Top honours for Greencastle
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.”