Thursday 21 November 2019

Work on Helen Blake restoration project reaches the midway point

Brendan Power, Minister Paul Kehoe and Noel McDonagh at the Helen Blake Restoration meeting
Brendan Power, Minister Paul Kehoe and Noel McDonagh at the Helen Blake Restoration meeting
Pictured at the Helen Blake Restoration meeting were Noel McDonagh, Philip Power, Maura Jackman, Verona Murphy, Michael Hodman, Gary Leacy, Minister Paul Kehoe, John Fleming, Collette Kennedy, George Colfer, Phil Murphy, Mark Brennan, Tommy Kelly, Michael McCormack. Front: Peter O’Brien, Joanne Waters, Brendan Power, Ann Wall and Rosemary Butler

David Looby

The Helen Blake replica RNLI boat is starting to take real shape ahead of what is expected to be its maiden voyage out close to the Keeragh Islands near Fethard-on-Sea in 2021.

At a presentation day, the Fethard lifeboat, Helen Blake, which sank with the loss of nine local men while going to the aid of the crew of a ship the Mexico which had been wrecked on the Keeragh Islands, was unveiled.

Speaking at Bevel Workworking School in Poulfur, Fethard-on-Sea resident Brendan Power, who wrote a book about the story of incredible heroism, said: 'All this started five years ago on the 100th anniversary, someone suggested building it.'

A feasibility study was carried out and €100,000 in funding was secured for the project.

Mr Power thanked Minister of State Paul Kehoe for his support in getting funding and FLAG's John Hickey.

'The boat itself will be a very important tourist attraction,' Mr Power said. 'It will be taking people out near the Keeraghs. We will have a passenger licence and it will be a real visitor experience, something we are looking forward to. It will become sustainable.'

He said fundraising is continuing, and the project is on target.

The next step involves getting a foreshore licence from the Department of the Marine, with the support of Wexford County Council.

'Part of that is to have a home port in Fethard and that is where we are short of a slipway. We really need a slipway so we can use it at high and low tide, not just us, but also as a launching site for the RNLI. Tourists with small crafts can come visit us,'

Planning permission and the foreshore licence are the remaining obstacles to the project progressing. Deputy Kehoe said he was delighted to see so many local residents in attendance. He recalled being invited to the Talbot Hotel three years ago for the launch of the project.

Deputy Kehoe praised Bevel owner Tommy Kelly and the crew behind the boat's construction, saying they have done an outstanding and very professional job.

'You have a true star in Tommy and both he and the committee have done this in a very professional way. When we talk about the people who rowed across the sea to save lives. They were heroic in what they did, which was absolutely unbelievable. Members of the local community risked their own lives so it's only right and proper that we commemorate what they did.'

Deputy Kehoe said the whole community has gotten behind the project, adding that he will assist the committee in every way he can, adding that grants are available.

'I am shocked by the size of the vessel. I never really thought it was going to be as big as this. I'm just thinking of people sitting in those slots rowing, of how difficult it must have been. There would have been no flares or anything like that. In this job you assist a huge amount of communities to get invited down to see the progress that you are making I am genuinely touched by that. To see it in mid-life really has impressed me.'

Chair of South East FLAG Noel McDonagh outlined how FLAG has grown since it was founded six years ago. He said Wexford is the best performing county under FLAG, while praising the job done by John Hickey throughout the county.

'It's fantastic to see the Helen Blake keel in place. The Helen Blake will play a big part in the Hook development project. I don't think you realise how much you have here. It's very fragmented now. We gave a lot of money to Duncannon Fort and I would like to see that progress further. With Duncannon and now the Hook area, there should be something done with the fossils on Hook Head as they are in danger. I have had geologists have a look. The west end in particular, we've put money into Saltmills. Fethard now and with Tintern Abbey and it's walkways there is huge potential.'

He said he would like to see more added value project coming into the fishing communities to revive them and to keep people in the area.

'We can only deal with what comes in out table and any fishing projects that come in have been dealt with. We are still taking projects.'

Mr Power said workers on the Helen Blake have really seized the opportunity and learned a lot, making them more employable. It was suggested some could work on the tours out to the Keeragh Islands. 'It's a community scheme and this is part of our community and it's very important to us.'

CE workers Joanne and Jerry spoke of their positive experience working on the Helen Blake boat at Bevel Woodworking School.

They said CE placements should last the length of a project and not be confined to a 12 month period.

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