When the RNLI was founded in 1824, the whole island of Ireland was part of the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland’. The first RNLI lifeboat station in Ireland was established in Arklow, Co Wicklow, in 1826. Over the next 100 years, more stations sprang up all round the island, crewed, as is still the case, by local volunteers.
By the time the Irish Free State was established in 1922, there were 24 Irish RNLI lifeboat stations. British Government agencies, such as HM Coastguard, withdrew services from the free state, but the RNLI’s independent, volunteer-driven services remained.
In the March 1926 issue of The Lifeboat Journal, an article on the roll out of motor lifeboats reads:
‘This work in Ireland has not been affected by the political changes and the setting up of an Irish Free State Government with the status of a Dominion. At the express wish of this Government the Institution is continuing to maintain the Service in the Free State as well as in Northern Ireland.’
Lifeboat stations in the 26-county free state (which was declared a fully independent republic in 1949) and in Northern Ireland have carried on saving lives under the RNLI banner since.
The RNLI currently operate 46 stations around the coastlines of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as well as major inland waterways.