full testimonial (PDF format)
The three days were very enjoyable. I found the Hegarty brothers to be very welcoming and friendly.
I worked with Fachtna for the three days and I was fascinated by his natural talent and ability. Watching him was like taking a trip back in time.
I enjoyed every moment spent at the yard and I am looking forward to returning again in early 2011 if workshops are still running.
Charles Hurley, Co. Cork
I really enjoyed my time on the Big Boat Build in Oldcourt. It was fascinating to see how the Ilen is being rebuilt. Watching a skilled craftsman like Fachtna at work was just amazing.
The whole team were very patient at showing us new skills. As well as the practical side we also learned of her history, thanks to Gary.
Lunch time was a treat at the Oldcourt Inn. The West cork hospitality is second to none. Special thanks to Mary Ann.
I would recommend this course to anyone with a love for old boats and can’t wait for the day when I see her sail again.
Maybe it would be a good idea to see her used as a training vessel whatever happens, I for one would hope to return.
Peter Collins, Co. Cork
Facthna and John explained everything as we went along – why some planks were more suitable than others, as regards quality of timber, and the job they would be doing in that part of the boat…
The last day dawned fine and dry and we were anxious to finish the task, we were now more competent so the work moved a bit faster still under the watchful eyes of Facthna and John. Everyone was allowed work away to their ability we were learning more all the time. I certainly enjoyed every minute of being involved in the actual building of the boat, and talking about boats and voyages to others who have the same interests. I will certainly be back at the next stage to learn more, if not just for the chowder in Oldcourt.
Dominic Falvey, Co. Cork