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Conor O’Brien and the Cape Clear Connection

Cape Clear Ferry Blog

Conor O’Brien and the Cape Clear Connection

Conor O’Brien and the Howth Gunrunning of 1914

Howth Gunrunning and the Cape Connection

We previously wrote about the Howth Gunrunning of 1914 and how a group of Cape Clear Fishermen led by Island Poet John K. Cotter landed the guns ashore on that fateful day.  For more see

Quiet Success of Kelpie under a ‘prudent’Conor O’Brien

But there was a second boat involved in the same gunrunning episode.This was the Kelpie,

Kelpie in 1914

skippered by Conor O’Brien. Prudently avoiding the limelight he safely landed his contraband without incident  at night in a small Wicklow port. He later went on to serve with distinction in the Royal Navy in WWI.

Epic Voyage of The Saoirse 1923-25

Following Irish Independence Conor O’Brien commissioned a new 42ft sailing boat, aptly named    Saoirse ( Freedom). This was built in Baltimore by Master Shipwright Tom Moynihan.  In this he circumnavigated the World flying the Irish Tricolor.

Irish Flag
Irish Flag

This was the first time a vessel  flying our flag had performed such a feat.  It was seen as the first great sporting achievement of the fledgling Irish State. For this he was awarded the Challenge Cup of the Royal Cruising Club three times in succession.

Is olc an áit nach bhfaighfá breac (translated as its a bad place you would not find a trout)

Business is business and who knows when an opportunity may strike ?  So when the Governor of the Falkland Islands admired the sturdy Saoirse, Conor wasted no time in earning another commission for his friends at home. And no sooner back in Ireland in 1925 he was hot foot back to Baltimore to commission the larger 56 ft  Illen for the Governor’s own use.

Ilen at sea
Ilen at sea under Conor O Brien

Where shall I get some skeely sailors ?

While the voyage of the Saoirse had been a success, Conor had employed somewhat of a mixed bag of crewmen with predictable results. Thus he resolved to do better for this second voyage to deliver the Illen to the Faulklands.

Look no further than the Cape

Conor with Con and Denis Cadogan
Conor with Con and Denis Cadogan

And he did not have far to look. Because he found two accomplished mariners from Cape Clear, Con and Denis Cadogan. And he was not disappointed because he later spoke of their skill and seamanship.

Schooner Families of Cape Clear Island

Hardly surprising because the men came from 2 of the 3 Cadogan families of Cape Clear who were heavily involved in the schooner trade in their day.

Ilen Sailing Boat in Baltimore

Return of the Illen

Following the Falklands War of 1982 the Ilen was returned to Ireland and has since been restored as a sail training vessel under the stewardship of Gary Mc Mahon of Limerick. And this was done fittingly by another local Master Shipwright Liam Hegarty who works on the banks of the Ilen.  And she is a regular and very welcome visitor every summer around Baltimore and the Islands.

An adventurous Life

Denis ( Din)  had an adventurous life on the high seas before returning to Cape Clear.

Din Cadogan,'s House
Din Cadogan’s House, Cape Clear Island

Din lived in this house which he maintained in pristine conditions until his old age. Con also spend his later years on the Island and lived in what is now Cotters Pub.



The Saoirse has also recently been rebuilt by Liam Hegarty and is also to be seen in these waters during the cruising season.