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Achill Island RNLI’s Tony McNamara Retires

20th August 2021
Achill Island RNLI’s Tony McNamara
Achill Island RNLI’s Tony McNamara

Achill Island RNLI’s Tony McNamara retires as Lifeboat Operations Manager after 32 years of service to the charity.

Achill Island RNLI Lifeboat Operations Manager, Tony McNamara has retired after three decades of volunteering for the charity in an operational role. Tony will, however, continue to volunteer with the Achill Island RNLI Fundraising Branch.

Tony has been involved with the RNLI in Mayo since 1989 when a new lifeboat station opened at Ballyglass, the first all-weather lifeboat station to be opened in Ireland since 1929. Tony was stationed in Belmullet Garda Station where he worked as a Garda Sergeant at the time and where he was later promoted to the role of Garda Superintendent. He was further promoted to Chief Superintendent in 2005 before retiring from that role in Castlebar in 2009.

Tony was involved with Achill Island RNLI from its outset in 1994 when the Achill Lifeboat Committee was set up to work towards the establishment of a permanent lifeboat station on Achill Island in 1997. Tony was the Second Coxswain at Ballyglass RNLI until 2002 when he was appointed Honorary Secretary on the retirement of the late Paddy Leech, a role he held until 2005. Tony had at the same time been a committee member at the Achill Island Lifeboat Station since its inception in 1997.

Having moved back to Achill, Tony was appointed Deputy Launching Authority for the station before taking up the role of Lifeboat Operations Manager in 2017 on the retirement of Tom Honeyman. This role saw him managing all operational activities at the lifeboat station, authorising the launch of the lifeboat and the day-to-day management of the station.

As Lifeboat Operations Manager, Tony was also a key link to the fundraising branch where he now continues to volunteer his time to raise the essential funds needed to help save lives at sea. Like all lifeboat stations, Achill Island RNLI relies on donations from the public to operate and Tony very much enjoys the camaraderie and social aspect that comes with being a member of the branch.

Reflecting on the last three decades, Tony who is also a keen angler and a former scuba diver said: ‘The story of the RNLI encompasses the spirit of the volunteer - the crew, the fundraisers and the public who value that commitment and support it so generously.’

While many of Achill Island RNLI’s call-outs are to medical evacuations from Mayo’s inhabited islands, Tony, as Lifeboat Operations Manager, has over the years set off his crew’s pagers for a range of other incidents too including to swimmers, surfers and boat users who found themselves in difficulty.

Some call outs are etched in Tony’s memory. These include the tragic Rescue 116 accident in March 2017 off Blackrock Island which claimed the lives of all four crew members onboard. Tony was the first point of contact at Achill Island RNLI by the Irish Coast Guard and this request was one which would see the all-weather lifeboat, Sam and Ada Moody, and her volunteer crew search for 28 consecutive days. Tony also sadly recalls the tragic drowning of two young siblings, also his neighbours, in Blacksod Bay in July 2001 when he responded with the Ballyglass RNLI crew.

There are better memories too including back in December 1993 when four surfers were miraculously rescued over two miles off Easkey having spent several hours in the freezing, dark sea. Tony was the Ballyglass RNLI Coxswain that night and he remembers the euphoria onboard the lifeboat when all four were found alive.

Following Tony’s retirement, Ciaran Needham has taken up the helm as the new Lifeboat Operations Manager at Achill Island RNLI: ‘I am delighted to be handling the baton to Ciaran and I wish him well in that role’ Tony added. ‘I have no doubt that Ciaran will be very successful in leading the station into the future as we approach the 200th anniversary of the founding of the RNLI in 2024.’

Married to Anastasia for 48 years with three daughters, Ruth, Claire and Lucy, and six grandchildren, Tony said he is looking forward to retirement: ‘I look forward to the freedom from the pager and mobile phones which have been a constant in my life since I joined the Ballyglass crew in 1989 but I will miss the RNLI family and the contact I had with our friends in Malin Head Coast Guard Radio Station who monitor the emergency radio channels day and night.’

When speaking about his lifeboat family, Tony said: ‘I would like to thank my Deputy Launching Authority, Marie Kilbane, herself a former crew member, who covered for me in my absence. Likewise, our Honorary Medical Advisor, Doctor Noreen Lineen Curtis who has always been there for us and was always ready to go to sea when needed. I want to thank all the team at the coalface - our crew who never seek the limelight but who carries a pager day and night to answer the call, I will miss the regular contact with them.

Rob King, RNLI Area Lifesaving Manager, paid tribute to Tony: ‘I would like to thank Tony for his years of operational service with Ballyglass and Achill Island RNLI stations and for his guidance and leadership during his tenure as Lifeboat Operations Manager. I am delighted that he will remain involved with our fundraising team, and I wish him well.’

Afloat.ie Team

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Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) in Ireland Information

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is a charity to save lives at sea in the waters of UK and Ireland. Funded principally by legacies and donations, the RNLI operates a fleet of lifeboats, crewed by volunteers, based at a range of coastal and inland waters stations. Working closely with UK and Ireland Coastguards, RNLI crews are available to launch at short notice to assist people and vessels in difficulties.

RNLI was founded in 1824 and is based in Poole, Dorset. The organisation raised €210m in funds in 2019, spending €200m on lifesaving activities and water safety education. RNLI also provides a beach lifeguard service in the UK and has recently developed an International drowning prevention strategy, partnering with other organisations and governments to make drowning prevention a global priority.

Irish Lifeboat Stations

There are 46 lifeboat stations on the island of Ireland, with an operational base in Swords, Co Dublin. Irish RNLI crews are tasked through a paging system instigated by the Irish Coast Guard which can task a range of rescue resources depending on the nature of the emergency.

Famous Irish Lifeboat Rescues

Irish Lifeboats have participated in many rescues, perhaps the most famous of which was the rescue of the crew of the Daunt Rock lightship off Cork Harbour by the Ballycotton lifeboat in 1936. Spending almost 50 hours at sea, the lifeboat stood by the drifting lightship until the proximity to the Daunt Rock forced the coxswain to get alongside and successfully rescue the lightship's crew.

32 Irish lifeboat crew have been lost in rescue missions, including the 15 crew of the Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) lifeboat which capsized while attempting to rescue the crew of the SS Palme on Christmas Eve 1895.

FAQs

While the number of callouts to lifeboat stations varies from year to year, Howth Lifeboat station has aggregated more 'shouts' in recent years than other stations, averaging just over 60 a year.

Stations with an offshore lifeboat have a full-time mechanic, while some have a full-time coxswain. However, most lifeboat crews are volunteers.

There are 46 lifeboat stations on the island of Ireland

32 Irish lifeboat crew have been lost in rescue missions, including the 15 crew of the Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) lifeboat which capsized while attempting to rescue the crew of the SS Palme on Christmas Eve 1895

In 2019, 8,941 lifeboat launches saved 342 lives across the RNLI fleet.

The Irish fleet is a mixture of inshore and all-weather (offshore) craft. The offshore lifeboats, which range from 17m to 12m in length are either moored afloat, launched down a slipway or are towed into the sea on a trailer and launched. The inshore boats are either rigid or non-rigid inflatables.

The Irish Coast Guard in the Republic of Ireland or the UK Coastguard in Northern Ireland task lifeboats when an emergency call is received, through any of the recognised systems. These include 999/112 phone calls, Mayday/PanPan calls on VHF, a signal from an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) or distress signals.

The Irish Coast Guard is the government agency responsible for the response to, and co-ordination of, maritime accidents which require search and rescue operations. To carry out their task the Coast Guard calls on their own resources – Coast Guard units manned by volunteers and contracted helicopters, as well as "declared resources" - RNLI lifeboats and crews. While lifeboats conduct the operation, the coordination is provided by the Coast Guard.

A lifeboat coxswain (pronounced cox'n) is the skipper or master of the lifeboat.

RNLI Lifeboat crews are required to follow a particular development plan that covers a pre-agreed range of skills necessary to complete particular tasks. These skills and tasks form part of the competence-based training that is delivered both locally and at the RNLI's Lifeboat College in Poole, Dorset

 

While the RNLI is dependent on donations and legacies for funding, they also need volunteer crew and fund-raisers.

© Afloat 2020

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