IT might not be immediately obvious that there are heroes all around us but in coastal towns and villages all across these islands that is often – and reassuringly – the case.
It may be the man who services your car or the person who runs the struggling family hotel at the end of the village. It may be the woman who teaches in the community school or the lady who runs the pharmacy. It may even be the lads from the messers’ football team who never give much of an impression that they realise that there is anything worthwhile in life that does not involve kicking a ball.
Yet anyone who has had need of the services of a Royal National Lifeboat will testify that truly heroic people can lead mundane, ordinary lives well beyond the limelight.
That is of course until they are called on to face horrendous seas to try to rescue someone who has got in trouble because of an accident or because they have been caught in overwhelming, unexpected weather.
Then the nature and depth of the courage of these otherwise ordinary people can be seen at its best. It can inspire and humble us by the clarity of its purpose.
These great qualities were recognised yesterday when the 65 Irish lifeboat volunteers who died while saving others at sea were remembered. They were honoured along with 713 others who lost their lives trying to rescue people in distress around Britain’s coastline.
A sculpture honouring RNLI crew lost at sea was unveiled at Poole in Dorset. Names inscribed on the memorial will include the 15 lifeboat crew who lost their lives near Dún Laoghaire, on December 24, 1895, when their vessel capsized on service to the steamship Palme.
Finton Sinnott, the last RNLI Irish crew member who died on a rescue – again on Christmas Eve – in 1977 off Wexford was also remembered.
On that occasion the lifeboat Lady Murphy launched to a report of red flares. After a fruitless search the Kilmore Quay lifeboat turned for home. A high-breaking sea capsized the lifeboat and the acting coxswain was washed overboard. After a search he was picked up. Later the lifeboat capsized again. Only three crew remained on board; when she righted, all except one man were brought back on board. Crew member Finton Sinnott had lost his life just as his family prepared to celebrate Christmas.
These men and women are volunteers and make this commitment because they recognise our vulnerability in the face of powerful and undefeatable seas. They selflessly go where others wish they were not to prove that we are all of us dependent on the other. To prove, through their own courage, how vulnerable we all may be. We owe them a great debt of gratitude for the heroism shown on so many dangerous rescue missions but we owe them much more. We owe them the greater debt for showing us that it is possible to be ordinary and heroic, to be brave and mundane.
At this critical time in our history we should consider their example.
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