Castletownbere RNLI will mark two decades of service with a fundraising celebration this weekend, writes Helen Riddell
ON Friday, October 27th Castletownbere RNLI Lifeboat will celebrate its 20th anniversary, in which time it has been launched over 200 times, rescued 288 people and saved 30 lives.
Located in Ireland’s biggest fishing port of Castletownbere, and covering an area stretching from the Mizen Head to Kenmare Bay, the lifeboat has been a lifeline for those living in the area since it’s arrival in 1997.
Like all coastal areas, Beara has witnessed a number of maritime tragedies, and prior to having a lifeboat stationed in the town, it was dependent on lifeboats based in Baltimore and Valentia. Over the years, a number of local residents had fervently campaigned for the town to have a permanent lifeboat station. Following a public meeting in 1996, the RNLI agreed that a lifeboat would be stationed in Castletownbere on a 12-month trial basis. A number of local volunteers signed up to be crew members, and travelled to RNLI headquarters in Poole in England to undergo rigorous training, followed by a further six weeks training in Castletownbere following the arrival of the lifeboat. The 52ft Arun class lifeboat, The Roy and Barbara Harding, which had been based in the Aran island for the previous ten years, arrived into Castletownbere to much fanfare on October 27th, 1997.
The lifeboat in Castletownbere is crewed by volunteers from all walks of life, with a permanent coxswain and mechanic. The first coxswain was Tony O’Sullivan who later went on to become lifeboat operations manager. Brendan Gonnelly later became the first full-time coxswain, and that role is now held by Brian O’Driscoll, with Paul Stevens serving as second coxswain, and Marney O’Donoghue working as a full-time mechanic. Fr Sean O’Shea has been the lifeboat chaplain since it first arrived in the town, and Dr Colin Gleeson served as lifeboat medical officer. Dr Fiona Kelly has now taken over that role.
Following a successful trial period the RNLI confirmed that a lifeboat would be permanently based at Castletownbere. In 2004, this commitment was assured with the arrival of a purpose built Severn class lifeboat the Annette Hutton for the town. At just over 55ft in length, the Severn class is the largest vessel in the RNLI fleet, with a range of 250 nautical miles. The Annette Hutton is named after a Dublin woman who bequeathed a legacy to the RNLI. The Hutton family were a firm of coachbuilders who were appointed a royal warrant as coachbuilders to Queen Victoria. They later went onto build the Irish State Coach, which is still used by Queen Elizabeth during the state opening of Parliament. In 2004, while the Castletownbere lifeboat crew were in Poole, Dorset undertaking training on their new lifeboat, the Queen and Prince Phillip attended the opening of the new Lifeboat College in Poole, and during their visit were taking for a short trip on the Annette Hutton.
When the first lifeboat arrived, the crew had the use of a metal container on the western end of the main pier in Castletownbere as their base. When the Annette Hutton arrived, they moved to a portacabin on Dinish Island. During this time the lifeboat was based on a mooring in the harbour. However, in May 2013, a €1m state-of-the-art lifeboat station finally opened in the town, which allowed the lifeboat to be moored alongside, thus allowing the launch time to be almost halved.
While the RNLI provides equipment and training, the service is funded principally by legacies and voluntary donations. Castletownbere RNLI fundraising committee organise a number of events throughout the year, including fundraising days, a weekly lotto draw, and a shop selling RNLI merchandise is also based in the lifeboat station. The Castletownbere lifeboat regularly works with a number of other emergency services including the Castletownbere Coast Guard, and Coast Guard Search and Rescue helicopter, the Fire Service, Ambulance Service, and local GPs.
Over the years, Castletownbere Lifeboat has been involved in a number of high profile rescues. One of the more recent ones saw the crew rescue a lone yachtsman in 2016 in a callout which took place in treacherous conditions over a 12-hour period, and saw the crew receive a letter of commendation from the Minister of Transport. The rescue also featured on the BBC programme Saving Lives at Sea. In 2007 the Castletownbere Lifeboat was launched following reports of two men in the water at Dunlough Bay, West Cork. The events at Dunlough Bay eventually unfolded in to what was to become the one of the biggest drugs seizures in the history of the State.
• Castletownbere Lifeboat volunteers, committee and members of the community will celebrate the 20th anniversary with a fundraising dinner dance on Saturday, October 28th at 7.30pm at the Beara Coast Hotel, Castletownbere. All are welcome. Music will be by Ger Deasy, tickets are €35 and are available from the lifeboat station, O’Donoghue’s Bar and the Beara Coast Hotel.