Sunday 18 August 2019

A century on, Fethard remembers

At Fethard Quay, four RNLI lifeboats from Fethard, Rosslare, Dunmore East and Kilmore Quay gathered and their lifeboat crews lay wreaths in the sea.
At Fethard Quay, four RNLI lifeboats from Fethard, Rosslare, Dunmore East and Kilmore Quay gathered and their lifeboat crews lay wreaths in the sea.

David Looby

HUNDREDS OF people gathered in Fethard-on-Sea on Saturday to mark the centenary of the Helen Blake tragedy, which claimed the lives of nine brave local men.

Eight relatives of the nine men formed part of the Fethard RNLI crew who travelled out to lay wreaths near the scene. They also laid wreaths for relatives of the Mexico crew who travelled to Fethard from Norway.

RNLI lifeboats from Dunmore East, Rosslare and Kilmore joined in the poignant ceremony as a large crowd watched on from Fethard pier, while the new Coastguard helicopter did a flyover at the event.

The Helen Blake rescue operation was one of the greatest sea rescue operations ever undertaken off the Irish coast.

On February 20, 1914, 14 Fethard men tried to rescue the crew of the Norwegian schooner Mexico that had gone aground at the Keeragh Islands. Having reached the Keeragh Islands, the Fethard crew were tossed from the boat. Nine perished and four of the remaining men helped rescue 11 men from the Mexico.

The New Ross and District Pipe Band got proceedings under way at Saturday's ceremony before Brian Stafford addressed the crowd, recalling the brave rescue of the Mexico crew. He read out the names of the Fethard men who died in the tragedy, praising their selfless act.

'They came to the aid of complete strangers. Sadly it cost them their lives. It's almost impossible to imagine the despair, grief and anguish the news of what happened brought to the people of Fethard.'

Mr Stafford said the tragedy left three women widows and 16 children fatherless, while one of the Helen Blake crew members Richard Bird died a year later, having never recovered from his ordeal.

Describing the Fethard heroes as an inspiration, he said: 'I would like to think that when the name of Fethard if mentioned that people will forever associate it with these giants of men.'

Rev Richard Greene and Fr Oliver Sweeney recited The Lifeboat Prayer at the monument before everyone joined in a moving rendition of The Lifeboat Song, including relatives of Mexico captain Ole Eriksen.

Mr Stafford recalled John Doyle, a local man who spent much of his life ensuring the Helen Blake tragedy was remembered. He also led a campaign to have the RNLI lifeboat station reopened in 1995.

Mr Stafford also recalled former Fethard RNLI colleague Anthony Burke, who died last year.

Norwegian Ambassador Roald Næss said: 'It was very important to mark this hundredth anniversary. This reminds us that both Ireland and Norway are maritime countries with rough coastlines which have experienced disasters like this. The relatives of the Mexico captain have met the relatives of the Helen Blake today so there is a strong bond between us.'

Torbjorn Aostby, a great grandson of Captain Ole Eriksen, said 12 members of the family travelled from Norway for the events.

'What impressed me was how everyone here has come together. Back home it's just our family's story but it's the community's story here. I feel very emotional today.'

Wexford People

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