Island to honour all lost at sea and the crews who search for them

A new memorial on Valentia Island will honour the living and the dead, writes Donal Hickey

AN island that has seen more than its share of local marine fatalities is to honour the memory of all those who were lost at sea over the years.

The people of Valentia, Co Kerry, are planning a memorial which will also be a tribute to the rescue services such as the local lifeboat, the Cliff and Coastal Rescue, and the Coastguard Station.

The memorial will reflect the island’s life-saving tradition and, fittingly, will be erected beside the lifeboat station.

Stories of dramatic rescues and tragic drownings are woven into the history and lore of Valentia, which was also an important transatlantic communications hub linking Europe with America and Canada, being the eastern terminus of the first commercially viable cable, in 1866.

A cable operated from Valentia until 1966.

The memorial project’s organising committee has received 70 tenders from this country and abroad.

Valentia slate is the preferred medium, but all materials can be incorporated in the design.

The memorial is expected to be completed this year, which is also the 50th anniversary of one of the most notorious drownings to have occurred in Valentia.

Three young local men — brothers James and Jerry Lynch and Tony Murphy — lost their lives while crossing back to the island on an April Sunday, in 1963, having earlier played for South Kerry in a football match in Kenmare. In their twenties, they were among 10 people in a boat and a tragic accident occurred as they were rowing out from Renard. The seven others survived.

The tragedy cast a dark cloud over the island and is still fresh in local memory.

“All drownings are sad and bring such heartache to families. Valentia has suffered more than its fair share over the years,” said committee spokesman Micheal Lyne. “Young and old have been lost. Many were native to Valentia and were washed from the rocks, or lost when their boats were swamped while fishing, while many others were from other parts of the country and beyond and came to Valentia to do some rock fishing, or other pursuits.”

The committee is collecting victims’ names, with some dating back to the 19th century, though they will not be written on the memorial.

Many heroic rescues have been carried out off the island, but none more daring than when the Cahill’s seine boat crew came upon an upturned seine boat and a following boat, in September 1908.

A crew of 19 men from nearby Portmagee was already half an hour in the water in a strong ebb tide, just outside the Valentia lighthouse in the dead of night. They succeeded in rescuing 13 men, but six others had already been lost.

Around the same spot, there was a dramatic rescue by the lifeboat and the Valentia Cliff and Coastal Rescue Service when a Spanish trawler, Big Cat, foundered at the lighthouse entrance to the harbour on the Beginish side, at 7.30am, on Friday Jan 13, 1989.

The rescue service volunteers had to get a boat to Beginish Island, in Valentia Harbour, and haul their heavy equipment by hand and wheelbarrow across rough terrain to reach the cliff edge.

Using breeches buoys, they succeeded in rescuing 11 frightened sailors from the sinking wreck in treacherous conditions. Sadly, however, three sailors had already been washed overboard. One of the bodies was later recovered.

The lifeboat crew and coast rescue volunteers were later commended for their bravery.

The rescue was highlighted, at the time, as a successful mission with the skilled use of relatively unsophisticated equipment when weather conditions made a direct helicopter rescue impossible.

“The many heroic efforts of successive Valentia Lifeboat crews is well documented and many Valentia volunteers continue to risk their lives daily in the furtherance of safety at sea. The sea memorial will be a fitting tribute to all of them,” Mr Lyne said.

Fundraising for the memorial has commenced and the committee will be applying for grant aid, but much finance will have to be raised locally.

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