Sunday, 20 July 2008


On a cold winter's night, with storm at its height, the lifeboat answered the call.
They pitched and they tossed till we thought they were lost, as we watched from the harbour wall
Though the night was pitch black, there was no turning back, for someone was waiting out there
But each volunteer had to live with his fear as they joined in a silent prayer.

Phil Coulter from his song Home from the Sea

“When the pager rings at 2am after being at work the previous day. I jump out of bed and head down to the lifeboat station. There is no time to feel tired”. Mark Barnett - Coxwain


The Lough Swilly Lifeboat Station has been in existence since 1988, and is celebrating 20 years of service. In that time, the voluntary lifeboat crew have saved 34 people from certain death and rescuing many others from the perils of the ocean.

How it began
On a cold December day in the early 1980’s, Brian Coulter went windsurfing out of Fahan and got into difficulty. When the alarm was raised that he had disappeard there were no facilities in place to set up a search. His body was found the following morning. It was felt that if a search could have been made, he would have been rescued. Several of Brians friends contacted the RNLI and asked for a lifeboat to be stationed along the Swilly. In 1988 a D class boat was commisioned at Neds point. Brians brother Phil held a concert at the Plaza in Buncrana to help fund the boat and Phil has been the Patron ever since he cut the tape at the opening ceremony.

The lifeboat was now operational and it needed a person with strong leadership skills to develop it further. Pat Keaney was made Honoury Secretary and worked until 1992 when he handed over the reigns to Liam McGee, who is the present Lifeboat Operations Manager.

Contacting the lifeboat station
If there is an emergency the Lifeboat Station have a team of volunteers always on hand to take the calls. Barry Stephenson, John McCarter and Kate Heaney are Deputy Launching Authority Personnel and are ready to act on a call out. There is also a new addition as Eunan McConnell has just joined up as the latest member of the team.

The boats
When the station first opened, the crew had a 16 foot inflatable (D class) to battle the storms and waves. The second boat was the Atlantic 21 (rib). The station now operates two boats. The new B class lifeboat Atlantic 85 was officially named on the 5th of April of this year. Named Minnie and Ernest George Barry. Since its arrival at the station it has been called out 15 times and rescued at least 3 people. The larger boat, the Mariners Friend, is away for some work to be done on the engine and will be back in a couple of weeks. Until then the station will be using the Lord Salton, which can cope with all weather conditions, just like the Mariner’s Friend.

Recognition of service awards
Coxswain Mark Barnett from Buncrana received an award on Vellum for recognition of leadership and seamanship when he helped to rescue the vessel Mary –Ellen and her crew of six. On the 12th of November 2006. George O’Hagan was presented with a framed letter signed by the chairman and certificete vellums were presented to Dan Gallanagh,Alan O’Hagan, Gregory McDaid and Stephen McGavin, who were all part of the crew that night.

Volunteering with the RNLI.
There are opportunities for crewmembers and land-based volunteers in the Lifeboat Institute, The Swilly team number 25 but are always looking for new recruits. . If you are interested in volunteering at the local station contact Liam on 074 93 61700 for further reading go to the main website of check out the Lough Swilly website on

There are volunteer fundraisers all over the country. Locally there was a very successful Night at the Dogs in Lifford, which raised €32,000 and the most recent was the fashion show at the Mt Errigal hotel which raised €15,000

Over the last 20 years, since the lifeboats have been in operation, there have been some interesting shouts. Here are just a few:

Last year the crew were called out to the cliffs at Dunree Head and rescued a black and white collie dog. They gave it the nickname of Rocky and one of the crew looked after him before finding a suitable foster home.

The crew were called out to help dolphins in trouble near the White Strand in Malin. Emmett Johnston and the lifeboat team tried to coax the dolphins back to sea but they kept coming back. It was then decided the mammals had come in to the shore because of either the warm water or to mate. (Should you find any dolphins, dead or alive, in the area please contact Emmett Johnston, NPWS on 087-2867055)

A cow got cut off by the tide near Linsfort and was stuck in a cave. Stephen McGavigan,one of the crew members told me that it was the “Strangest shouts I have ever been on. The cow was eventually ledback onto dry land by two of the team”

The boat “Horizon” was recently shipwrecked near Saldana Head. The crew were rescued but the boat remains there on the rocks.


Between 2001 and 2008, the all weather boat has been launched 80 times and directly saved 8 lives.

Between 1988 and 2000 the inshore boat stationed at Ned’ Point has been launched 418 times and directly saved 26 lives.

In total the RNLI has saved over 136,000 people since it started it 1824

Earlier this year the station held a lifejacket awareness campaign. Statistics show only 52% of boat passengers would wear them. Lifejackets save lives. Boating is very unpredictable, so a well-fitted jacket is vital.

Home, home, home from the sea.
Angels of mercy, answer our plea.
And carry us home, home, home from the sea.
Carry us safely home from the sea

Phil Coulter from his song Home from the Sea

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