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End of an era at Wicklow RNLI as station mechanic Brendan Copeland retires

This week marks the end of an era at Wicklow RNLI as long serving crew member and station mechanic, Brendan Copeland officially retires from saving lives at sea.

Brendan Copeland arrives back at Wicklow Harbour on his final training exercise with Wicklow RNLI. Photo: RNLI/Wicklow

Brendan’s last day started with a trip to Dun Laoghaire Harbour to bring Wicklow RNLI’s all-weather lifeboat back to station after a lift out and hull clean. As the lifeboat was departing Dun Laoghaire for Wicklow, a call came in regarding a motor cruiser that had suffered engine failure in Dublin Bay. As Wicklow RNLI’s lifeboat was close by and the motor cruiser was drifting in busy shipping lanes and a danger to traffic at Dublin port, the lifeboat diverted to assist and was on scene in minutes. A tow line was quickly established, and the cruiser was towed to the nearest safe port of Dun Laoghaire. Once the boat and occupants were safely landed ashore, the crew returned to Wicklow and Brendan quietly retired after 31 years with the RNLI, helping to save 23 lives and assisting over 334 people.

Brendan, a former lighthouse keeper with The Commissioners of Irish Lights, joined Wicklow RNLI as a volunteer in 1991. In the early years he served on both the all-weather and inshore lifeboats as a crew member and emergency mechanic. In 2007, Brendan was appointed Wicklow RNLI’s full time station mechanic, a position he held for the last 15 years.

His role involved a wide range of duties that included maintaining the Tyne class lifeboat, Annie Blaker, a labour of love he continued up to Friday 5 April 2019, when she was officially retired as the last operating Tyne class lifeboat in the RNLI Fleet.

At the time former Lifeboat Operations Manager, Des Davitt said: ‘I want to pay a special thanks to our station mechanic Brendan Copeland who looked after Annie so well for all these years. Her incredible life-saving record is a measure of how well she was maintained.’

When asked in April 2019 how he felt prior to Annie Blaker launching for the final time at Wicklow, Brendan replied: ‘You’re asking me if I’m sad or emotional today? I’m more than that, I’m heartbroken, to borrow a quote used for the Blasket Islanders, “the likes will never be seen again”.

While the Tyne lifeboat had twin propellors with a top speed of 18 knots, the new modern Shannon class lifeboat which was to follow, was capable of 25 knots and considered the fastest and most technologically advanced in the RNLI fleet.

To prepare for the arrival of the Shannon class, Brendan and a panel of mechanics travelled to Poole for training on the new jet-propelled lifeboat powered by two Scania engines. The training paid off and with great determination and huge commitment from Brendan and the crew, the Shannon went on service much quicker than anticipated.

Brendan has gone to sea on countless call outs during his time with the lifeboat and one shout that stands out to him occurred in the early hours of 22 March 2013 after a fishing vessel with three crew lost power and was in danger of being washed ashore east of Wicklow head. He recalled: ‘Annie was launched, and I can honestly say as we went around the pier the sea was boiling. We managed to get a line to the boat which was larger than Annie and towed it back to Wicklow, it felt like we were in a teapot that was being shook to make the tea stronger.’

For their actions in bringing the vessel and three crew to safety, Brendan and the crew received a letter of commendation from RNLI Operations Director Michael Vlasto.

Crowds gathered on Wicklow's south pier to welcome Brendan home on his final exercise. Photo: RNLI/Wicklow

Brendan took part in his last afloat exercise on the lifeboat on Saturday 28 May with his volunteer team deciding to mark this milestone for their much-loved mechanic, who has been a mentor, friend and the backbone of Wicklow RNLI for many years.

As Wicklow lifeboat returned to station, a flotilla of local boats and Arklow RNLI’s lifeboat accompanied Brendan into Wicklow Harbour. From the East pier the arrival was witnessed by a large turnout made up of Brendan’s family, friends and his lifeboat family, while a lone piper played as the boat passed and the Dublin based Coast Guard helicopter made a flypast. As the lifeboat reached the south quay berth, local emergency services lined up in a guard of honour and sounded their sirens as the lifeboat passed. Brendan was overwhelmed and thanked everyone.

Brendan Copeland pictured with crew members from Wicklow and Arklow lifeboat stations. Photo: RNLI/Wicklow

Commenting on his retirement, Mary Aldridge, Wicklow RNLI Lifeboat Operations Manager, said: ‘The crew and I wish you and Betty all the happiness in the world on your well-deserved retirement. You have provided excellent service as a community lifesaver with the RNLI since 1991, you will be severely missed at the station.’’

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