Communities across North Clare have been left devastated following the loss of a “local hero and dedicated volunteer”.
Originally from the scenic Corkscrew Hill area in the Burren, Co Clare, Caitríona Lucas was a 10-year veteran of the Irish Coast Guard and the first member of the service to die in the line of duty.
The mother of two worked with Clare County Council’s library service for 16 years and, although mostly based in Ennistymon, worked out of other branches on occasions.
Caitríona’s husband Bernard is also a member of the Irish Coast Guard based at Doolin.
Caitríona and Bernard were childhood sweethearts and have been together since they were young teenagers. The couple have two children, Ben and Emma.
A keen dog lover, Caitríona was also a member of the Search and Rescue Dogs Association (Sarda Ireland) and was involved in mountain rescue.
In 2013, she organised a major event in Doolin where mountain rescue teams from across Ireland and the UK gathered. The Mountain Rescue Ireland event was hosted by Sarda Ireland.
Caitríona and Bernard regularly visited primary and secondary schools to provide water safety advice to students.
“They loved going to the schools and were excellent at it. They jumped at every opportunity to educate young people in particular about water safety and the work of the Coast Guard,” one colleague said.
Earlier this year, Caitríona and Bernard travelled to Iceland with colleagues from across Ireland on a self-financed expedition. While there, they met with colleagues in the Icelandic coastguard.
Coast Guard volunteers and officers at Caitríona’s home base in Doolin went about their work yesterday despite being numbed by the tragedy. Volunteers visited the station during the day comforting each other and talking about their loss.
Officer In Charge with Doolin Coast Guard, Mattie Shannon, paid tribute to his colleague.
“Caitriona was a great member of the Coast Guard service and achieved the highest level in all aspects of the job she worked so hard for,” said Mr Shannon.
“She was fast-thinking in changing situations, dedicated, and was an amazing colleague.”
“She was involved in saving many lives and spent 700 hours a year taking part in Coast Guard activities. Outside of that she organised other events. Caitriona was advanced search and rescue coxswain and only recently achieved highest level in her climbing exams.”
Caitríona was the unit’s equipment officer, responsible for logging the station’s search and rescue equipment and ensuring it was in working order, and had the job of requesting new equipment if it was required.
One member said the unit, and Caitríona in particular, were regularly commended for recording-keeping, efficiency, and diligence.
Doolin Coast Guard personnel are also highly trained in cliff rescue and have occasionally been called to scale the face of the Cliffs of Moher.
In recent weeks, Caitríona was part of the team that recovered a body from the Aill Na Searrach, part of the Moher range.
In 2012, Caitríona and two colleagues abseiled down a 100ft cliff at Rehy West near Carrigaholt to rescue a young dog that had become trapped on a ledge.
One colleague said: “You never expect this to happen to one of your own. We’ve all been doing this a long time and we know the dangers. At least I thought I knew the dangers but this has really brought it home to me. None of us can believe it.”
“I hardly slept last night and I’m sure most of us didn’t but I can’t imagine what Bernard and the children are going through. We all need to rally around them now.”
Caitríona was also responsible for the unit’s social media activity and updated Doolin Coast Guard website and Facebook after incidents and other events.
Another colleague said: “She was highly dedicated and driven. She was the best at everything and put everything into all that she did. We hear how none of us is indispensable but we have no idea what we are going to do without Caitríona. She was inspirational.”
The Irish Coast Guard responded to 2,657 incidents last year — its busiest year ever.
Its volunteers were called out 1,290 times, a 2% rise, with community rescue boats called out 219 times, a 4% rise. Its four helicopter bases completed more than 1,000 missions for the first time since the service started in 1991, with the Shannon and Sligo units both flying more than 330 missions each.
The helicopters also carried out 170 medevacs off the islands — a 23% increase.
The most significant rise was helping people who got into difficulty on the shoreline, with 306 incidents, up 10% on the previous year.
There were 78 mountain incidents, with river and lake incidents up 61% to 208.
Powered pleasure craft incidents were down 20% to 194; merchant vesselincidents were down 25% to 52; 221 sailing crafts were assisted with a 4% increase; fishing vessel incidents were down 1% to 185, with engine failure tow-ins accounting for most, and 26 incidents involving aircraft, a 37% rise.
The Coast Guard helped gardaí on 232 missing person searches, a 5% rise.
Coast Guard operations last year resulted in the recovery of 75 bodies.