Harnessing the power of healing in Portaferry with help of 121-year-old Dutch barge

The Dutch barge will arrive in Portaferry this week
The Dutch barge will arrive in Portaferry this week
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A 121-year-old Dutch barge is en route to Strangford Lough were it will be used to bring calm and wellbeing to all those who sail in it.

The ship belongs to Hilary Hunter, a north Down woman who has returned to Co Down after several years living in England, and found peace and tranquillity in Portaferry.

Hilary and her dog Ellie

Hilary and her dog Ellie

Hilary, 56, said: “A couple of guys from Rathlin are bringing her over for me. They left Faversham in Kent on Tuesday night. It’ll take them a week or so to get here.”

The Dutch barge named Drie Gebroeders (Three Brothers) will act as a sea sanctuary for members of local community groups with a mental wellbeing focus.

Hilary, who founded social enterprise WREn (Wellbeing in a Rural Environment), wants to use the ship as a healing vessel in the Strangford Lough area: “When you’re out on the water in the barge you get very close to the environment, you’re very aware of tides.

“Being out on the water is very therapeutic, very calming. It’s very good for your soul.”

She added: “These boats are reasonably common on the east coast of England but over here nobody knows what I’m talking about.

“It’ll be one of very few in Ireland, not many have made it this far from Holland.

“I bought it in 2014. I spent a few years in England restoring it. It was a labour of love. And a lot of money.

“Now I’m back in Northern Ireland and it’s following me.”

Hilary, a mother of four grown-up children who lives in Portaferry with her dog Ellie, said: “When I was in England I lived on the boat. It’s a traditional sailing boat, and it’s like a little cottage inside.

“The plan is to moor her at Strangford Lough, but as yet I’ve encountered some difficulty in finding her a home. If anyone can help I’d love to hear from them.”

Explaining why she returned to NI and began a social enterprise focusing on natural health and wellbeing, Hilary said: “I found the pressures of work very stressful when I was living in England. I came back here very burnt out.

“I’d been looking into natural health and wellbeing for some years to try to find the work life balance like a lot of people.

“My daughter was living in Portaferry, it’s a wee place I’ve always driven through and never really spent that much time in.

“I came to Portaferry myself for respite and found the sea airs and serene surroundings revitalised me.

“Strangford Lough is the perfect place to sail my barge and I hope to share her with others who may benefit from nature’s remedy.”