Conor OBrien Sailor Extraordinaire

by Vincent \murphy

This book takes an overview of the life of Edward Conor Marshall OBrien, born in 1880, grandson of William Smith O’Brien of the Young Ireland Movement in the mid 1800s. (Note that the omission of an apostrophe in OBrien is deliberate, since that was how Conor signed his name).

Conor studied architecture in Oxford and returned to Ireland to work for the Irish Co-operative Society. He was also a member of the Royal Society of Antiquaries in Ireland. An Irish speaker, he was involved in the Gaelic Revival Movement and a member of the United Arts Club. He was involved with Erskine Childers in the arming of the Irish Volunteers in 1914 – Conor in his yacht Kelpie landed arms at Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow, while Childers in Asgard brought arms to Howth.

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Above all – a sailor

A keen sailor, in 1922 he designed his own yacht Saoirse and had it built in the Baltimore Fisheries School in West Cork. It was in this yacht that he undertook his ground-breaking circumnavigation of the globe 20th June 1923 to 20th June 1925. He was the first person ever in a small private yacht to circumnavigate West to East and south of Cape of Good Hope, south of Australia and south of Cape Horn. The Clipper route, southern ocean all the way.

After his return, he was given a contract to deliver a yacht, with an engine (Saoirse didn’t have an engine), to the Falkland Islands / Islas Malvinas for inter-island transport. The new boat was Ilen, which remained in service for 60 years.

In the 1990s it was brought back to Ireland and restored at Hegarty’s boatyard in Old Court near Baltimore in West Cork. It is now used for sail training with Sailing into Wellness, which targets Youth, Mental Health Wellbeing and Addiction.

Saoirse too was reconstructed and is expected to be launched again in May 2023.

This short book gives an overview of Conor’s intriguing life with especial focus on the circumnavigation.