6 April 2015

Behind the name: The Shannon class lifeboat

This week, we're celebrating the arrival of the first Shannon class lifeboat in Ireland.

Lough Swilly have been preparing for this moment, dubbed the homecoming, for some time. Here's why.

​We've been naming lifeboats after rivers and stretches of water for nearly 50 years. The Shannon class lifeboat is the first to be named after an Irish river.

At 240 miles, the Shannon is the longest river in Ireland, and longer than any in the UK. Such is its length and activity level, we’ve got three lifeboat stations on the Shannon waterway: on lakes at Lough Ree and Lough Derg, and on the Shannon Estuary at Kilrush.

The River Shannon is a big part of life in Ireland’s mid-west. It’s a transport hub, a draw for fishing and motor-cruising tourists, and a source of hydroelectric power. The river’s might has been only too clear to the residents of Limerick, Athlone and communities along its length this month. Record rainfall and powerful storms caused the Shannon to burst its banks and flood hundreds of homes.

Shannon development

The lifeboat's hull, which allows her to cut through large waves at speed, was designed by Derryman Peter Eyre, one of the RNLI's own naval architects. Peter says: 'I'm chuffed it was named after an Irish river and with the strong connection the boat now has with Ireland. I think the moment it first goes out on a service will be the high point of my career. My parents will be so proud!'

Hard work recognised

Jimmy Tyrell, Lifeboat Operations Manager at Arklow, Co Wicklow, played a big part in getting a lifeboat named after an Irish river, as did his father before him.

When the name was announced in 2011, Jimmy said: 'I am thrilled with the news, not just for myself but for everyone involved with the RNLI in Ireland. It is recognition for all the hard work of our volunteer lifeboat crew members, fundraisers and staff in Ireland. This has been a subject close to my heart for many years ... I am looking forward to seeing it on service at lifeboat stations in a couple of years.'

Well, Jimmy, the time has now come for Ireland. Lough Swilly's brand new Shannon class lifeboat, Derek Bullivant, will make her grand entrance at Lough Swilly Harbour at midday on Friday 10 April.

The €2.4 million lifeboat is named after the man whose generous legacy helped fund her - Mr Derek Jim Bullivant from Bewdley in Worcestershire - who passed away in September 2011.

Once on service protecting the Donegal coastline, Ireland's first Shannon will mark a new era in Irish lifesaving.

And Lough Swilly will join Dungeness, Exmouth and Lowestoft as being among our first Shannon class lifeboat stations.