Those who were honoured included the young and old, gardaí and brave civilians from across the country.
Some 156 people died in drowning incidents last year but this shocking figure might have been even higher had it not been for the courageous efforts of some.
Among the brave rescuers presented with water safety accolades at Dublin Castle yesterday was the youngest recipient, Amy O’Donoghue, 14.
She spoke of her role in pulling her baby brother out of a swimming pool and to safety last year.
“My Mam was putting my sun cream on and my dad had gone to the shop,” explained the 10-year-old.
The O’Donoghue family were on holiday on Fuerteventura, in the Canaries, on the first day of their holidays when four-year-old Lee wandered off.
“Mum said ‘where’s Lee?’. I looked around and I couldn’t see him and I went to the back of the villa and I couldn’t see him and I went over to the pool and saw something in it.
“At first I thought it was a towel and then I realised it was him. I screamed and jumped in and my Mam heard me and jumped in too. I got him out of the water and passed him over to my Mam and she gave him mouth to mouth.”
Doctors later told the O’Donoghue family that if young Lee had been in the pool a few seconds longer, he may never have recovered.
Rescuers last year saved 18 lives through intervention, attendees were told.
Service awards were also presented to water safety volunteers for teaching swimming, lifesaving and rescue skills.
Presenting the awards, Junior Environment Minister Michael Kitt, said: “Drowning is a needless tragedy. Awareness of dangers presented by water, allied to an ability to swim and life save, are critical factors in preventing drowning.”
Roger Sweeney, deputy chief executive with Irish Water Safety, said the awards were also about raising awareness.
“The focus is about constant vigilance, staying safe near water with children, the wearing of life jackets and training that is appropriate to a water activity.”
Mr Sweeney said that a few years ago many motorists had failed to wear seat belts. That had changed, he added, and the same change was needed when it came to life jackets in order to save lives.
Other award recipients included inshore rescue services as well as community services.
The Irish Examiner received the Media Appreciation Award for its role in highlighting water safety.
* Rescuers from Cork: On May 31, 2008, Matthew Sambrooke was walking towards the LE Ciara, which was docked alongside the quay in Cobh harbour. He suddenly lost his footing on the quay and accidentally fell between the ship and the quay wall — a gap of about 17 inches.
Petty Officer Emmet Wilmot heard the boy’s mother Leslie call for help and immediately responded with a ringbuoy. When difficulties arose getting Matthew to secure himself with the ringbuoy as a result of the tight space between ship and quay, Emmet used a rope to lower himself into the water and over to Matthew and then kept them both afloat by wedging himself between the ship and quay and holding on tightly to Matthew until further assistance by the ship’s crew.
* Rescuer from Limerick: On July 25, 2008, rugby star Paul O’Connell was enjoying some surfing at Lahinch, Co Clare. He noticed a fellow surfer in difficulty and immediately went to the 22-year-old’s rescue, battling waves and surf to bring her to safety.
* Rescuer from Clare: On April 4, 2008, Garda Niall Doody and Garda Edel Convey were on patrol when they observed a woman in difficulty in the fast flowing and cold waters of the River Fergus, Ennis, Co Clare.
Garda Doody entered the water while Garda Convey got a ringbuoy and threw it to Garda Doody who used it to keep the woman afloat. Niall stayed in the water with the woman until emergency services arrived at the scene. Both Niall and the casualty were transferred to Ennis General Hospital where they were treated for Hypothermia and made a full recovery.
* Rescuer from Louth: On August 13, 2007, Eugene noticed a man in difficulty in the deep end of a swimming pool at the Algarve club, in which they were holidaying.
The man was lying face down at the bottom of the pool. Eugene quickly jumped into the water and dived to the bottom of the pool, located the casualty and brought the man to the side of the pool. Bystanders assisted him recover the unconscious man from the water who was now blue in colour and unconscious. The casualty’s wife had also fainted at the scene. Eugene cleared his airway to initiate his breathing and the casualty and his wife made a full recovery.
* Rescuer from Donegal: On the evening of May 23, 2008, Ricardo Ragazzo, who hails from Sardinia, heard his colleague call for help as she had noticed a man fall into the river Eske in Donegal. Ricardo went outside, spotted a large group of people gathering close to the location of the casualty and jumped in to the water from a 12-foot balcony. He swam to the casualty and brought the man to safety.