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RNLI Investing in Donegal's Arranmore Island Lifeboat Station

19th December 2021
Arranmore lifeboat off the coast of Donegal
Arranmore lifeboat off the coast of Donegal

Many of my memories from fifty years of journalism in all sectors of the media, from local weekly newspapers, to national dailies, radio and television, involve lifeboat stations.

In tragedy and celebration that has been the focus of coastal communities, places always welcoming. informative and a major part of the maritime sphere.

In years past many were old buildings, but some of which reeked of dampness and cold in winter weather. Meeting crews that had returned from emergency rescue call-outs, I marvelled at how they wound down after the stress and pressure of being at sea in tough conditions. That did not, to me, seem easy in the conditions of station buildings that needed upgrading.

The improvement of RNLI stations, often through the commitment and funding of local communities, has been impressive and needed - and a great pleasure to be asked to do the formal opening of one, in the fishing port of Castletownbere in West Cork.

Arranmore Island RNLI Lifeboat StationArranmore Island RNLI Lifeboat Station

My memories of lifeboat stations include, in years past, being aboard Baltimore Lifeboat as it launched, down the slipway inside the old station, a metal building support with a sign that said “mind your head” flashing past as the boat hit the water at speed. Doing the naming ceremony for Kilrush Station’s new rigid inflatable in the Shannon Estuary is recalled in a photograph on the wall of my ‘Den’ at home where I write this. Another photograph recalls a visit to Achill station – and there are many more, so I follow closely what happens at lifeboat stations, where one of the oldest remaining in the country is to be replaced. That is on Arranmore Island off Donegal.

The RNLI has operated a station there since 1883 when the first lifeboat Vandeleur was powered by sail and oars. One of the island’s previous boathouses was in Aphort, where the bodies of those recovered from the Arranmore Disaster in 1935 were laid out. A yawl carrying twenty passengers that left Burtonport Harbour for Arranmore ran onto a rock and nineteen drowned. The only survivor was the late Paddy Gallagher, who himself lost his father, four brothers and two sisters in the tragedy.

The current Arranmore boathouse is at Poolawaddy, used since 1994, partially funded with a donation from the relatives of students who lost their lives off Arranmore in 1989. Four Edinburgh University students were drowned when their dinghy sprang a leak and sank while crossing from Arranmore to the Isle of Iochtar. Two survived.

One of the station’s most famous rescues was in December 1940 when Arranmore lifeboat rescued 16 sailors from the Dutch merchant ship, Stolwjick, that got into difficulty in bad weather. The lifeboat crew were awarded gold, silver and bronze medals by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands for their rescue.

Niamh Stephenson, RNLI Media Manager Ireland, describes the new facilities to be provided at Arranmore in this Podcast.

Mark Boyle who was born on Arranmore returned to the island from America last April. This will be his first Christmas on call for the RNLI. He follows in the footsteps of his late father Charlie, a former Station Mechanic and his grandfather Jack, who was awarded the RNLI’s gold medal for gallantry for his role in the rescue of the 18 Dutch crew in 1940.

Mark Boyle holding his grandfather's RNLI gold medal for gallantryMark Boyle holding his grandfather's RNLI gold medal for gallantry

Donegal County Council has approved the demolition of the old lifeboat station to make way for the new two-storey development on the same site at Poolawaddy.

Tom MacSweeney

About The Author

Tom MacSweeney

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Tom MacSweeney writes a weekly column for Afloat.ie. He presents the monthly programme Maritime Ireland on Podcast services and Irish radio stations.

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