From Three Yachts

This book relates the many sailing experiences of Conor OBrien. The three yachts of Conor OBrien were Kelpie, in which he learned to sail and ran guns for the Irish Volunteers in 1914; Saoirse in which he sailed around the world in a ground breaking voyage; and Ilen, which resulted from a commission he received from the Falkland Islands Company to deliver a yacht to them for inter-island trading.

Edward Conor Marshall OBrien was born in 1860, son of Edward and Julia, and grandson of Young Irelander William Smith O’Brien. (The missing apostrophe in Conor OBrien’s name is deliberate. He saw it as the ‘fada’ in the Irish Ó Briain slipping down to a space between the ‘O’ and ‘Brien’ in English, and that it had no place in the English version of his name. He always signed his name without the apostrophe.)

Educated in England , he went on to read Architecture at Oxford. He returned to Ireland and worked as an architect with the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society designing creameries. He was a member of the Royal Society of Antiquaries in Ireland. He visited a number of historical buildings in Ireland and England and recorded many architectural details. His artistic side comes through in these drawings. He was a keen mountaineer. He climbed Brandon and Snowden with George Mallory who was later lost in an attempt on Everest in 1924. There is a photograph of Conor with Mallory and others, taken near Mount Snowden in Wales, Easter 1913.

Conor was a member of the Gaelic Revival Movement and a fluent Irish speaker. He was part of the operation to import arms for the Irish Volunteers in 1914, he tells this story in Chapter 1 of this book “The Gun Runner”. It is generally well known that Erskine Childers ran guns for the Irish Volunteers on his yacht, Asgard, but not well known that there was a second yacht involved, Conor OBrien on Kelpie. And indeed a third yacht for Conor OBrien transhipped his arms to Sir Thomas Myles’ motor yacht Chotah (neither Kelpie nor Asgard had engines and were therefore subject to the vagaries of wind and ocean currents) off the coast of Wales before landing them at Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow.

When Kelpie sank off the coast of Scotland in 1921, he designed a new yacht and contracted with Baltimore Fisheries School to build Saoirse, in which he set out to sail around the world on 20th June 1923. The circumnavigation was remarkable. Saoirse was the first small private craft to circumnavigate by sailing Eastwards through the Southern Ocean and South of the Three Great Capes: Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin (SW Australia) and Cape Horn. These are referred to as the Three Great Capes by virtue of the fact that they are at points in the Southern Ocean, where two oceans collide (Atlantic and Indian at Good Hope; Indian and Antarctic at Leeuwin; Pacific and Atlantic at Horn) and are consequently subject to quite ferocious seas.

We should not underestimate the enormity of his undertaking in 1923 – 1925, for which The Royal Cruising Club awarded Saoirse The Challenge Cup three years running in 1923, 1924 and 1925for this ground-breaking voyage.

During the circumnavigation, Conor spent some three months in the Falkland Islands. After his return, he received a commission to supply and deliver a boat for inter-island transport. Thus was Ilen born. It plied its trade there for some 60 years.

When reading this book you will note how Conor is always aware of his environment – whether commenting on the landscape and flora on the Island of Rum in Scotland or on Aranmore off Galway; or commenting on the clear water in Madeira, the result of the volcanic black sea bed; or writing about the flat land on shore, south of Buenos Aires; or the beauty of Pernambuco in North East Brazil; or the challenges of building a canal across the Bog of Allen; or the intricacies of Seine-boat fishing; and many more.

I hope you will enjoy reading “From Three Yachts” by this remarkable man and author, Conor OBrien.

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