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Irish Ketch Ilen Sails to Westport for Unique Addiction Recovery Programme

13th May 2024
Duncan and Maura Sclare's local cutter Little Egret (left) heads out to meet AK Ilen in Clew Bay, County Mayo
Duncan and Maura Sclare's local cutter Little Egret (left) heads out to meet AK Ilen in Clew Bay, County Mayo Credit: Joe Corrigan

The historic Irish ketch, Ilen, has docked at Westport, County Mayo to deliver a unique addiction recovery programme. The boat, which was built in the 1920s and underwent a full restoration in 2018, is now part of the award-winning charity Sailing Into Wellness.

The AK Ilen was designed by Conor O'Brien, who had previously circumnavigated the globe aboard another boat he designed, the Saoirse. O'Brien's seagoing experiences were put to use in his design of the Ilen, which was built for the Falkland Islands and launched in 1926. Under O'Brien's command, the Ilen plied the waters doing inter-island trade for many years.

Since her restoration in 2018, the AK Ilen has been part of Sailing Into Wellness, a charity that uses the unique setting of the sea to empower individuals to overcome challenges, increase coping mechanisms, and build a positive sense of self and community. The charity offers programmes for people with mental health and addiction challenges, intellectual and physical disabilities.

AK Ilen moored in Westport harbour Photo Alex BlackwellAK Ilen in Westport harbour Photo Alex Blackwell

James Lyons, General Manager and Co-founder of Sailing Into Wellness explained that the AK Ilen came to Westport to deliver a new addiction recovery programme. The programme combines adventure therapy, sailing, and psychotherapy, and after a week onboard the AK Ilen, participants will spend the weekend on Achill Island in a therapy setting. Following this, the charity will be joined by Safehaven, an organisation that works primarily with young people in direct provision, for a three-day voyage from Achill to Galway City.

AK Ilen tied up at Westport Quay. Photo Alex BlackwellAK Ilen tied up at Westport Quay. Photo Alex Blackwell

The AK Ilen has a rich history and is an important part of Irish maritime heritage. The boat's arrival in Westport is a significant event and highlights the importance of innovative approaches to addiction recovery and mental health treatment.

Published in Ilen
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Ireland's Trading Ketch Ilen

The Ilen is the last of Ireland’s traditional wooden sailing ships.

Designed by Limerick man Conor O’Brien and built in Baltimore in 1926, she was delivered by Munster men to the Falkland Islands where she served valiantly for seventy years, enduring and enjoying the Roaring Forties, the Furious Fifties, and Screaming Sixties.

Returned now to Ireland and given a new breath of life, Ilen may be described as the last of Ireland’s timber-built ocean-going sailing ships, yet at a mere 56ft, it is capable of visiting most of the small harbours of Ireland.

Wooden Sailing Ship Ilen FAQs

The Ilen is the last of Ireland’s traditional wooden sailing ships.

The Ilen was designed by Conor O’Brien, the first Irish man to circumnavigate the world.

Ilen is named for the West Cork River which flows to the sea at Baltimore, her home port.

The Ilen was built by Baltimore Sea Fisheries School, West Cork in 1926. Tom Moynihan was foreman.

Ilen's wood construction is of oak ribs and planks of larch.

As-built initially, she is 56 feet in length overall with a beam of 14 feet and a displacement of 45 tonnes.

Conor O’Brien set sail in August 1926 with two Cadogan cousins from Cape Clear in West Cork, arriving at Port Stanley in January 1927 and handed it over to the new owners.

The Ilen was delivered to the Falkland Islands Company, in exchange for £1,500.

Ilen served for over 70 years as a cargo ship and a ferry in the Falkland Islands, enduring and enjoying the Roaring Forties, the Furious Fifties, and Screaming Sixties. She stayed in service until the early 1990s.

Limerick sailor Gary McMahon and his team located Ilen. MacMahon started looking for her in 1996 and went out to the Falklands and struck a deal with the owner to bring her back to Ireland.

After a lifetime of hard work in the Falklands, Ilen required a ground-up rebuild.

A Russian cargo ship transported her back on a 12,000-mile trip from the Southern Oceans to Dublin. The Ilen was discharged at the Port of Dublin 1997, after an absence from Ireland of 70 years.

It was a collaboration between the Ilen Project in Limerick and Hegarty’s Boatyard in Old Court, near Skibbereen. Much of the heavy lifting, of frames, planking, deadwood & backbone, knees, floors, shelves and stringers, deck beams, and carlins, was done in Hegarty’s. The generally lighter work of preparing sole, bulkheads, deck‐houses fixed furniture, fixtures & fittings, deck fittings, machinery, systems, tanks, spar making and rigging is being done at the Ilen boat building school in Limerick.

Ten years. The boat was much the worse for wear when it returned to West Cork in May 1998, and it remained dormant for ten years before the start of a decade-long restoration.

Ilen now serves as a community floating classroom and cargo vessel – visiting 23 ports in 2019 and making a transatlantic crossing to Greenland as part of a relationship-building project to link youth in Limerick City with youth in Nuuk, west Greenland.

At a mere 56ft, Ilen is capable of visiting most of the small harbours of Ireland.

©Afloat 2020

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