By David Tucker
WEXFORD has a symbiotic relationship with the sea, the county’s 275 km of coastline a mecca for visitors when the sun shines.
However, in bad weather, the coast is transformed into a place to stay well away from, on land or at sea, becoming instead a place of danger with storm-tossed waves and shifting sands, boat-wrecking rocks and treacherous currents, pounded by wind and surf, the hazards hidden from even the sharpest eye: A trap for the unwary.
Even when the dangers are well known, such can be the danger that many a vessel has been driven from the safety of deeper water on to the jagged reefs that spelled their doom.
Over the years, the people of the Model County have paid dearly for this sometimes uneasy relationship, with many tragedies recorded and lamented in seaside villages and fishing ports which paid the ultimate price for their proximity to these stormy waters.
Yet, there are always those willing to put service above self. To take to the sea to save lives. Such is the story of Fethard’s Helen Blake lifeboat, whose crew braved the worst storm in 50 years to try to save the crew of a sinking ship.
Later this year, a ‘living’ memorial will take to the waters in the form of a life-size replica of the 35-foot lifeboat lost to the cruel sea along with nine of its crew members during the doomed attempt to save the crew of the Norwegian schooner, the Mexico, dashed on to the rocks at the Keeragh islands on February 20th, 1914.
The idea for the replica came following a ceremony in Fethard marking the 100th anniversary of the disaster. Brothers David and Keith Power, grandsons of crew member Patrick Cullen who lost his life in the sinking, believed it would be a fitting tribute if a replica of the lifeboat could be built.
A number of villagers got together, a voluntary steering committee was formed and the project took shape.
Bord Iascaigh Mhara, the Irish Fisheries Board, got involved through their local officer, John Hickey, and provided funds to cover the cost of a feasibility study. This was followed by naval architect Theo Rye preparing detailed drawings and stability calculations, and the dream became reality.