by Nora Flanagan

Arranmore RNLI Lifeboat Station has welcomed new President Majella O’Donnell and three new crew members Sebastian Sebo, Sharon O’Donnell, and Erin Mc Cafferty.

Wife of world-famous singer Daniel O’Donnell, Majella’s interest in seafaring began when her family, from Thurles in County Tipperary, went to Spiddal, County Galway on their annual holidays.

Her father and mother Tom and Marion Roche, both keen sailors, often brought the family on board their boat and sailed the entire west coast of Ireland.

Majella, who has a house on Owey island often pilots her own boat when visiting the island and was always aware of the role of the lifeboats in saving lives at sea.

Jimmy Early and Majella O’Donnell. Picture by Nora Flanagan.

On meeting the crew and Arranmore RNLI press officer, Nora Flanagan, Majella said how pleased she is to be part of this vital service.

“I’ve always had a huge passion for water safety and have been a great admirer of the work of the RNLI,” she explained.

“I want to lend my support to the work the Arranmore Lifeboat crew do, not just as a figurehead of the station but to be actively involved and in the forefront of all aspects of the station to help the crew continue their role of saving lives at sea.

“I may not be a crew member of the lifeboat going out to sea but I think I can see my role as an asset, not only in fundraising, but listening to the needs of the crew, highlighting the importance of this vital service to all those who use the sea for business or pleasure and spreading the message of safety on the sea.”

The station has also signed up three new crew members: a man from Poland, a ’round the world sailor, and a young girl doing her Leaving Certificate.

Sebastian Sebo from Krackow in Poland had no awareness of the work of the lifeboats, even though he came to Ireland in 2006 and worked as a promoter in the Olympia Theatre in Dublin, until he arrived in Arranmore in August 2017.

Sebastian Sebo and Majella O’Donnell. Picture by Nora Flanagan.

Sebastian accidentally happened on Arranmore when cycling the Wild Atlantic Way. He was cycling past the signpost for the island, saw the ferry sign and decided to take the ferry across for the night.

Seven months later, having fallen in love with Arranmore, the people, the pace of life, and discovering the role of the lifeboat he not only decided to stay but applied to join the crew.

Sebastian is currently undergoing his apprenticeship with the Arranmore Lifeboat and said: “Even though I had no previous experience of boats I’m really enjoying being part of the crew and learning the ropes, all the crew are very supportive and take time and patience teaching me the various skills involved. I love living on Arranmore and especially being part of the RNLI.”

Experienced sailor and mother of four boys, Sharon O’Donnell felt privileged to be asked to join the Lifeboat crew seven months ago.

Jimmy Early and Sharon O’Donnell. Picture by Nora Flanagan.

Sharon’s experience with boats started at a young age when she fished with her father on his trawler and continued when she joined the crew of the yacht “Derry-Londonderry-Doire” in the Clipper round the world yacht race.

Sharon joined the crew of the yacht in China, sailed the Pacific to America and back to Derry via the Netherlands and London, a journey which lasted four months.

Coxswain of the lifeboat Jimmy Early said: “I was aware of Sharon’s involvement in the Clipper race and greatly admired her abilities as a very competent sailor and knew she would be an asset to the Lifeboat. Having said that you don’t have to have any experience to serve on the lifeboat as full training is given.”

Sharon said her training on the yacht was slightly different: “All of the crew had to undergo training to sail on the yacht but the lifeboat serves a different purpose and this is reflected in the training. All crew members of the lifeboat serve an apprenticeship and have to undergo competence-based training, we are trained in various skills to help each crew member save lives and have to prove our competence in each skill prior to continuing with the next one.”

“I’m really enjoying working with the lifeboat and learning new, challenging skills.”

Erin Mc Cafferty (18), the youngest crew of the Arranmore Lifeboat is currently studying for her Leaving Certificate at Gairmscoil Mhic Diarmada on the island, also became a crew member of the lifeboat six months ago and is halfway through her apprenticeship on the Lifeboat.

Erin Mc Cafferty and Sebastian being shown the ropes by John Mc Hugh. Picture by Nora Flanagan.

Erin follows the Arranmore tradition of families serving on the lifeboat as her father and great-grandfather both served on the lifeboat. Erin’s father, John, has been a crew member for 10 years and her great-grandfather served on the lifeboat in the 1920s.

Erin hopes to study Marine Science in NUIG following her Leaving Certificate results and said that her time spent on the lifeboat has convinced her that this is the direction which she wants to take.

She is particularly concerned about the amount of plastic pollution in all the oceans that is having an adverse effect on marine life.

Erin’s father, John said: “I would encourage all young people to join the lifeboat crew if there is a station in their area, not only do they become part of an important service but it encourages them to be independent, problem solve and it is an experience they will be proud of no matter which direction their lives take.”

Lifeboat coxswain Jimmy Early said: “We are delighted to welcome our new President, Majella and of course our new crew members, we welcome inclusivity and diversity and all our crew reflect those ideals.”

Jimmy Early, Nora Flanagan, Majella O’Donnell, John Mc Hugh, John Mc Cafferty, Erin Mc Cafferty, Sebastian Sebo