The huge flood in Newcastle West in 2009 was the catalyst for the birth of an organisation that has now become an integral part of the emergency and rescue services in the west Limerick area.

“When we saw what was happening there that night kicked it off for us, lives could have been lost,” explained Oliver Moran on the setting up of Foynes and District Search and Rescue. “We had several tragedies here in Foynes over the years and there were people lost for ages and some were not found for up to twelve months. Many cars went in as it was an open port at the time.”

Two months later a meeting was convened in Foynes which was attended by up to thirty people, a committee was formed and after investigation, the organisation was formed under the Irish Water Safety Association. A company was set with an accountant and solicitor, both of who work on a voluntary basis. Many of the original volunteers were boat owners and had sea going experience.

“We did not have bucket or a biro when we started off,” said Mr. Moran, who has been one of the leading lights in the organisation since its establishment, recalled.

“It was car boot sales, church gate collections, sponsored walks and every other possible way we could think of, was how we raised the initial funding”.

Foynes and District Search and Rescue work closely with the Coastguard Service and are in constant contact with them when out on the water. They offer a 24/7 service on the Shannon from Tarbert to Shannon Airport and further when called upon.

2013 has been the busiest year so far with many people rescued on the Shannon west of Foynes. In 2014 one search alone took six days.

Foynes and District Search and rescue recently added a state of the art boat to their fleet bringing the complement to three. That with top of the range suits and equipment means that no stone is left unturned in ensuring the best and fastest rescue service possible.

It all started in 2009 with the purchase of a recognised lifesaving D class boat from R.N.L.I in England. “Every R.N.L.I. station in Ireland and England have them,” explained Peter Enright, another member of the organisation. “It cost us up on €11,000. We later purchased a new boat in Oyster Haven with some equipment costing €35,000. For that we got a very good grant from West Limerick Resources”.

In recent weeks they took delivery of a third boat which is a six point three metre powered by 150 hp engine and is capable of taking up to 16 people. This latest acquisition is hugely important as it is a boat that can go out in any kind of weather.

“We now have all the suits, the proper dry suits, all the proper gear, state of the art life jackets, personal safety gear; what we have today has cost us in total €115,000, most of which had to be raised voluntarily. We did get a grant from West Limerick Resources, we were grant-aide by the J.P. McManus Fund and we got a grant from Electric Ireland. Other people have come in with very substantial donations as have other organisations, for which we are very grateful,” Peter Enright outlined.

There are ongoing running costs such as repair and maintenance of boats and gear, petrol costs are quite substantial and with no funding from the state, Foynes and District Search and Rescue have to continue fundraising actives to keep going.

The Search and Rescue have a hard core of fourteen volunteers, two of whom are women, many of whom are fully trained in life saving and rescue and the others are near the completion of their training.

Foynes and District Community Council provided the Search and Rescue with a plot of ground in the port area on the site of an old swimming pool. “They were very generous to give it to us and we really appreciate it” Peter Enright said. On it they built a boathouse, an office and store and plans are currently in train for adding a lean to on the existing boathouse to accommodate the new boat which it is hoped will be completed in the next month.

Foynes and District Search and Rescue are constantly in touch with other emergency agencies in the area such Abbeyfeale and District and Mallow Search and Rescue. They also work in close cooperation on the Shannon with Ballybunion, Kilrush R.N.L.I west of Foynes and on the other side with Bunratty and Limerick City. “When there is a problem, we all get out there and try and solve it,” Mr. Enright said.

Foynes and District Search and Rescue under the chairmanship of Toddy Frost meet every Wednesday night all year round to ensure that everything is in order at all times

“The support we get from an area of a radius of 15 miles around Foynes is phenomenal,” Peter Enright explained. “It is hard to credit that people who live far away from Foynes give recognition to our work, they give us donations and help us out in every way they can. We are so grateful for the continued support, without which we could not keep going”.

Foynes and District Search and Recue are always on the lookout for more volunteers, male and female. “Anyone interested should call and talk to us without commitment. They can call here at the station any Wednesday night at 7pm. From the spring we will be taking boats out every Wednesday night for training exercise, so any potential new recruits can come and see and if they like it, will be very welcome to join us,” Peter Enright appealed.