ollowing on from his January 2021 article about the birth of the Greystones Coast Guard in 1821, the local historian marks another very important seafaring anniversary for the town…
It was 150 years ago today, on August 3rd 1872, that fishermen, residents and a number of invited dignitaries thronged Greystones for the launch of the lifeboat, Sarah Tancred, the 233rd lifeboat to be placed by the RNLI around the coast of Britain and Ireland.
The report carried in The Irish Times two days later noted that ‘the lifeboat was decorated on Saturday with a profusion of flags and was drawn in procession from the railway station to the beach on a stout four-wheeled truck dragged by six horses. Her crew was on board, as hardy a lot of salts as one would wish to see, all of them in red Guernsey shirts and cork jackets’.
The report in The Warder dated 10th August 1872 noted that the ‘white and blue painting of the vessel contrasted harmoniously with the red flags displayed by the crew and the rosettes of coloured ribbons and flowers worn by the six horses yolked to the wagon’. The dignitaries included Lady Meath, Lady K. Brabazon, William R. La Touche, William R. O’Byrne (High Sheriff of Wicklow), Captain Hutchison (Kingstown Harbourmaster), Captain David Robertson R.N. (one of the inspectors of the RNLI), that latter acting as superintendent for the whole proceedings, ably assisted by Richard Doherty( who served as Chief Officer of the Greystones Coast Guards from 1868 until 1878).
The article noted that Lady Meath ‘advanced towards the lifeboat and christened her in the usual manner by breaking a bottle of wine against her stern, saying at the same time, “God Bless the Sarah Tancred”. After the singing of The Lifeboat Song by the school children, the car was dragged close to the seashore and, the vessel being let loose, she glided swiftly and gracefully into the water amidst the cheers of the spectators and crew. The lifeboat rode buoyantly over the heavy ground-swells which in all kinds of weather prevail along the Wicklow coast and in a few minutes, in the hands of her able and willing crew, were seen ploughing gallantly through the surf out towards the sea’.
While shipwrecks along our stretch of coast were not a common occurrence, there were occasional incidents which resulted in the loss of ships and sadly lives. Just over a decade earlier, in the great storm of February 1861, the 200 ton brig, Mary, laden with coal, was wrecked on the shore at Greystones with the loss of all five crew members. In 1871, J.J. Tancred of Pearville, Co. Dublin bequeathed a legacy of £1,000 in his will to the RNLI on condition that it would place a lifeboat to be named after his late wife, Sarah, in the vicinity of Dublin.
J.J. Tancred was born and reared within two miles of Delgany and had spent a large portion of his life in the neigbourhood of Greystones and Bray. The Precis Ledger for the Greystones Lifeboat, held at the RNLI archives in Poole, covers the period from 1871 up until the station’s closure in 1894 and contains the reports pertaining to the station made by the Institution’s inspectors.
In September 1871, the inspector visited Greystones and interviewed the Chief Officers of both Bray and Greystones Coast Guard Stations. The purpose of the visit was to ascertain the best location for the establishment of a new lifeboat station to be located along the coast between Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) and Wicklow. Greystones was duly selected.
The inspector visited William La Touche at his home, Bellevue, who as the local land owner immediately threw his support behind the proposal. The La Touche family had been instrumental in supporting the construction of the original Greystones pier in 1847 and William La Touche expressed his readiness to grant a long lease on a site upon which to build a lifeboat house, as well as undertaking to form a local committee to establish a lifeboat station at Greystones.
On 28thDecember 1871 the committee accepted an estimate of £216 and 5 Shillings from Mr T. Connolly for the construction of the lifeboat house. The photograph on top here is one of the oldest known photographs of the harbour area, having been taken in the 1870s. It shows the original basic roof and gable of the lifeboat house built during the first half of 1872, prior to its subsequent alteration in 1879 by Thomas Evans who added the kneelered gables and granite finials to the roof, the latter of which survives to this day on the northern end of the building.
The large fishing boats pulled high up on the beach, known locally as snuffs, were mostly built by Thomas Evans’ father, Henry Evans of Emily House on Trafalgar Road, the first slate-roofed house in Greystones.
The RNLI had exacting standards for the construction of their lifeboats – double diagonal mahogany planking, fore and aft stems to be of single pieces of English oak, keel to be made from a single piece of American elm, etc.