Century of Coast Guard sea rescues honoured in Valentia

More than a century of service to the seafaring community by the Coast Guard radio station in Valentia, Co Kerry, has been marked by the erection of a plaque to honour all who worked there.

At the unveiling ceremony, Transport Minister Pascal Donohoe said the staff continued to provide a lifeline for those at sea.

“The last two years have seen the busiest period in many years for the Coast Guard in terms of emergency responses.” he said.

“The figure for co-ordinated incidents reached 2,628, with the centre in Valentia co-ordinating some 940 of these incidents.

“So it is in recognition of all these efforts and many others down through the years, that we have gathered here over 100 years after services commenced, to acknowledge the long and proud history of the station here in Valentia.”

Century of Coast Guard sea rescues honoured in Valentia

In 1914, Valentia took over from the Crookhaven coastal radio site in West Cork that had been established by Marconi in 1901. The Kerry station covers an area stretching from Clifden, Co Galway, to Youghal, Co Cork, and 323km out to sea.

Valentia was identified as a suitable site for transmitting signals and covering the west and south-west coastline. It became the first point of contact for liners and other vessels sailing between Europe and America.

In the First World War, the station was manned by the British navy. During the Second World War, it provided a direct telegraph line to London, with an official British government-appointed censor on duty at all times to check all signals of interest.

The station has dealt with many notable maritime incidents, including the sinking of the Lusitania off the Old Head of Kinsale, in 1915.

Other major incidents included a rescue off the Azores saving 41 lives, in 1942, after radio officer Paddy Burke picked up a weak distress signal.

There was a KLM air crash, with the loss of 28 lives at Shannon, in 1954; the Betelgeuse /Whiddy disaster in Bantry Bay in 1979; the Fastnet yacht race, also in 1979; the Air India crash in 1985, and the Tit Bonhomme trawler sinking at Glandore in 2012. ‘’We respond to all calls for assistance at sea, on our coasts and inland waterways when requested,’’ said John Draper, Valentia-based divisional controller.

The response could involve lifeboats, cliff and river/ lake rescue teams, air ambulances and helicopters based in Shannon and Waterford.

The station also broadcasts regular daily sea area weather forecasts and navigation warnings to shipping.

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