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AK Ilen in Westport harbour. Photo Alex Blackwell

Conor OBrien designed the AK Ilen after being the first to circumnavigate the globe in 1923-25 aboard another boat he designed, Saoirse, by way of the three great capes: Cape Horn, Cape of Good Hope and Cape Leeuwin. Saoirse was the first boat flying the Irish tricolour to enter many of the world’s ports and harbours. (read more here)

OBrien’s seagoing experiences were put to use in his design of the Ilen which was built for the Falkland Islands as a service boat and launched in the spring of 1926. Under OBrien’s command, Ilen reached the Falklands early in 1927, where she plied the waters doing inter-island trade for many years thereafter. In 1998 the Ilen was brought back to the site where she was first built, on the river Ilen near Baltimore Co Cork. There she underwent a full restoration and was re-launched in May 2018.

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Duncan (ICC) and Maura Sclare aboard Little Egret, a cutter that Duncan recently completed after 14 years, heading out to meet AK Ilen in Clew Bay. Photo by Joe Corrigan (Mayo Sailing Club)

Since her restoration she has been part of Sailing Into Wellness (read more here), an award-winning charity using the unique setting of the sea to empower individuals to overcome challenges, increase coping mechanisms and build a positive sense of self and community. Working with nationwide community groups they offer programmes for people with mental health and addiction challenges, intellectual and physical disabilities and those engaged with the criminal justice services.

James Lyons (ICC), General Manager and Co-founder of Sailing Into Wellness, explains why the AK Ilen came to Westport: “We are delivering programs on the West Coast until mid-June, and this week we are delighted to be running a pilot for a new addiction recovery program. This program combines, adventure therapy, sailing and psychotherapy, after the week onboard the AK Ilen our participants will spend the weekend on Achill Island in a therapy setting. After that we are joined by an amazing organisation, Safehaven, who work primarily with young people in direct provision. The young people will join us for a three-day voyage from Achill to Galway City.”

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AK Ilen tied up at Westport Quay. Photo Alex Blackwell