The Wexford unit of the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps held a dinner dance in the Talbot Hotel to celebrate 80 years of continuous service to the people of Wexford.
Distinguished guests included Commander Desmond Carroll KM, Chancellor of the Irish Association; chairman of Wexford County Council, Cllr. Michael Sheehan; the Mayor of Wexford Cllr. George Lawlor; Southeast Regional Director David O' Grady; Fr. Aquino Maliakka of the Franciscan Friary and Fr. James Cullen, CC.
Also in attendance were representatives of An Garda Síochána, the Civil Defence, St. Patrick's Day Committee, Scouting Ireland and MarineWatch.
Young members of the Cadet Unit, aged from 10 to 16 years, provided a guard of honour and a salute to the guests as they entered the functions room
The Chancellor gave an an after-dinner speech in which he spoke about the history of the Ambulance Corps and the important role that Wexford has played in its development.
Cllr. Sheehan said many events simply could not take place without the presence of the Order of Malta while the Mayor spoke of volunteers past and present and their commitment to the community.
Commandant David O' Grady outlined the achievements of the Wexford unit during 80 years of service and said it has grown to be the largest and busiest in the country, leading to its selection in 2018, for the third time, as the best unit in the country.
Lieutenant Diarmuid Sinnott, current Officer in Charge said the unit has grown on the shoulders and backs of those who have gone before.
He described the organisation as being part of a large family, not just of past and present members, but of all the voluntary services that make up the community.
The history of the Wexford unit dates back to September 1939 as storm clouds gathered over Europe and the world prepared to enter into one of the darkest periods in its history.
Civil authorities placed adverts in the local press looking for volunteers to train as Air Raid Wardens, First Aid and Fire and Rescue Personnel.
People already involved in service to the community met up and members of the Second Wexford Brigade of the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland came together to see how they could assist.
They decided to make contact with a then fledgling organisation, the Order of Malla, founded in Galway the previous year and so began the task of training in first aid and acquiring equipment and uniforms.
Covering local duties, the Order of Malta established a close relationship with local Red Cross, Civil Defence and Emergency and Defence Forces to develop a coordinated medical and humanitarian response to emergency situations.
Almost one year later, on September 25, 1940, the Wexford Unit was officially inaugurated by the Marquis McSwiney of Marshanglass, President of the Irish Association and Director of the Ambulance Corps.
It was blessed by Bishop Stanton of Ferns and placed under the command of Sergeant Harry Murray.
The link between Wexford and the Irish Association of the Knights of Malta goes back much further than 80 years to the founding of the Ambulance Corps 850 years ago when the first of the Hospitaller Knights of St. John, Maurice de Prendergast arrived in Bannow Bay.
A hospital and leper colony were founded in the area now known as Maudlintown and from 1169 to 1174, the Knights Hospitaller based their Irish headquarters in Wexford before moving to Kilmainham in Dublin.
The current unit operates out of an Ambulance Base and Training Centre in St. John's Drive and runs three ambulances, a response car, 4x4 landrover ambulance and two responder bike teams.
During 2018, the unit was on duty 192 days covering over 400 first aid and community welfare duties, including the provision of 24-hour back-up support to the National Ambulance Service during Storm Emma, when the 4x4 was able to get to areas that were otherwise inaccessible.
During the recent Ploughing Championships, the unit provided 20% of the cover required.
Funds are raised locally to provide the training and equipment needed to allow the unit to continue its work as a life-saving presence at the heart of the community with the mission statement 'Saving Lives, Touching Lives, Changing Lives'.