As he embarks on a new journey in Enniscorthy, Fr. Dalton reflects on the last decade as a Courtown RNLI lifeboat volunteer.
Moving to his new role as Administrator at St. Aidan’s Cathedral was a bittersweet transition for former Parish Priest of Riverchapel, Fr. Tom Dalton.
While the new appointment brings excitement and new opportunities, it also sees him bidding farewell to the Riverchapel community and a local cause that is very close to his heart – the Courtown RNLI lifeboat crew.
Over the past ten years, Fr. Dalton has volunteered with the lifeboat crew in Courtown, an experience that taught him a lot about teamwork and helped him to connect with members of the community. As he will now be moving outside of the catchment area for Courtown RNLI volunteers, he will need to part ways with this role. However, he will take with him many memories and friendships, along with a special statue of an RNLI crew member recently presented to him by Courtown RNLI Lifeboat Operations Manager, Sam Kennedy.
“There’s a sadness about it because I’ve really enjoyed my time on the lifeboat. When I arrived to Riverchapel first, I knew there was a lifeboat there but I didn’t know much about it. When I was at the Blessing of the Boats, one of the crew of the lifeboat approached me and suggested that I join as a volunteer,” he said. “My dad was a fisherman so we were raised to respect the sea, but I’ve always loved the sea as well. I wondered were they joking at first but anyway, I talked to them a bit more and discovered they were training on an upcoming Tuesday evening. I decided to go along. I think there might have been a bit of shock that I actually turned up.”
Fr. Dalton’s decision to join Courtown RNLI was partially driven by the desire to get to know people in his new community. When he joined as a volunteer, he had only been in Riverchapel for one month.
“For me it was a social thing as well as an opportunity to help out. I thought the crew in the lifeboat would be good people to get to know,” he said. “If they are going to volunteer to help people, they can’t be a bad bunch.”
The physical aspect of the training also appealed to Fr. Dalton, though it was the teamwork that made the biggest impact on him.
“What I really enjoyed most from the whole experience was the teamwork and being with the crew. When we are out on the boat, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do in everyday life. We work together as one unit. There’s something very special about that.”
During his time on the lifeboat, Fr. Dalton and the crew responded to many tragic events that saw them bringing the bodies of those who lost their lives at sea home to their loved ones.
“I always thought that if that was my Mam, Dad, brother, sister, son or daughter, I’d like if I could have them home,” he said. “I’ve always been really touched by the gratitude of families when we bring someone home.”
Among the many rescue stories, Fr. Dalton also recalls the positive ones. This includes the famous rescue at Poulshone, where a 12-year-old girl got into difficulty in the water.
“There was a jetski pulling a donut with someone on it. They hit a wave and there was a young girl who was thrown from the donut and landed awkwardly. We were called out and when we did an assessment, we were afraid she had a spinal injury,” he explained. “It was quite a dramatic rescue but it all worked out really well. We ended up in the water trying to keep her stable for 45 minutes until a helicopter could arrive. Fergus and I were there with a 12-year-old wondering how can we distract her, what can we talk to her about.”
“We managed to talk about music and hobbies and all that kind of stuff. The helicopter came, brought her to Waterford and thankfully, it wasn’t a spinal injury.”
This rescue was later featured on BBC programme, Saving Lives at Sea – a programme that follows the stories of those who volunteer with the RNLI.
While Fr. Dalton may be retiring from the lifeboat crew, he will still play a part in the organisation by taking on a role on the fundraising committee.
“We rely entirely on voluntary funds. That’s part and parcel of the RNLI anywhere. It’s really important that firstly, people have a good experience of us and secondly, that they will support us through whatever fundraising events we do.”
As he sets his sights on a new journey with Courtown RNLI, Fr. Dalton is, of course, also embarking on a new journey as Administrator at St. Aidan’s Cathedral.
“I’ve been very humbled by it all really and am delighted that Bishop Ger has entrusted me with the role,” he said. “I started working in Enniscorthy five weeks ago. It’s going very well. Whenever you start a new role anywhere, it takes time to adjust.”
“Everyone has been very welcoming. I was there 30 years ago, as it was where I went for my parish placement as a Deacon. I learned a lot during those weeks there with them and I’m very grateful to the people of Enniscorthy for all they did for me at the time.”
Fr. Dalton is very aware that the church has changed and continues to change. Looking ahead, he hopes to introduce and guide some projects that will allow more lay people to get involved in the church.
“I’m very conscious that the church is changing dramatically. In the coming years, we’re going to need a lot more lay involvement in the parish, so I am looking forward to working with people on that,” he explained. “That might start off with a bereavement group. There are a lot of people who are grieving and trying to come to terms with their new reality. It would be helpful to set up a bereavement group that would be able to help people through this time, one that has members of the community involved in it.”
“At the end of my time in Enniscorthy, whenever that is, my hope would be that we would have a number of initiatives involving lay people, and that we would see lay people taking more ownership of the church.”
As he reflects on his past experiences and current transition, Fr. Dalton said he wants to thank everyone in Riverchapel, Courtown and the surrounding area for all of their support, generosity and kindness.
“They opened their homes and hearts to me and that’s a very privileged position to be in,” he said. “To the people of Enniscorthy, I look forward to working with you all.”