Women of Arranmore RNLI

Lifeboats News Release

Since Sir William Hillary founded the RNLI in 1824 women have had a role in the service, initially working in the background by helping to launch and recover the lifeboats, fundraising for this voluntary service and supporting their husbands and sons when the Lifeboat went to the rescue.

Today, women are taking their place at the forefront of the RNLI rescue service serving as crew members, leading fundraising campaigns and of course still supporting their family who crew members.

The RNLI Arranmore Lifeboat was founded in 1883 and although it was only men with a knowledge of the sea who crewed the lifeboats, without the support of their female family members they would have had difficultly manning the lifeboats while looking after young families.

The women of Arranmore were always very resilient, from dealing with the hardships and tragedies of island living in their every day lives, to playing a vital role in supporting the Lifeboat families when the crew were responding to a difficult rescue in horrendous weather conditions.

An example of the type of rescues the Arranmore RNLI were involved in was in December 1940 when they rescued 16 crew members of “The Stolwyjk” in the most challenging weather conditions.

The crew were awarded gold, silver and bronze medals for the very memorable rescue.

Today, as in every Lifeboat station throughout Ireland and the UK, Arranmore RNLI Lifeboat station is proud to have female crew members. Lifeboat press officer, Nora Flanagan was the first female to join the Arranmore RNLI crew and following on four more women have joined the crew in this vital life-saving service.

These women are Karen Mc Gowan, a registered advanced nurse practitioner in Beaumont Hospital and President of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO);

Sharon O’Donnell, round the world sailor; Erin Mc Cafferty, student at National University of Ireland, Galway; and primary school teacher, Aisling Cox.

Karen joined the Arranmore RNLI crew at age 17 and continued to serve throughout her nursing training. Speaking to Karen about why she joined the RNLI, she said “I enjoyed the adrenaline rush and I knew I wanted to train as a nurse; as a crew member on the Lifeboat I gained a huge amount of experience with the excellent training the RNLI provides. Dealing with medical emergencies on a call out served me well in my student nurse training. I had quite a few memorable rescues during my time as a crew member but the most poignant was rescuing the crew of a sinking trawler. As soon as the crew were brought on board the Lifeboat the trawler sank very quickly. It was very hard to watch somebody’s livelihood sink beneath the waves and witness the raw emotion on the faces of both the Lifeboat and the trawler

crews. I would encourage anybody to join their local RNLI, it really helps you think outside the box and the crews are very supportive and helpful to new recruits”.

All crew members are required to serve a probationary period where they learn all the skills involved in saving lives. Learning is competence based and crew members must prove their competency in one skill before taking on another. This training enables all volunteers, many of whom have little or no knowledge of boats or the sea to become first-class life savers.

The first RNLI female award was to honour Grace Darling, a lighthouse keepers daughter who helped rescue 9 people in 1838.

Voluntary fundraising committees are an essential part of the RNLI and women are very much to the fore in raising funds to keep the lifeboats afloat.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day we salute the selflessness and dedication of the many women of the RNLI involved in saving lives at sea.

Grace Gallagher has been a member of the Arranmore fundraising committee for over 25 years. She has been honoured and recognised by the RNLI as the longest-serving member of the fundraising committee of the Arranmore Lifeboat Station and has raised thousands of euro of funds for the RNLI.

Grace said “I can’t believe I’ve been fundraising for the RNLI for over 25 years. Living by the sea and with many of our families involved in the fishing industry we rely on the Lifeboat and the contribution of the public to continue with this essential voluntary service. It has been a pleasure to be part of it”.

Sadie Bonner is a former post woman and started supporting the RNLI by collecting fundraising buckets from shops, selling badges and is now treasurer of the fundraising committee.

Crew member, Erin Mc Cafferty, who is a student at NUIG with Arranmore RNLI Station President, Majella O’Donnell

Round the world sailor, Arranmore RNLI crew member, Sharon O’Donnell.

Nora Flanagan. First female crew member and press officer of the Arranmore RNLI Lifeboat.

Karen Mc Gowan. Arranmore RNLI Lifeboat former crew member, nurse and now President of the INMO

Teacher and Arranmore RNLI crew member, Aisling Cox with her father, Kieran who is a long-term member of the crew.


RNLI media contacts

For more information please contact Nuala McAloon, RNLI Ireland Media Officer on 087 648 3547 or email [email protected] or Niamh Stephenson, RNLI Ireland Media Manager on 087 1254 124 or [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.

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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.