Grandson of Donegal Coxswain awarded RNLI gold medal for gallantry during World War II returns from Boston to join island’s lifesaving crew

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.

RNLI crew member proudly holding Grandad's Gold Medal in front of RNLI branded Land Drover

Photo: RNLI

Mark holding RNLI’s gold medal for gallantry belonging to his Grandfather

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 on 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 awarded the charity’s gold medal for gallantry.

Almost 81 years ago to the day, Jack and his crew rescued 18 people on the Dutch steamer Stolwijk of Rotterdam on the 7 December 1940. The Stolwijk was one of a convoy of ships from America which had come through three days of a rising north-westerly gale and was making for the passage between Scotland and Ulster, in a hurricane of wind and snow. The rescue of the vessel that was forced onto rocks at Inishbeg, was caried out in mountainous seas and a north to north westerly hurricane force wind accompanied by snow and sleet. The rescue by Arranmore RNLI’s 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 launches 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 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. 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.’ 

Like volunteers around Ireland and the UK, Mark is one of many RNLI crew members who signs up to save every one from drowning – it has been the charity’s mission since 1824. 

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 continued. ‘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

RNLI media contacts

For more information, please contact Lena O’Connell, Aran Islands RNLI Lifeboat Press Officer at 0879337882, email [email protected] or contact Niamh Stephenson, RNLI Regional Media Manager on 00353 871254 124 or [email protected] or Nuala McAloon, RNLI Regional Media Officer on 00353 87 648 3547 or email [email protected]

Key facts about the RNLI

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.

Learn more about the RNLI

For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or by email.