A top-flight GAA star who lost a relative in one of Ireland’s worst sea tragedies is among several GAA stars backing a new RNLI campaign which hopes to slash the rate of coastal drownings, reports Eoin English.
Firefighting Dubs forward, Lyndsey Davey, 27, said she hopes her involvement in the charity’s new Respect the Water initiative will help prevent other families experiencing the grief and trauma her family suffered in the wake of the Tit Bonhomme tragedy off Cork just over five years ago.
Her great uncle, Michael Hayes, the vessel’s skipper, was one of five men who drowned when the boat struck rocks in heavy seas at the entrance to Glandore Harbour in January 2012.
Lyndsey, who spent childhood holidays in Ring with Mr Hayes and his family, said her own personal connection to the Tit Bonhomme tragedy, and the death a year earlier of two men in another fishing accident off Skerries, where she lives, inspired her to get involved in the RNLI campaign.
“I just wanted to give something back,” Lyndsey said.
“The loss of Michael and his crew was a very difficult time for all the families involved.
“During the days and weeks following the sinking, the whole community of Union Hall really came together.
“The search and rescue efforts were relentless and the support given was incredible.
“I got involved in this campaign as I wanted to give something back and help create awareness around water safety and drowning. In doing so I hope we can prevent any family the pain of losing a loved one through drowning.
“If it can help anyone, if it can prevent even one drowning, and if it can prevent other families from going through the same tragedy we experienced, then it will have been worth it.
“The GAA is such a massive community I think this will be a fantastic way to spread the word.”
An average of 28 people drown accidentally around the Irish coast each year. The RNLI and the GAA announced a major partnership yesterday which they hope will halve the coastal drowning figures by 2024.
Both organisations will work together to engage with communities, particularly on the coast, to provide information and support that could save lives.
The campaign will be supported through the GAA’s healthy clubs initiative. Many GAA clubs are based in coastal communities with 333 of them within a 10km radius of the 46 RNLI lifeboat stations in Ireland.
“Their location makes them ideally placed for sharing information and raising awareness of the causes of drowning and how to prevent it,” an RNLI spokesperson said.
The RNLI recruited Dublin Airport fire fighter and triple All Star winner Lyndsey, Kilkenny hurling legend, Jackie Tyrell, who retired last year after a glittering career which saw him win nine All Ireland titles, ace Antrim hurling forward, Neil McManus, and Wexford hurler Lee Chin, to help promote the campaign.
Tyrell also lost someone close to him to drowning.
“So many of our clubs live and train near the water, whether on the coast on near inland rivers and lakes. We have a responsibility to help and our sport and our ethos encourage this,” he said.
“I know our supporters get behind us in our games, now we are asking them to get behind this campaign; it could help save a life.”
The GAA stars were taken to Portsmouth University, and to the RNLI’s training base in Poole, England, where they underwent a cold water shock training session, and took part in rescue scenarios in specially created weather and sea conditions.
Lyndsey said the effects of the cold water submersion was surreal.
“It makes your body numb, it affects your breathing and heart rates, and makes it difficult to do even the simplest movements,” she said.
“We hope that by getting involved in this campaign, it will raise awareness, and encourage people not to get into dangerous situations in the water in the first place.
“But if they do, hopefully it will help create awareness about what to do if you do get into difficulty.”
Cork footballer Brian Hurley and Kerry footballer, Killian Young, who live near RNLI lifeboat stations at Union Hall and Valentia, have also backed the campaign.
The average number of drownings annually in Irish waters - including inland - over the last ten years is 133.
The Respect the Water campaign will be rolled out on May 25 and will run throughout the summer.