Ireland's First Lifeboat Station
A Brief History:
Arklow bay is home to a natural sea bank that stretches 10 miles, often referred to as ‘Arklow Bank’ which, due to its natural topography has been the ruin of many seafaring vessels. It is this bank that was one of the main reasons that the decision was made to house Ireland's first Lifeboat at Arklow in 1826 giving the station a history that spans more than 190 years. Since its initial opening, the lifeboat has been relocated once between 1830 and 1857 to an alternative location some 46 km away in Newcastle to the North of Arklow before returning to its original location. The treacherous nature of the sea has meant that the men and women who run the station have ventured out on some of the most dangerous rescue missions that Irish-based lifeguards could be asked to endure.
The RNLI Silver Medal:
The acts of bravery shown at Arklow have resulted in the station having been recognised and awarded the Silver Medal five times within the first fifty years of its existence, see figure one below which shows recognitions for some of these.
The Silver Medal is the second-highest award given for gallantry by the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) with only a Gold medal superseding it. As the description suggests, for a person to be awarded one they have to demonstrate gallantry outside of the normal realms of their role to achieve such an award.
Medal One – James Dillon, 27 February 1848, Calypso:
There is limited information in relation to this rescue, which may be due to the lifeboat having been located in Newcastle at the time it was put into action. With that said, the Lifeboat magazine announcing the presentation of the medal advises that the ‘Calypso’ had been driven ashore Dillon waded out during severe storm conditions eventually managing to secure a line and rescuing all eighteen crew members.
Medal Two – Coxswain Peter Kavanagh. 26 December 1865, Tenessarian:
The Lifeboat Magazine of July 1866 reported that on the 26 December1865, the Tenessarian which had set sail from Liverpool hit the Arklow Bank causing the ship to be deemed a total wreck. The report goes on to mention that the hull of the ship was completely submerged and the mast had been carried away.
While there are no figures confirming the total number of the crew, the article confirms that thirty-four crew members were bought ashore by the Arklow lifeboat under the command of Coxswain Peter Kavanagh. Regrettably of the thirty-four that were recovered from the wreckage two of them perished before they made it back to land.
Medal Three – Captain Edward Kearon, 11 September 1867, Kate and Mary:
While Captain Kearon was not a member of the lifeboat service the Right Honourable William Proby took it upon himself to confer the Silver Medal on him for a daring rescue that he performed on 11 September 1867. The smack named the Kate and Mary was riding at anchor due to heavy gales leaving one crewmember stranded. Captain Kearon is reported as having made three attempts, the third one successful to beat heavy surf before succeeding in his efforts. According to articles from the time, this was not the first time the Captain had ‘distinguished himself.’
Medal Four – Coxswain John Cummings, 2 September 1870, ‘Dove’ of Barrow:
The ‘Dove’ as referred to in figure one (above) had run aground on the infamous Arklow bank when Coxswain Cummings took the lifeboat named the ‘Arundel Venables’ out for a rescue mission. By the time of rescue, the ship had submerged and the crew were hanging on to the rigging. It took two hours of masterful manoeuvring before all five of the crew were successfully hauled on board and successfully rescued. Coxswain Cummings was presented the medal during a speech by the chairman at the time Arch Deacon Redmond.
Medal Five – William Manifold, 3 May 1877, multiple rescues over eleven years of service:
Out of the five medals, William Manifold’s is the only one that is recognised for multiple rescues. One of the documented rescues, possibly not performed during his time at the lifeboat, was of a Swedish Barque* in the English Channel which saw him presented with a gold chronograph by the Swedish consul for successfully rescuing eighteen of their crew.
*Swedish ship classification.
I would like to acknowledge Michael Fitzgerald of the Arklow Lifeboat, whose assistance and support in this research has been irreplaceable.