There were cheers and tears of joy and jubilation in Buncrana on Friday as hundreds welcomed Lough Swilly RNLI’s new lifeboat home.
The new €2.4 million Shannon class lifeboat is the first in the history of the lifesaving charity that has been named after an Irish river, in recognition of the service and dedication of Irish lifeboat crews.
The new lifeboat - designed by Derry man Peter Eyre - left RNLI Headquarters in Poole on Wednesday, April 1st with a full crew and over the course of a ten-day passage visited lifeboat stations at Newlyn, Aberystwyth, Douglas, Oban, Tobermory and Bangor before finally pulling in to its flanking station in Portrush, County Antrim from where it left in the early hours of Friday morning on the final leg to Buncrana.
At 12 noon the lifeboat was escorted into Lough Swilly by a flotilla of boats to an emotional homecoming.
Lough Swilly RNLI coxwain Mark Barnett told the Journal it was “hard to hold back the tears” when the crew saw the hundreds of people gathered at Buncrana pier to welcome them home.
He said: “We’re so proud and delighted with the new craft. It’s such an honour to receive it. It was just fantastic to see so many people on the pier to welcome us.”
John McCarter, Lifeboat Operations Manager also said it was an “emotional day.”
He said: “This day brings to a conclusion many years of hard work on behalf of so many people. It’s an amazing craft and it’s a fantastic day for RNLI to receive this. It is also a huge delight for us that one of the chief designers is Peter Eyre, who is from just up the road in Derry and cut his teeth sailing on Lough Swilly.”
Mr McCarter added that the day was not just monumental for Lough Swilly RNLI but also for the local community, who have given them such strong support over the years.
He said: “We are a community organisation and the whole community of Inishowen feels deeply connected to the RNLI. We are part of their lives and involved in bringing people safely from sea when they get into bother. Because of this, we are part of family life. The community has taken us to their heart and we are here due to the support they have given us for many years.”
Peter Eyre, who is from the Waterside, said he was “delighted” to see the lifeboat he was so instrumental in designing sail into the Swilly.
Peter, a former Foyle College pupil, began designing the lifeboat at the age of 24.
The lifeboat is the first to be propelled by waterjets instead of traditional propellers, making it the most agile and manoeuvrable all-weather lifeboat in the fleet. Waterjets allow the vessel to operate in shallow waters and be intentionally beached. The lifeboat has a top speed of 25 knots and a range of 250 nautical miles, which makes it ideal for offshore searches and rescues in calm and rough seas.
Peter, who was joined on the day by his wife Alice and mother Sheelagh Mary said: “I have always had a link to the RNLI; it has been there in the background. I was just 14 years old when my family’s 30ft cruiser racer yacht was dismasted in rough seas and force 7 winds. The yacht lost its mast and was escorted back to shore by the volunteer lifeboat crew.
“I wish the Lough Swilly crew the best of luck with their new Lifeboat. I can tell how much this boat means to them. It is clear they will take great care of her and put her to good use as they bravely respond to people in distress. Knowing that I have designed a Lifeboat that will keep the crew safe when they launch into challenging conditions in their quest to save lives at sea makes me incredibly proud.”
Liam Magee, Station Chairman and who was instrumental in setting up Lough Swilly RNLI said the new lifeboat was the “icing on the cake of many years of hoping and wishing.”
He said the boat would allow them to save many more lives.
The lifeboat is named Derek Bullivant and has been largely funded through a legacy from Mr Derek Jim Bullivant of Bewdley, Worcestershire in the UK, who passed away in September 2011.
The volunteer lifeboat crew will be busy training around the clock on the new lifeboat and when they are assessed as fully trained on it the new lifeboat will then officially be put on service. It will replace the Mersey and Tyne class lifeboats, which are now nearing the end of their operational lives. Once rolled out, the entire all-weather lifeboat fleet will be capable of 25 knots, making the lifesaving service more efficient and effective than ever before.
Lough Swilly’s lifeboats have launched over 700 times and saved 47 lives, as well as bringing 517 others safely home, since its establishment in 1988.