Celebrating 50 years of Kerry mountain rescue

The country’s oldest volunteer mountain rescue team, which deals with death and injury on Ireland’s highest mountain, is marking its 50th anniversary.

Members of Kerry Mountain Rescue Team on Mangerton.

Set up in 1966 after two students were killed within days of each other on Carrauntoohil, it was made up of people who “knew the mountains” but who were not very particular about rock climbing expertise or footwear.

The Kerry Mountain Rescue Team now deals with 35 calls a year, liaises with the coastguard and rescue helicopters, has an ambulance and a website, and members use the latest technology.

“We can go from full-scale medical emergency, to someone being lost,” said spokesman Alan Wallace.

Lack of phones in the 1960s led to much unnecessary trudging about in response to concerns about walkers who had not returned to their cars overnight.

Older members recall an embarrassing incident when a honeymoon couple was disturbed in their tent after their car was spotted near Carrauntoohil without having been moved for days.

They simply wanted to get away from it all and were safe and sound.

“It was hard to know whether it was us or them who had the reddest face when we unzipped the tent,” the team member recalled.

The team now has a mobile phone app and search dogs, which have speeded up searches of large areas. Drones are also on the cards but their use in the windy conditions of Kerry’s mountains may be limited. Coroner for south Kerry, Terence Casey, of Killarney, was one of the founder members.

John O’Sullivan, Kerry Mountain Rescue Team, abseils with Lawrence Macken carried on a stretcher, as part of the team’s rescue training on Porch Gully in the Gap of Dunloe, Killarney. The country’s oldest volunteer mountain rescue team is marking its 50th anniversary. Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan

A student in Dublin at the time, he remembers going on his motorbike to Baldonnell in the early 1970s to persuade the army air corps to get involved in mountain rescue.

“At the time the air corps were involved only in sea rescue. We trained them into mountain rescue here in Kerry,” Mr Casey said.

In its history the Kerry Mountain Rescue Team has dealt with avalanches, lack of orientation, ice and sun on the mountains, and 50 deaths on the mountains of Kerry — many of them on Carrauntoohil itself.

It remains a volunteer organisation.

Shortage of funding has always been a problem, but it now has a base on the grounds of the Killarney Garda Station.

Callouts are mostly at weekends and some members train abroad. Training is also at weekends. Member numbers are kept at a manageable 35, alongside a pool of “reservists”.

An open day takes place on Saturday between 2pm and 4.30pm at its base.

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