Restoration work on Conor O’Brien’s coastal trader AK Ilen begins in Ireland

Photos from the first Big Boat Workshop working
on the Ilen restoration

The loss of Conor O’Brien’s famous Saoirse is long in the past, but another boat commissioned by the round-the-world voyager from Ireland is very much alive and is being restored at Hegarty’s Boatyard, in Oldcourt, Ireland.

She is being refitted in a series of week-long workshops under the expert guidance of three of the few remaining traditional shipwrights in Ireland today, Liam Hegarty, his brother John Hegarty and Fachtna O’Sullivan.

The Ilen was built by the Fisheries School in Baltimore – Ireland’s first vocational school – in the mid-1920s, and when she was launched in 1926, O’Brien and two Cadogan brothers from Cape Clear Island sailed her to the Falkland Islands, where she was delivered to the Falkland Island Company for inter-island trading.

For the next seventy years, Ilen served in the South Atlantic until the mid-1990s, when Limerick man Gary McMahon located her abandoned in the Falklands and brough her back to Baltimore in 1998.

McMahon hopes that the Ilen could help to lead the way to a new era of sustainable development through demonstrating that trading under sail is still viable.

The project has attracted a lot of interest in Ireland – recently a small crowd of celebrities turned up to see work start on her, including film producer Lord David Putnam and award-winning actor Jeremy Irons.

The refitting of the Ilen is now being used as an opportunity for people to experience first-hand the skills of wooden boat building through a series of five-day workshops in which anyone can apply to take part. The first, which took place at the beginning of November began with a talk by Glenstal Abbey forester Brother Anthony Keane on the types of timber used in boat building, and an introduction to wooden boat construction by Liam Hegarty and McMahon.

Further five-day workshops are planned for next year – see the project websites and Gary can be reached at or (Eire) 086 2640479.