THE coastal village of Union Hall in West Cork has been gifted a new RNLI lifeboat. It is the area’s first permanent lifeboat vessel to be stationed there on a full-time basis.
A naming ceremony for the vessel took place on Union Hall pier on a grey rainy day in June.
The brand new Atlantic 85 lifeboat was named the The Christine And Raymond Fielding after a local couple who funded the vessel through a generous legacy. A large portion of RNLI funding comes from legacy funds; people leaving money to it in their will.
Raymond Fielding had worked as a doctor in the Mercy Hospital and in 2012, his wife Christine passed away. They were yacht owners who had good experience of the sea. Around this time, Raymond became something of a philanthropist.
On January 15 that year, the Tit Bonhomme fishing trawler tragedy sank when it hit the rocks during a storm just a short distance away in Glandore Bay. Five lives were lost. The sadness, grief and shock brought on by the tragedy was still fresh throughout Glandore, Union Hall and the wider vicinity.
Dr Fielding is said to have asked if things may have been different that night, had there been a lifeboat in Union Hall.
After his wife’s passing, he decided to fund the local lifeboat in memory of her. It was to be named the Christine Fielding.
At the time, the main type of lifeboats in use were the Atlantic 75.
Dr Fielding himself passed away in 2016 aged 80 and by then the lifeboats had upgraded and the new vessel was what is in use today, The Atlantic 85.
The vessel is a good deal more expensive than its predecessor, and in his will, Dr Fielding left the local RNLI an increased amount to cover the cost of the Atlantic 85.
Dr Fielding had asked for the vessel to be named after him and his wife.
Pamela Deasy grew up in a fishing family in Union Hall. Her father, Bill Deasy, us a well-known fisherman in the area.
She is involved in the fund-raising committee for the local RNLI, as was her mother before her. She remembers back 25 years ago when funding for the lifeboat began.
“Leap, Glandore, Union Hall, Skibbereen and Rosscarbery would have been our fundraising areas,” Pamela recalls.
“We set up the fundraising branch 25 years ago and we had a brilliant chairman, Joe O’Regan, who sadly we lost while he was on term as chairman.
He was an ex-crew member from Baltimore Lifeboat. So we decided that we’d get involved and try to get a lifeboat in the area here.
“At the time, I wanted to become crew, but it took another 20 years before we got a lifeboat here. By then I decided I was too old so I decided I would stay on the shore,” Pamela explains.
Union Hall opened its lifeboat station in 2014 when it started utilising vessels from the relief fleet.
Their new vessel, The Christine And Raymond Fielding, has been in service since last June, but the ceremony was postponed due to the pandemic restrictions. Indeed, the new Atlantic 85 was on course for delivery in 2020, but for the same reason, it did not arrive in the area until 2021.
The naming ceremony took place on Union Hall Pier on June 25 under a canopy to keep everyone dry from the rain.
The lifeboat was officially handed over to the local RNLI by a good friend of Dr Fielding, Eddie Fitzgerald, and it was accepted by Peter Deasy, who is a Launch Authority.
The event was well attended by friends, colleagues and clergy, members of the local community and families of volunteers.
Pamela says that since the Christine And Raymond Fielding lifeboat has been in the area, it has been called out four times, mainly due to boats having mechanical issues.
The station has 60 volunteers that make up crew, operations, management and fundraising - quite a large number of volunteers for a relatively small community.
“I have grown up in this industry,” Pamela says, speaking about the fishing business. “And growing up in a fishing community, I honestly never thought of the dangers of commercial fishing until my son started going fishing in 2012, the year of the Tit Bonhomme disaster.
“He used to go fishing for about three weeks every year and I never batted an eyelid. And I remember standing on the pier when our boat went around the corner, and that was the first time in my life that I ever thought of the dangers of the sea,” Pamela says.
The new lifeboat, which will serve the stretch of coast from Courtmacsherry and Baltimore, is very welcome in the area and will forever be attributed to Dr Fielding.
“Raymond wished that some of his ashes were scattered close to the pier here, so every time that the lifeboat launches from here, we will think of him because he’ll be looking down on us every time it’s launched,” says Pamela. “To give a lifeboat is such a humbling thing to do and, for our community, we will be forever grateful, that its through his kind donation, that the lifeboat is here, and that people will be more confident going to sea, knowing that the backup is available here at the pier.”
“90% of the RNLI’s funding comes from donations and in 2020 legacies made up 60% of our income.”
The RNLI has a Respect the Water campaign underway, which carries a Float to Live message, that alerts people to the dangers of suddenly falling into cold water and how they can respond in a practical manner.
#RespectTheWater #FloatToLive Campaign Video: