Denise breaking the mould

Denise Lynch is a prime example of how volunteering benefits the community at large. The Fenit woman was recently appointed as an RNLI coxswain, and she becomes the first female to hold the senior position on an operational lifeboat crew in Ireland.

Serving as coxswain will bring added responsibility for Denise as she will be the sole person in charge of the crew on rescue call-outs. But it’s a role she is relishing having started out with Fenit RNLI in 2001 as a volunteer serving on its inshore and all-weather lifeboats.

Denise’s dedication to volunteerism with Fenit RNLI has come full circle.

“It’s a huge honour for me. I’m as proud for my family as much as myself; especially for women volunteers, as it adds an extra sense of achievement,” Denise said.

In many ways, this is Denise’s calling. Born and raised in a fishing family that lived close to Fenit Pier, Fenit lifeboat has always framed the background of Denise’s life, even going back to her childhood:

“I was brought up with fishermen in the house, my mom would have even done a bit of fishing. I remember being down on the pier as a child and seeing this big, orange boat. You would be amazed and in awe of it.

“I lived two doors up from the pier so we were reared to it. Whether you went out the back door or the front door, you were almost in the water. It all stemmed from there and that love of the sea,” Denise said.

Denise will be 20 years with Fenit RNLI in May. This, in itself, is a great honour, leaving aside her becoming the first female coxswain in the country. She spent five years honing her skills in navigation before progressing to a coxswain panel, where she spent another five years. Her appointment is the culmination of over 10 years’ preparation.

“I’ve always had the passion for it. I’m there to help anyone who needs it. When that is your mentality, it’s easy to stay in love with it. There is fierce commitment and they train us to a very high level,” she said.

“It’s been an amazing time, and I’m excited about it. I’m lucky I live locally and, once you get that beep, you make your way down to the station and get prepared.”

Denise is quick to praise the support and solidarity of her fellow crew members. You don’t take to perilous waters without a deep sense of trust and expertise being in tow. The oft-used phrase ‘we’re in this together’ probably owes its origin more to lifeboat crews than anything else.

“My crew is very important. This is probably the biggest role you could get, but I must say they have been so supportive and really behind me, especially in the last few weeks when the final pass out was being done. They’re delighted for me. This makes taking on the role a bit more exciting and relaxing,” she said.

But her role is also one that doesn’t allow for laxity. Denise is humble as regards her appointment as she is aware of the difficulties involved. It’s a responsible role, one that carries its good days and bad days. Denise cited the recent unsuccessful attempted rescue of a fisherman off Kerry Head as an example.

“It really touched us and we were hurt that we couldn’t retrieve him for the family. You get the bad calls too and the boat can be very quiet in circumstances like that,” she said.

“You act as professionally as you can, but we were all very sad and grieving in our own way. You’re always thinking of the family when you’re out there.”

Also commenting on Denise’s appointment was Fenit RNLI Lifeboat Operations Manager, Ger O’Donnell, who said everyone at Fenit RNLI is delighted to have a new coxswain at Fenit.

“Denise is a great addition to our coxswain team and has been a valuable member of the lifeboat crew for many years,” he said. “We are lucky to have so many great volunteers at our station, who fill a variety of roles from fundraising to operations. We couldn’t function without them, and they all play their part to save lives at sea,’ Ger added.

Denise is urging people to get involved in Fenit RNLI. It’s a fantastic organisation of volunteers dedicated to rescuing.

Denise explains that there is a role for everyone, including for women.

“It’s no big deal to my colleagues on the lifeboat crew that a woman is in this role, because they know me, and they’ve been to sea with me in all weathers,” she said.

“The trust and respect is mutual between the lifeboat crew. They know I can do the job, and they know I’m there for them, whatever happens.”

Lastly, Denise presses the point that if anyone is interested they should come down to the pier as there are always crew members around to chat with.

“If the boat isn’t for people, there are lots of other roles to do, such as shore help; people help us to refuel and wash down the boat, too. We have huge respect for these people,” she said.

“There is also the fundraising side of it. There are a lot of different roles involved; it’s not all about going to sea. Just come down to us and see if it’s for you or not. The RNLI will provide training, and they’ll know if and when you’re ready to move into a different role. I also want to thank everyone at Fenit RNLI for supporting me.”

Check out Fenit RNLI Facebook page for more details. – News