Changing of the guard at Bundoran RNLI as Captain Tony McGowan retires
There is a changing of the guard at Bundoran RNLI as Captain Hugh Anthony McGowan (known to all as Tony), the station’s Lifeboat Operations Manager, has stood down after three decades involved in saving lives at sea with the Donegal lifeboat station.
Tony, in typical fashion, did not want a fuss and chose to hold his retirement at an event held at the Great Northern Hotel to mark station retirements and long-service awards. As Lifeboat Operations Manager, Tony was the man at the helm of the station who managed all lifeboat operations and was responsible for the station and its people, knowing each one of them and their families.
Seated with his wife Evelyn, his children and grandchild; Bernard, Laura and Hugo, (sadly daughter Aine, along with Stephen and Realtin, were unable to attend due to Covid), Tony paid tribute to his family and the families of all the RNLI volunteers. These are the people who wait at home when loved ones are involved in a lifeboat launch, waiting for news, and cancelling plans. Evelyn has been by his side for all of it and as he observed, counting coins for fundraising, and reminding him of lifeboat appointments.
Captain Hugh Anthony McGowan has always had the sea in his veins. On leaving school he joined Irish Shipping as a cadet, working his way up to Captain and remaining at sea for seventeen years before coming home and opening a hardware store with his brother. The RNLI came calling in 1992 when the late Frank O’Kelly, a founding member of the Bundoran lifeboat station informed Tony that he was to be a Deputy Launching Authority. His fate was sealed with a letter from the RNLI congratulating on his new role and that was the beginning of thirty years volunteering with the RNLI. Bundoran RNLI’s lifeboat station was built in 1994 and an Atlantic 21 lifeboat placed on service. In January 1997 Tony took on the senior management role at the station and saw the lifeboat class change to an Atlantic 75 in 1995 and on to the current Atlantic 85 in 2009.
Tony’s memories of his time as Deputy Launching Authority, followed by Honorary Secretary and finally as Lifeboat Operations Manager are mainly of being surrounded by his close team of Launching Authorities and capable volunteer lifeboat crew, drawn from the local community with many coming from families that have continued to volunteer for the station down through the next generation.
When asked about the callouts he remembers from his time in charge, he is reluctant to pick just one. The ones that stay with him are the rescues from the rip currents, where people were swept out to sea in seconds and in danger of drowning in view of loved ones. In remembering these Tony said, ‘These are the ones that stay in my mind because every minute counted. The crew had to launch quickly and swoop into action, it was an incredibly fast and professional response by a team of volunteers. They saved numerous lives by their quick action and many families have a lot to be grateful for on that. I am very proud of them, each and every time they launch. They are a wonderful bunch of people.
Commenting on Captain McGowan’s retirement, RNLI Area Lifesaving Manager Rogan Wheeldon added ‘It was a privilege to work with Tony and I am sad that I will no longer have that pleasure. His maritime knowledge was invaluable, and he always put his crew and their welfare first. It’s a testament to him that he leaves the station is such good shape. This is a well-earned retirement and my thanks to Captain McGowan and his family for all their service to lifesaving and the RNLI.’
Tony is succeeded by Daimon Fergus and his plans for retirement are to spend more time with his grandchildren. He leaves with a sense of a contentment at a job well done and of pride in the people who will take on the new roles at the station. Concluding he added, ‘I am leaving the station in very capable hands. While the role has changed a bit since I first took it on, the key has always been to have good people around you and I had that. I was very fortunate to have such a dedicated and talented team and I leave the station in very capable hands.’
RNLI media contacts
For information please contact Shane Smyth Volunteer Bundoran RNLI Lifeboat Press Officer Tel: 087 6611022 email: [email protected] or Niamh Stephenson, RNLI Regional Media Manager Tel: 087 1254 124 email: [email protected] or Nuala McAloon, RNLI Regional Media Officer Tel: 00353 87 648 3547 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.
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