Wednesday 17 January 2018

Helen Blake replica to be built

By david looby

Lifeboat crew helping survivors of the Fethard Mexico disaster
Lifeboat crew helping survivors of the Fethard Mexico disaster

A fundraising drive to build a replica of the Helen Blake boat which was involved in one of the most daring rescues in Irish maritime history, is being launched in Wexford town on Wednesday night.

A casual conversation between two brothers after the centenary commemoration of the tragedy in 2014 lead the villagers of Fethard on Sea to embark on the ambitious project to build the replica of the lifeboat, nine of whose lifeboatmen perished trying to rescue sailors off the County Wexford coast.

In 1914, the Helen Blake set out from Fethard on Sea in gale force winds to rescue the crew of the Norwegian schooner, Mexico, which had run aground on the Keeragh Islands. Before the day was out, nine members of the lifeboat crew had lost their lives in the greatest tragedy ever suffered by the Irish RNLI. Of the 14 Fethard crew members, nine were washed away in the impact, leaving the remaining five with no choice but to scramble onto the island.

Despite all that the volunteers had just endured, they continued to help rescue the eight-man crew of the Mexico, as the boat now sat trapped among the island rocks. Using ropes, they managed to transfer the crew to the shore. Saved, but stranded, the men remained without food, water or shelter for three days. One crew member from the Mexico succumbed to exposure.

One hundred years later their sacrifice was remembered and commemorated during a ceremony attended by the Norwegian ambassador at the monument erected to their bravery in Fethard on Sea.

Following the ceremony brothers David and Keith Power, descendants of a crew member, commented that it would be a fitting tribute if a replica of the lifeboat could be built.

The idea was picked up and a number of villagers got together. A steering committee was formed and the project started to take shape. Thanks to local man, John Hickey, of Bord Iascaigh Mhara, funding was provided by FLAG to cover the costs of a feasibility study, which was followed by detailed drawings and stability calculations.

On Wednesday evening, June 15, full details of the project will be revealed at a meeting in the Talbot Hotel.

Speakers will include Theo Rye, the renowned naval architect responsible for the plans, Yvonne Byrne who carried out the initial feasibility study, and Sheena Bolger, the TUS co-ordinator for Wexford Local Development, who will play an important role in the construction.

A number of descendants of the original crew members will also be there. Building the boat is estimated to take 18 months and the work will be carried out as part of a TUS training programme by 18 to 25-year-olds, who will gain valuable skills as well as work experience.

Construction will be under the supervision of local shipwright, John Colfer, who counts the Dunbrody amongst the previous projects he has worked on.

Work is now under way to raise the funds needed to complete the project with various initiatives planned throughout the building period.

Details of a crowdfunding campaign will be announced on Wednesday night. A number of prominent Irish Americans have been contacted for their support and there will be corporate sponsorship packages including the opportunity of taking six people on an exclusive trip to the Keeraghs in the finished boat.

Wexford People

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