TWIN brothers who established a 24-hour marine search-and-rescue unit have been named Irish Volunteers of the Year.
Former boating and waterskiing enthusiasts Darryl and Declan Barry (32), from Waterford city, turned their shared love of watersports and search-and-rescue skills as volunteers with the RNLI into a life-saving operation that has helped to save 69 lives.
The twins received the accolade at the Volunteer Ireland Awards ceremony in Dublin last night.
The Barry brothers, who were members of the Waterford River Rescue group providing marine emergency assistance along a section of the River Suir, realised there was no full-time search-and-rescue operation for the River Suir in Waterford city and surrounding areas, and decided to establish their own rescue operation in 2010.
Since then, they have grown the organisation to include 40 other volunteers.
Along with running the operation seven days a week, often working late into the night, the twins also set up suicide prevention patrols of the river at weekends, which have been replicated in other communities across Ireland.
And their selfless dedication to the community was honoured last night at the awards ceremony highlighting Ireland's unsung heroes.
David Hearne, a member of the search-and-rescue team who nominated them for the award, said: "I can't say how much they have changed the lives of hundreds of people by setting up this organisation.
"Declan and Darryl Barry have made a huge impact on my life and I want to thank them for all the work they have done for the community."
Meanwhile, married mother-of-three Anne Copplestone, from Cork city, was among 10 other volunteers who were also honoured for their dedication to the community through everything from campaigning and awareness-raising to caring for the sick and disabled and working with children and youth.
The 52-year-old theatre nurse is a key player in the Hope Foundation charity working with street children on the streets of Calcutta.
Volunteer Ireland CEO Yvonne McKenna said: "I am delighted on International Volunteer Day to give my heartfelt thanks to the 700 volunteers who were nominated, the 31 who made the shortlist, the 10 category awardees and our two overall Volunteers of the Year for their commitment and dedication to making Ireland a better place to live in."