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Lifesaving in Galway

by Tom Kenny

Organised water safety in Ireland really began in Milltown Malbay, Co Clare in the 1930s when a lady drowned there. This galvanised the local community into forming a Water Safety Association to help swimmers who got into trouble. The idea spread through Co Clare and eventually to the whole country. The national water safety section, set up by the government, was run by the Red Cross.

In Galway the Corporation appointed a life guard in Salthill; Christy Dooley, Bobby Molloy and Michael Roche were among the early people who held that post. The swimming clubs began to organise classes with, notably, Jimmy Cranny and Christy Dooley providing the instruction. The Presentation, Taylor's Hill, the Jes and the Bish trained and organised teams for school competitions. More and more people were qualifying as life savers.

When Bobby Molloy was seven years old, he was floating in the sea on an inflated car tube just off Blackrock when the current caught him. He could not swim and his older brother Gerry yelled a warning. A man who was swimming nearby realised what was happening and managed to swim out and drag Bobby back in and administer resuscitation. He then put Bobby on the handlebars of his bike and walked both boys back home. The Molloy parents were at the Races and knew nothing of the drama. When they came home, Bobby was in bed and Gerry told them he "had eaten a green apple and was not feeling very well". That night, at about 9pm, there was a knock on the door. It was Bobby’s rescuer enquiring about his welfare. He was invited in, given a few drinks and Gerry remembers getting a "good clip on the ear". Bobby never forgot how he was "drowned and revived" and went on to become a lifeguard in Salthill.

When I was about eight years old, I went for a swim with my father near Blackrock and found myself in difficulties. My father panicked, he did not know what to do but eventually managed to get me in to shore. We went home and he immediately began to enquire about life saving classes. He rose quickly through the ranks.

When Bobby Molloy became Minister for Local Government in 1970, he set up the Irish Water Safety Association as a separate entity and he appointed Des Kenny as its first chairman. It began to develop nationally and internationally and today is a terrific organisation which works very hard to advise the public and keep them safe from accidents in the water. So, please heed their advice. It is all about common sense.

Today we thought about showing you two images of Galwegians training in life saving. The first was taken in Lough Cutra Castle in the late fifties and shows a number of Our Lady's Boys' Club boys with some swimmers from Galway Swimming Club. They are, front row: Michael Cronin, Jimmy Cranny, Johnny Berry, Pat Broderick, Tommy Kelly, Joe Hegarty and Michael Broderick. Middle row: William McDonagh, Jim Cunningham, Eamonn Hornibrook and ‘Sailor’ McDonagh. At the back are Tommy Cunningham, Des Kenny, Paddy Thornton and ------ .

Our second photograph was taken in June 1970 and shows Bishop Browne with some officials of the Galway Water Safety Committee after he had presented swimmers with Water Safety Certificates in the Rosary Hall.

They are, front row: Dymphna McNicholas, Susan Small, Angela Lawless, Paula Kennedy, Patricia Small and Susan Kennedy. Second row: Jimmy Cranny, Elizabeth Crowley, Miss M Dunne and Dolores O’Donnell. Third row: Des Kenny, Bishop Browne, Commandant James Griffin, Aenid O’Driscoll and Mary McNicholas. Fourth row: Breege Conneely, Olivia Croke, Frances Clarke, Mary Rose Tobin, Helen Kissane. Fifth Row: Denise Clarke, Evelyn Murphy, Brigid Carroll, Hilary Keaney, Padraic Storan, Jacinta Kennedy. Sixth row: Joseph Healy, Tom Lake, Michael Cunningham, Frank Phelan, William O’Connor, Conor Kenny. At the back are Paul O’Beirne, Donal Henderson, Peter Phelan, Archdeacon Glynn and Eamonn O’Carroll.

If you would like to learn about water safety, Tom Kavanagh and a group of volunteer instructors run classes every Sunday morning from 9.30 to 11am, starting again in September where they train people in resuscitation, first aid and water work. There is a nominal charge per term. There are also surf lifesaving classes at the beach in Salthill twice a week. Contact Water Safety Ireland at 091 564400 for details. Finally we should mention the Claddagh Watch Patrol, another group who are doing wonderful work saving lives as they patrol the river nightly.

Much of today’s information comes from Tiernan O’Sullivan’s book The History of Irish Water Safety.

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