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Grandson of Donegal Coxswain Recognised for Gallantry During WWII Returns From Boston to Join Arranmore’s Lifesaving Crew

23rd December 2021
Mark Boyle holding his grandfather’s RNLI Gold Medal for Gallantry
Mark Boyle holding his grandfather’s RNLI Gold Medal for Gallantry Credit: RNLI

The grandson of a distinguished Donegal coxswain, who was awarded the RNLI’s Gold Medal for Gallantry for his role in the rescue of 18 crew on a Dutch steamer in 1940, has returned home from Boston to become the third generation in his family to join Arranmore island’s lifesaving crew.

Mark Boyle was born and raised on Arranmore, but this will be his first Christmas on call for the RNLI after he was quickly recruited upon his family’s return to the island from America last April.

Mark follows in the footsteps of his late father Charlie, a former station mechanic spanning three decades, and his grandfather Jack, who was recognised for his bravery for a rescue during the Second World War.

Almost 81 years ago to the day, Jack and his crew rescued 18 people on the Dutch steamer Stolwijk of Rotterdam on 7 December 1940.

The Stolwijk was one of a convoy of ships from America which had come through three days of a rising northwesterly gale and was making for the passage between Scotland and Ulster, in mountainous seas and a hurricane of wind and snow, when it was forced onto rocks at Inishbeg.

Its crew’s rescue by Arranmore RNLI’s lifeboat crew was later recognised as one of great daring gallantry and endurance, carried out in weather of exceptional severity.

While Mark is delighted to be carrying on the family’s lifesaving tradition, he says his reasons for joining the lifeboat crew run deeper than just that.

And now as the RNLI continues its Christmas Appeal, Mark is urging people across Donegal — home to three lifeboat stations at Lough Swilly, Arranmore and Bundoran — to help his fellow crew, and the thousands of other volunteer crews carrying a pager over the festivities, to continue their lifesaving work at sea.

‘I know there will be thousands of volunteers like me wearing pagers and ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice and rush to the aid of someone in trouble on the water’

“I was born and raised on the island and spent my early years fishing lobsters, salmon and working on local white fishing boats,’ Mark said. “I then went to college and worked in Galway for 20 years before I moved to Boston for seven years.

“I returned home to the island with my wife and two of my three children in April and while it was always my intention to join the lifeboat crew when I came home, Tony Ward, the lifesaving operations manager, beat me to it and asked me to join before I got the chance to make the ask myself, which was lovely.”

Mark, who works in engineering as a head of operations for Irish Pressings, travels from the island to Bunbeg daily but when he is not working away, he is carrying his pager.

“The family connections are important but for me becoming a crew member runs deeper than that. It is about the sense of community and that is what the RNLI is all about,” he said.

“I spent the first three months on my return fishing which for many here is how they make their livelihoods, on the water.

“The lifeboat provides the vital service to those in distress at sea and that is always acutely felt by those living on the island. It is an added benefit for me that as a new crew member I am continuing in the family tradition.”

This Christmas Mark will be prepared to leave his loved ones behind to answer the call, each time hoping to reunite another family, and see those in trouble at sea safely returned. Over the past decade, RNLI lifeboats have launched over 1,200 times during the festive period.

But these rescues would not be possible without donations from the RNLI’s generous supporters, helping to fund the essential kit, training and equipment needed by lifeboat crews all year round.

“This is my first Christmas as a crew member with the RNLI,” Mark added. “I know there will be thousands of volunteers like me wearing pagers and ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice and rush to the aid of someone in trouble on the water. At this time of year, the weather is at its worst and lives are on the line.

“We know that every time our crews go out to sea, they hope for a good outcome, but sadly this sometimes isn’t the case. We hope that this year’s Christmas Appeal will show people just how tough it can be, but also that with their help we can get so much closer to our goal of saving every one.”

To make a donation to the RNLI’s Christmas Appeal, visit RNLI.org/Xmas

And listen to Tom MacSweeney’s latest podcast which discusses the RNLI’s investment in the Arranmore lifeboat.

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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