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Arranmore RNLI’s volunteer crew were roused in the early hours of Sunday morning (28 April) by Malin Head Coast Guard to assist a sailor onboard a yacht that lost power 18 miles west of the Co Donegal island.

The initial request came at 2.41am but as the crew were about to board their all-weather lifeboat, they were asked by the coastguard to stand down as it emerged as the yachtsman had managed to raise his sails and was proceeding as planned.

The crew returned home but were called again five hours later to proceed to the same area, as the yacht was failing to make progress.

On reaching the yacht, the lifeboat crew assessed the situation and decided to establish a tow to bring the yacht to safe moorings at Arranmore.

This was the second call for the all-weather lifeboat in five days. On Tuesday evening (23 April) the volunteer crew assisted in a medevac from Arranmore to a waiting ambulance at Burtonport.

Arranmore RNLI coxswain Jimmy Early said: “We are always happy to give assistance where it is needed. The sailor was really grateful for all the help in bringing him to safety.

“We have a really dedicated crew here on Arranmore and they are always prepared to go above and beyond the call of duty. We are, at present, recruiting crew members for the lifeboat and invite anybody interested in joining to come to the station for a look and a chat.”

The crew onboard the lifeboat with Early were mechanic Reamon O’Donnell, Sean Gallagher, Jamie Neeson, Sharon O’Donnell, Finbar Gallagher and John Boyle.

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Just days after the Arranmore RNLI volunteer crew carried out a marathon rescue of a fishing crew in challenging weather conditions, they were again called out to assist with a medical evacuation from the island at 7pm on Thursday evening (8 February).

Following the third call-out for the crew in as many days, lifeboat coxswain Seán O'Donnell said: “This was a quick call which we were pleased to respond to following our long service on Sunday. We are always ready to answer the call no matter what it is.”

The crew on board on Thursday alongside O’Donnell were mechanic Philip McCauley, Brian Proctor, Seamus Bonner, Sharon O’Donnell, Mickey Dubh McHugh and Seán Sammy Gallagher.

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Lifeboat crew from Arranmore RNLI finally got to their beds at 1.20 am this morning (Tuesday, 6 February) after spending over 26 hours at sea to bring a fishing vessel, with five people onboard, to safety.

The Coast Guard requested the Donegal lifeboat to launch on Sunday evening at 10.50pm, after the vessel, which was 48 miles north of Arranmore, reported being in difficulty.

The crew successfully towed a fishing vessel to safety in harsh weather conditions. The vessel was facing swells of up to 5.5 metres and winds of 60kph, making the operation particularly challenging. 

After an initial attempt to tow the vessel failed, the lifeboat crew decided to establish a tow themselves. Despite the difficult conditions, a crew member managed to successfully throw a rope onto the deck of the fishing vessel and establish a line. 

The Arranmore RNLI crew then towed the fishing vessel back to Rathmullen pier in Donegal, at a speed of 1.2 to 3 knots. Upon arrival, they were met by their colleagues from Lough Swilly RNLI, who provided them with warm food before they continued their journey home. 

This was the second callout for the Arranmore RNLI crew over the St. Bridget’s bank holiday weekend. They had earlier launched to carry out a medical evacuation from the island, bringing a casualty to Burtonport where an ambulance met them. 

Reflecting on the operation, Arranmore RNLI Coxswain Jimmy Early expressed his gratitude to the crew members who left their homes to help those in need. He highlighted that the conditions were far from ideal, but the crew members' dedication and expertise ensured a successful outcome. 

The crew members' commitment to their work is commendable, and their bravery in the face of challenging circumstances is truly inspiring.

Published in RNLI Lifeboats

The volunteer crew of Arranmore RNLI responded to a call by Malin Head Coast Guard at 6am on Wednesday morning (31 January) to four fishermen on a boat in difficulty at Inis Meain, off the coast of Bunbeg in Co Donegal.

The lifeboat arrived on scene just before 7am and the crew ascertained that the casualty boat, a 12-metre crabber with four crew onboard, had got into difficulty as it was sheltering from the south-westerly winds and went aground on the island.

With winds and gusts of 50-60 miles per hour blowing on shore and swells of four to five metres, the lifeboat coxswain Seán O’Donnell assessed the scene in conjunction with the Irish Coast Guard’s Rescue 118 helicopter crew from Sligo, who were also tasked.

Following the assessment, Rescue 118 airlifted the four crew members and proceeded to Carrickfinn airport where they were landed safely. The lifeboat returned to anchor after refuelling in Burtonport at 9.30am.

Speaking following the call-out, O’Donnell said: “I’m really pleased that all the crew were brought to safety and would like to commend the helicopter crew for their professionalism in the execution of the rescue of the four crew members. It is a privilege to work alongside the coastguard crews from Bunbeg, Malin Head and of course Rescue 118.

“I would also like to thank our own crew onboard the lifeboat for their dedication in answering the call so early on a windy morning.”

The lifeboat crew on this call-out alongside O’Donnell were mechanic Philip McCauley, Reamon O’Donnell, Sharon O’Donnell, Brian Proctor, Finbar Gallagher, Jamie Neeson and Aisling Cox.

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“On the application of the local residents, the RNLI committee decided to open a lifeboat establishment on Arranmore Island. The site for the boathouse and slipway was kindly granted by the landed proprietor Lieutenant F Charley, and the expense of the boat and equipment was defrayed from a legacy bequeathed to the Institution by Richard Vandeleur of Dublin.” — RNLI Archives, 1883

On 1 September 1883, the first lifeboat — aptly named Vandeleur — came to Arranmore and was crewed entirely by volunteers. Today, 140 years later, the ethos of volunteering is still strong among islanders and the volunteer crew of Arranmore RNLI are still ready at a moment’s notice to drop everything and answer the call.

Recalling the most notable rescue by Co Donegal island’s lifeboat station, former crew member and deputy coxswain from 2000-2011, Jerry Early said: “My father Andrew always remembered watching the lifeboat go out and thinking that the crew and lifeboat would never return such were the horrendous conditions of the sea and storm-force winds.”

On 6 December 1940, the Dutch merchant ship Stolwijk had lost power and went on the rocks off Tory Island in Donegal. Ten of the crew were lost, with 18 survivors clinging on to the stern as huge waves washed over them. It took the lifeboat four hours to reach the stricken ship and a further four hours to rescue the remaining 18 sailors. A breeches buoy line was utilised in the rescue and unfortunately it broke several times.

With the survivors on board, the lifeboat made its way to Burtonport, again another four-hour journey to drop off the rescued sailors and refuel.

The lifeboat had to stay at Burtonport harbour overnight as the crew were exhausted and the weather conditions were still too dangerous to return to Arranmore. In all, the lifeboat and crew spent 22 hours rescuing the crew of the Stolwijk. The lifeboat crew were awarded gold, silver and bronze medals from the RNLI and similar awards from Queen Wilhelmina of The Netherlands for the rescue of her compatriots.

These events are recalled in a tribute by Jerry Early, who shared: “Listening to my father talking about the men who went out on that call inspired me to write the song ‘I’ll Go’ with my cousin, John Gallagher.”

A painting of the Arranmore lifeboat’s rescue of survivors from the Stolwijk features on the cover of Jerry Early’s single “I’ll Go”A painting of the Arranmore lifeboat’s rescue of survivors from the Stolwijk features on the cover of Jerry Early’s single “I’ll Go”

The lyrics of this song honour the brave lifeboat men who risked their lives to save fellow sailors. The hopeful tone of the chorus — “I’ll go and do the best I can / I’ll do what must be done / I’ll go cause I’m a lifeboat man / I am my father’s son” — evocatively sums up the dedication of lifeboat crews throughout the service.

Families are an integral part of the RNLI crew and in Arranmore the involvement and support of families can be traced through the generations from the first crew of the Vandeleur to the present day.

Brian Byrne can trace his family’s service on the lifeboat back to 1883 when his great-great-grandfather, Brian O’Donnell, was appointed the first coxswain on the Vandeleur. His grandfather, father, uncle and brother John, all served on subsequent lifeboats. Brian’s father Neily Byrne and uncle Phil Byrne were awarded bronze medals for their part in the rescue of the Stolwijk crew.

Furthermore, Phil Byrne was awarded a silver medal for leading his lifeboat crew on a successful medical evacuation from Tory Island to the mainland in raging north-westerly gales to save the life of a seriously ill young boy.

Brian recalls being on the rescue mission to Tory with many members of his family: “I remember being on the lifeboat that night; my uncle, Phil, was the coxswain, my father Neil, my brother John and cousin Bernard O’Donnell were also onboard.”

For context, Bernard’s grandfather Paddy O’Donnell was one of the recipients of the bronze medals for the rescue of the Stolwyjk crew, as were his uncles Phil and Neily Byrne. His brother John also served as mechanic/coxswain on the lifeboat.

Brian continues: “Because of the bad weather we couldn’t land the lifeboat at the pier and the yawl bringing the boy to the lifeboat got into difficulty after getting the boy on board the lifeboat. We got the yawl safely back to the island and then took the sick boy to Burtonport. He was taken to Letterkenny Hospital then.”

Arranmore RNLI’s all-weather lifeboat with the slopes of Errigal in the distance | Credit: RNLI/ArranmoreArranmore RNLI’s all-weather lifeboat with the slopes of Errigal in the distance | Credit: RNLI/Arranmore

Describing his first shout, Brian says: “I think I was in my early teens when I went out on my first lifeboat call. It was to a yacht anchored off Arranmore with the anchor drifting and we had to stay out all night until the yacht set sail the following morning. As a young fellow I don’t think I was ever really thinking about how dangerous it was to go off out on a shout in stormy weather. I suppose it’s just part of your life when you live on an island, it’s what you do.”

Philip McCauley has been the Arranmore RNLI mechanic/coxswain since 1996. He was appointed after his cousin John O’Donnell retired from the position. It’s clear to be seen that the lifeboat runs in the blood since Philip’s great-great-great grandfather was Vandeleur first coxswain, Brian O’Donnell, and it was Philip’s grandfather Phil Byrne who was awarded silver and bronze medals for the Tory and Stolwijk rescues respectively.

When islander Mark Boyle returned from America, he promptly joined the lifeboat crew. Mark’s father Charlie had served as mechanic while his grandfather Jack, who had served as coxswain, was awarded gold medals for the Stolwijk rescue.

In the early years of Arranmore RNLI, it was local men with a knowledge of the sea who went on a call for the lifeboat. Prior to the first motor boat in 1902, boats were open to the elements, powered by oars and sail with speeds of up to 3-5 knots and the crew relied on long oilskin coats and sou’westers to protect them from the wind and rain.

Today’s lifeboats are state-of-the-art vessels, equipped with advanced technology, capable of speeds over 25 knots on the all-weather lifeboats and 35 knots on the inshore rigid inflatable boats. Crew members come from all walks of life and are trained in all aspects of boat handling, on-board equipment, technology, first aid and everything involved in saving lives at sea.

Arranmore’s crew are also getting a purpose-built boathouse, which will be operational in 2024 and will cater for on-site crew training, housing boarding boats, launching vehicles and adequate facilities for the crew.

So many things have changed over the last 140 years for the RNLI on Arranmore but the one constant theme is the volunteer ethos. One thing that never changes is the courage, dedication and selfless instincts of lifeboat volunteers who, without a thought for their own safety, go to help their fellow sailors.

So as you ring in the new year, spare a thought for the men and women who will say, ‘I’ll go’ — 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

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On Saturday evening, the Arranmore RNLI crew successfully rescued three people and their dog who were stranded on Maghera Beach due to the rising tide. 

The stranded walkers, two men, a woman, and their dog, were cut off by the tide on the rocks at Maghera Beach at Loughros Mor Bay when they called for help at 7.15 pm. The Malin Head Coast Guard immediately alerted the all-weather lifeboat crew who were already out on an exercise. The crew promptly diverted to the incident and arrived at the scene shortly after.

Upon assessing the situation, the crew onboard the Severn class lifeboat, Myrtle Maud, launched their smaller daughter inflatable Y-boat to access the water near the rocks or shore. Crew members Mickey McHugh and Kieran O'Donnell located the stranded walkers along the rocky shoreline of Loughros Mór Bay.

At 8.15pm, the crew  removed the stranded walkers from the rocks. The rescue operation was a testament to the crew's training and skill. After the rescue, the casualties received further assessment and care from Killybegs Coast Guard before safely returning to their vehicles in Portnoo.

Coxswain Jimmy Early of Arranmore RNLI praised the professionalism and dedication of his crew throughout the commendable rescue operation. He also commended the stranded walkers for their prompt call to the emergency services.

The Arranmore RNLI crew on this commendable call-out included Coxswain Jimmy Early, mechanic John McHugh, and crew members Micky Dubh McHugh, Kieran O’Donnell, JJ O’Donnell, Seamus Bonner, and Finbar Gallagher.

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Arranmore RNLI in Co Donegal rescued a kayaker on rocks at Owey Island on Sunday afternoon (10 September).

The volunteer crew were asked to launch their all-weather lifeboat by Malin Head Coast Guard at 2.50pm to reports of a kayaker in difficulty on rocks at Owey Island, a five-minute journey from the RNLI station.

On arrival at the scene, the lifeboat was joined by the Bunbeg Coast Guard boat, the Irish Coast Guard’s Sligo-based helicopter Rescue 118 and local boats.

The lifeboat located the empty kayak and proceeded to search the area around Owey Island and the wider area for the missing kayaker but was unable to locate him.

Arranmore RNLI mechanic Philip McCauley suggested to Malin Head Coast Guard that the caves at Owey Island were a popular exploration spot for kayakers and canoes. They proceeded to search the area by the Bunbeg Coast Guard drone and the casualty was soon located.

It emerged that the kayaker was going to explore the cave when a large swell backed him into the opening, overturned his boat and tossed him onto the rocks. He had managed to alert the Coast Guard and clung onto the rocks until he was located by the lifeboat.

Sea conditions at the area made the rescue more difficult with a high ground swell and breaking surf.

As the tide turned and sea conditions improved, the lifeboat launched the Y boat — a small inflatable daughter boat capable of entering shallow water and small confined areas, launched from the stern of the lifeboat — with volunteer crew members Evan O’Donnell and JJ O’Donnell onboard and they proceeded into the cave where they brought the casualty onboard and transferred him to the lifeboat for assessment.

The lifeboat then transferred the casualty to the Bunbeg Coast Guard boat and the crew took him ashore and he was subsequently taken onboard Rescue 118 for transfer to Letterkenny University Hospital.

Speaking on return from service, McCauley said: “We are really pleased at the positive outcome of this call. I would particularly like to commend our two crew members JJ O’Donnell and Evan O’Donnell who were in charge of the Y boat in challenging sea conditions and brought the casualty to safety. They did a fantastic job and we are lucky to have crew members of their calibre onboard the crew. All our volunteer crew members are very dedicated and don’t hesitate to answer the call to save lives.”

Coxswain Seán O’Donnell also thanked the boats from the local area who provided assistance in the search. He said: “This was a great joint effort with the Bunbeg Coast Guard boat, Rescue 118 and all the boats who took part in this rescue. It was this joint cooperation between all the rescue services and the local boat crews that was instrumental in bringing a positive outcome in the search and saving the life of the man.”

Arranmore RNLI’s crew on the service were coxswain Seán O’Donnell, mechanic Philip McCauley and volunteer crew members Aisling Cox, Evan O’Donnell, JJ O’Donnell, Jamie Neeson, Sharon O’Donnell and Mickey Dubh McHugh.

Meanwhile, on Saturday (9 September), the crew were called out at 6.40pm to a medevac from the island, where they transferred the patient to a waiting ambulance in Burtonport to be brought to Letterkenny University Hospital for assessment.

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Final preparations are under way at the three Donegal-based RNLI lifeboat stations at Bundoran and Lough Swilly and Arranmore for the charity’s Mayday Mile challenge which will see six volunteer crew — two from each station — climb Donegal’s highest summit, Errigal, this Saturday 13 May in full RNLI crew kit.

Since the fundraiser was announced a few weeks ago, the six lifeboat crew members — Chris Fox and Brian Fowley (Bundoran), Stephen Quigley and Barry Nixon (Lough Swilly) and Aisling Cox and Brian Proctor (Arranmore) — have been psyching themselves up for the challenge. Gym sessions have been completed and many steps have been climbed in preparation for the event.

Killian O’Kelly, RNLI water safety education manager and organiser of the fundraiser has been encouraging the six crew as they ready for the challenge.

“We’ll be right there with them on the day — we know it’ll be a tough one for them,” he said. “I’d like to thank everyone who has donated so far and remind people who would like to contribute that the JustGiving page remains open and details can be found on each station’s Facebook page.

“A massive thanks also to the crew from each station who have volunteered to complete the challenge. It’s not what the crews are used to, they face challenging conditions at sea when they go and help those in trouble on the water, but this is very different for them. We also want to show people where their funds go and that we are grateful for every cent to give us.”

During the month of May the RNLI is encouraging members of the public to complete their own ‘Mayday Mile’ however they see fit. The money raised could help RNLI lifesavers have everything they need to keep families safe this summer. Warmer weather draws more people to the water and RNLI volunteer lifeboat crews will drop whatever they’re doing when a call for help comes in.

For updates on the Errigal climb on the day, keep an eye on the social media channels of Arranmore RNLI, Bundoran RNLI and Lough Swilly RNLI.

Donations to the Errigal challenge can be made via the JustGiving page and the final sum will be divided equally between the three Donegal stations.

Elsewhere, volunteers with Dunmore East RNLI are preparing for their own vertical Mayday Mile by summiting the highest peaks in both the Comeragh and Knockmealdown mountains, as previously reported on

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Volunteers from the three Donegal-based RNLI lifeboat stations at Bundoran, Lough Swilly and Arranmore will climb the highest mountain in the county, Errigal, as part of the charity’s Mayday fundraising campaign.

Six crew — two from each station — will ascend the 751 metres of the Donegal mountain in full lifeboat gear on Saturday 13 May in a combined fundraising effort for the three stations.

The idea for the challenge came about after three members of the Bundoran crew walked the Bundoran 10-mile event last year in their full kit, raising over €6,000 for the charity.

This year they wanted to do something different, while involving their fellow lifeboat crew mates from Lough Swilly and Arranmore.

Barry Nixon and Stephen Quigley of Lough Swilly RNLI | Credit: RNLI/Lough SwillyBarry Nixon and Stephen Quigley of Lough Swilly RNLI | Credit: RNLI/Lough Swilly

Aisling Cox and Brian Proctor from Arranmore RNLI, Chris Fox and Brian Fowley from Bundoran RNLI and Stephen Quigley and Barry Nixon from Lough Swilly RNLI have all volunteered to complete the climb on 13 May.

Chris Fox was one of those who took part in last year’s Bundoran 10-mile event. He said: “While the blisters didn’t settle for a few days, it was still a great experience and a really great fundraising event for Bundoran lifeboat station.

“We wanted to change it up this year and put the challenge out to our two other stations in Donegal to see if they would help us complete the Mayday Mile on Errigal.”

Stephen Quigley added: “We jumped at the chance for this challenge with our fellow crew members from around the county. There is nowhere more iconic in Donegal than Errigal; walking up it in full kit will be quite the challenge. But it will be a great to come together as one crew with this fundraiser for the three stations here in Donegal: Bundoran, Lough Swilly and Arranmore.”

Brian Proctor and Aisling Cox of Arranmore RNLI | Credit: RNLI/John McCaffertyBrian Proctor and Aisling Cox of Arranmore RNLI | Credit: RNLI/John McCafferty

Aisling Cox is hopeful that the climb will help to raise the funds needed to keep all three stations running. “Mayday is our own call for help, as we rely on the generosity of the public to take part in events like the Mayday Mile and raise the funds that allow us to be there when we’re needed most,” she said.

“But we need to be ready. Training, kit, stations and fuel — these are just some of the things we need to save lives and that people fundraising can help provide.”

With the three stations in Co Donegal expected to be busy this summer, the RNLI is asking people to support the Mayday Mile throughout the month of May by covering the distance in any way they choose and raising vital funds to keep people safe.

Donations to the Errigal challenge can be made via the JustGiving page and the final sum will be divided equally between the three Donegal stations.

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Paddy Conaghan worked in tunnels in Thailand, Hong Kong, Denmark, the Channel Islands, Isle of Man and every place from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

But he says his greatest achievement was driving and ducking 515 times at beaches clockwise around Ireland as he celebrated his 82nd birthday.

Paddy set off on his latest quest on 4 December, having previously faced the challenge of diving off as many piers as possible anti-clockwise around Ireland.

His first challenge raised over €100,000 for local counselling service Gemma’s Legacy of Hope. And his chosen charities this time include one close to his heart: the RNLI.

“I chose the RNLI because I am very familiar with the work they do in saving lives at sea,” Paddy said. “We have a lifeboat on Arranmore since 1883 that has saved many lives and I thought the RNLI would be a safe bet if I got into bother in my ventures around the coast. They also rely on fundraising by the public so I hope I can raise some money for them.”

Paddy was supported at every swim by people who turned out to swim with him, supplied him with food, towels and the odd bottle of whiskey to stave off the cold.

Owners of the Arranmore Blue Ferry, Seamus and Louise Boyle supplied him with a van and kitted it out with bedding and cooking appliances and Paddy chose to stay full-time in the van despite many offers of bed and breakfast. Paddy felt it added to the challenge to stay in the van, enduring temperatures of -2 degrees.

Prior to completing his final swim at Maghery beach in Donegal, Paddy was thinking of how this venture might end and came up with the idea of leaving his final swim for somebody else to start a similar challenge.

In Paddy’s own words: “I would really like somebody else to continue this challenge on a yearly basis, always leaving Maghery beach for the next challenger. I am so glad to have completed the circuit twice, it gave me a great sense of satisfaction to do something for the various charities, I wasn’t doing much else with my life.”

Nora Flanagan, Arranmore RNLI volunteer lifeboat press officer spoke to Paddy on arrival back in Arranmore last Sunday 13 March and said: “Paddy is the most unassuming, modest man I have the pleasure to know.

“I asked him about his World Open Water Swimming Awards Man of the Year award, an award which celebrates individuals and offerings that embody the spirit of open-water swimming and have positively impacted the community, showcasing their determination, fortitude, sense of adventure, tenacity and perseverance, and he said he didn’t think he deserved it because many people swim in the sea. Yes they do, but not many would dive into the sea several times a day around Ireland in the middle of winter to raise funds for charity.

“The RNLI is a charitable institution which relies on people like Paddy to help keep the lifeboats afloat. Many people volunteer with the RNLI as crew, fundraisers and shore crew and together our one aim is to support the lifeboats to continue saving lives.

“I asked Paddy what he’s going to do now with time on his hands and all he said was, ‘I’m thinking’ and I have no doubt that he is.”

If you wish to donate to Paddy’s charities, visit his iDonate page HERE.

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