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Top honours for Greencastle Coast Guard 30.10.08

by Damian Dowds, Inishowen Independent

FIVE members of the Greencastle Coast Guard Unit were last week honoured for 20 years of service. Area officer Charlie Cavanagh, deputy area officer Michael Doherty, and Paddy Gillespie, Michael McLaughlin and Brian Thompson were honoured by their colleagues at a ceremony at the station house on Thursday.
All five men joined the Coast Guard service within weeks of one another in September 1988.
“A Glengad man called Liam Doherty was lost at sea in 1986 and his death highlighted the lack of equipment and facilities available to the local coastguard volunteers at the time,” Charlie Cavanagh recalled last week. Greencastle’s Coast Guard tradition stretches back to the mid-1800s, but the equipment available in the mid-1980s dated back to what the British handed over after partition in 1922.
“We’ve been lucky with the quality of the volunteers we’ve got locally,” Cavanagh says. “It’s a big commitment from the volunteers and their families. Not alone do they have to respond when their pager goes off, but there’s lots of maintenance and training too.
Paying tribute to his long serving colleagues, Cavanagh said: “In the 20 years that the five of us have been volunteering with the Coast Guard, we’ve never exchanged a cross word, which must be some kind of record.”
“We’re also very grateful to the community for the support they’ve given us. We simply wouldn’t be in the position we’re in, were it not for the support from the people of Inishowen.”
Since the reorganisation and influx of new volunteers in the mid-1980s, the Greencastle unit has gone from strength to strength, taking a lead role in developing new technologies, techniques and training used throughout the Coast Guard service.
“We’re now as well trained and equipped as any such group anywhere in the world,” Cavanagh reckons. Indeed a group of Irish Coast Guard volunteers, including Cavanagh and Mick McGarry from the Malin Head Coast Guard, competed in the international SARSCENE games in Newfoundland, Canada, last week and acquitted themselves particularly well against their full-time competitors, claiming the bronze medal third placed finish.
Indeed, after completing the competition the Irish team participated in a search for a man who was missing in a vast wooded are of Newfoundland for more than 24 hours. The man was eventually located, leading Cavanagh to quip that he and his colleagues had made history by conducting the Irish Coast Guard’s most westerly search.
Twenty years service brings with it its fair share of tragedy. “While we’ve been involved in numerous successful missions, the search for the Carrickatine always sticks out,” Cavanagh said. “The search ran from 15 November 1995 until the following February and was round the clock for the first seven days. Knowing the men that were lost made it all the harder, and it’s still a mystery as to what happened that vessel.”
As well as the successful missions, Greencastle Coast Guard also initiated cross-border links long before it was fashionable or commonplace to do so, becoming the first unit of the Irish Coast Guard to conduct a joint operation with their Northern counterparts at Rathlin Island in 1989.
“We hosted a number of major events throughout the 1990s, and we developed a new, cross-border joint search and rescue competition in 2004.”
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