Article - January 2004
A life boat which saved the lives of the county
down community and beyond for nearly 30 years, is now
in need of saving itself.
The RNLI lifeboat Sir Samuel Kelly, now sits forlornly
on wooden blocks in the corner of a car park near the
marina at Donaghadee. Open to the elements and subjected
to mindless vandalism, this once proud vessel is simply
The 'Kelly' heroically went to the aid of the stricken
ferry, Princess Victoria, during the great storm of
1953, picking up 33 of the ship's 44 survivors.
The plight of the Kelly was brought to YPAM's attention
by a Belfast man who has become very passionate
about the boat and its brave contribution to the UK's
worst peacetime sea disaster, which claimed more than
130 lives, on 31 January 1953.
Albert Morrison, as a young boy, vividly remembers
the sound of bells ringing as the emergency services
raced past his house near Dundonald on that fateful
night. Since then Albert has always had an affinity
with the Princess Victoria disaster and in recent years
has educated himself further on the fate of the ferry.
Albert took us to the current 'berth' of the Kelly
in the car park at the marina at Donaghadee. Just before
you turn into the car park your eye is drawn to the
modern million-pound lifeboat in the sea below and the
brightly painted lighthouse beyond suggesting a proud
and responsible seafaring vision of the town, which
contrasts sharply with the next scene.
As we approach the rusted, wire fence surrounding the
rubbish-strewn pen that now houses the old lifeboat,
which sits perched on damp and moldy wooden blocks,
I notice a proud but fading sign on the ground next
to the vessel..."The Sir
To see this knight of the waves in its current state
is a very sad sight for those who know what the boat
once achieved. Billy Lennon who served for more than
37 years with the RNLI at Donaghadee, including a stint
aboard the Kelly, and John McGimpsey, ex-RNLI crewman
and Treasurer of the Sir Samuel Kelly Preservation Society
were able to bring us up to date with the recent history
of the lifeboat.
Standing at the bow of the
Sir Samuel Kelly are :
(from left to right) - Billy Lennon, Albert Morrison
and John McGimpsey
After giving 29 years of life saving service with the
RNLI from Donaghadee, the Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat
was retired in 1979. A year later it was bought by the
Ulster Folk and Transport Museum for the purpose of
an exhibition highlighting the Kelly's proud history.
as the years past, so it would seem, did the interest
in the boat's pedigree and due to budgetary pressures
in the mid-eithties the UF&TM saw the condition
of the lifeboat slowly fall from grace. When ex-RNLI
coxswain Willie Lennon inquired about the Kelly at the
museum, he was shocked to find the boat "in very
poor repair, covered in moss and full with rainwater".
In order to bring the boat back to life the ex-crewmen
formed the Sir Samuel Kelly Preservation Society and
took the Kelly on loan from the museum back to Donaghadee
where it was painstakingly restored by volunteers with
a limited budget. Cleaned, repainted and with the engine
"fit for sea" the Sir Samuel Kelly stood proud
However, by 2005 with no sanctuary and with only pennies
left for maintenance the lifeboat slowly succumbed to
coastal exposure and even vandalism. It stands today
a poor reflection of the boat which braved 40 foot waves
and hurricane force winds in the Irish Sea in 1953.
- RNLI life, the future of the 'Kelly' and more on the
Princess Victoria disaster>>