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RNLI celebrates 200 years of saving lives at sea

The RNLI will celebrate 200 years of saving lives at sea with the unveiling of two special stamps from An Post.

The RNLI operates 46 lifeboat stations on the island of Ireland, including four on inland waters.

The first RNLI lifeboat station in Ireland was established in Arklow in 1826.

The RNLI has around 1,000 volunteers and estimates it has saved over 8,300 lives in two centuries of operating around the coast of Ireland.

When Declan Branigan’s pager went off at 4.50am yesterday morning he knew he had been called to a rescue.

The Dublin native has been living on the Aran Islands for the past 21 years and has been a volunteer with the RNLI for the past 19 years.

“I got a phone call as I was getting ready to leave the house,” Mr Branigan said. It was the launch manager giving him his first of many briefs that morning as he headed to where a fishing vessel had run aground north of Inis Mór.

Speaking to RTE’s Morning Ireland, he said that as the volunteer coxwain on duty, he briefed his six-person crew as they prepared the lifeboat to head towards the 21m fishing vessel.

At this stage, Mr Branigan said, they only had a “bit of a plan” but they knew they would develop it as the rescue progressed.

“I knew there was a vessel that that had gone aground and there was five crew on board,” he said.

“We’d heard from the skipper that he remained on board, and he put four of the crew into a life raft, which was still connected to the vessel.”

By the time Mr Branigan’s rescue vessel had reached the fishing boat, the vessel was up on the rocks and starting to take on water.

“They were very, very calm,” Branigan said of the fishers by the time his lifeboat had arrived at the scene.

“People just give up their time to people you’ve never met just for the single outcome of helping people to get home”

The RNLI lifeboat had been in regular contact with both the Irish Coast Guard and the local fire brigade on shore.

“So we were able to use their eyes and they were able to use our eyes,” Mr Branigan said.

“We were able to formulate a plan together of what was the best course of action to take.”

The lifeboat deployed its daughter craft, with two crew members aboard into the water.

“We got two guys ready into dry suits and everything else and we launched that and put that into the water.”

This meant that if the fishers need help quickly the lifeboat was ready to get in closer.

However, by this time the fishing vessel had become further stuck on the rocks.

“They weren’t going anywhere,” Mr Branigan said, “we had to change the plan”.

At that stage the Valencia Coast Guard informed Mr Branigan that the helicopter Rescue 115 had been tasked from Shannon to assist with the rescue.

It was 10 to 15 minutes out.

“They weren’t in any immediate danger,” Mr Branigan said of the fishers. So they could afford to wait for the helicopter.

“Everybody was in good spirits and they were calm and nobody was panicked and most of all nobody was injured or ill,” he said.

When Rescue 115 arrived, the five fishers were winched to safety.

Mr Branigan and his lifeboat stood by until all casualties had been brought aboard the helicopter.

The RNLI team returned to Kilronan Pier at around 7.30am.

“The guys were taken off safely and no drama,” Mr Branigan said

“It went very, very well”

He said the rescue went well because all services worked so well together.

After 19 years with the RNLI, Mr Branigan said it is a “fantastic thing to be a part of.”

“And we’re just a small part of this whole organisation. It still amazes me, like people just give up their time to people you’ve never met just for the single outcome of helping people to get home.”

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