Journal Volume 7 2013

Greystones lifeboat in the 19th century

The Bray People and other sources (edited by James Scannell)


Between 1871 and 1896 the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (R.N.L.I.) had a lifeboat station in Greystones but it was not overworked during this 25-year period as the lifeboat was only launched three times. The North Wicklow Coast is a treacherous one for the mariner with numerous hazards including the long line of sand banks from Dublin to Wexford on which many ships have come to grief down through the years.

In 1871 the R.N.L.I. established the Greystones Lifeboat Station which was formally opened by Lady Meath in July 1872 who also named the first lifeboat stationed there, the 33ft. 10-oar Sarah Tancred, which was launched into the sea from a special carriage. This lifeboat remained stationed in Greystones until 1886 and during its period of service took part in three rescues, the best known being that of the crew of the yacht Nicomi in 1873. On 17th May 1873 this yacht from Dun Laoghaire was observed in distress off Bray Head in a heavy sea and the lifeboat was called out to effect a rescue. While the lifeboat was on its way to the yacht, its owner decided that he would try and run the yacht ashore at Bray Head but the heavy sea running would have wrecked it and drowned the occupants had he proceeded with this course of action. Fortunately the lifeboat arrived just before he attempted to do this and took on board the yacht’s four occupants. Due to the heavy sea running a landing could not be made at Greystones and so the lifeboat had to sail to Wicklow to land those rescued before returning to Greystones.

One of the most memorable rescues occurred on Sunday 30th September 1876 when the brig Leona got into difficulties off Bray due to a navigation error by the captain who mistook the light marking the wreck of H.M.S. Vanguard, sunk the previous year at the Kish light, while a strong north-east gale was blowing. Finding himself off Bray Seafront and not in Scotsman’s Bay off Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) as he believed, the captain raised a distress signal which was seen by the Bray Coastguard Station. The Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) and Greystones lifeboats were called out but the Greystones lifeboat could not be launched from the North Beach due to the severe north-east gale blowing and was brought, still in its launching cradle, overland to Bray. Accounts do not record if they used the Old Bray Road or the current one but in any event the crew would have faced a severe climb on the approach to Windgates using either route. When the Greystones boat eventually reached Bray, the crew attempted to launch it from the Putland Road end of the beach but weather conditions made this extremely difficult and virtually impossible. The Greystones crew ceased their launch attempt totally when the Kingstown lifeboat was sighted approaching the Leona and allowed it to carry out the rescue instead.

After effecting the rescue of those on the Leona, the Kingstown lifeboat capsized while heading in towards Bray beach to land those rescued. One lifeboat crewman was drowned as were a number of the rescued brig’s crew. The Greystones lifeboat took part in the shoreline search for survivors before returning home.

This lifeboat was launched on one other occasion but no further lives were saved.

In 1886 the Sarah Tancred was replaced by the larger 37ft. 12-oar Richard Brownwhich remained in service until the station was closed in 1896. This lifeboat was never called out during the decade it was based in Greystones.

Coxswains at Greystones were John Doyle, 1876 – 1892, and Edward Archer, 1892 – 1895.


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