Brendan Donohoe Ireland Medal Ceremony Report

14 August 2017

The Lifesaving Foundation’s 15th Ireland Medal was presented to Brendan Donohoe on Wednesday 12th July 2017 in recognition of his 50 years of continuous active lifesaving service. In addition to his role as Chairperson of the Lifesaving Foundation Brendan is also President of the RLSS IRELAND BRANCH having previously held this position in the 1980’s. His medal citation reads “In recognition of his 50 continuous years of exceptional service to saving lives from drowning as a volunteer lifeguard, a lifesaving teacher, a lifeguard trainer and assessor, a drowning prevention researcher, and a national and international administrator the 2016 individual Ireland medal is awarded to Brendan Donohoe.”

Brendan is a senior administrative employee of Dun Laoghaire – Rathdown County Council, Ireland. He will retire from the council in August 2017 having completed 40 years as a public servant. As a mark of esteem the council hosted the medal ceremony in the Council Chamber. The medal was presented by Council Cathaoirleach (Mayor) Tom Murphy in the presence of family members, former medal recipients, and past presidents of RLSS IRELAND.

With Foundation International Director John Long acting as Master of Ceremonies (MC) the ceremony opened with the Foundation’s choral piece ‘Do Not Go Gentle’ which can be listened to on YouTube. Commenting on his role as MC he mentioned that he was the most recent individual Ireland Medal recipient and had been Royal Life Saving Society Commonwealth Secretary for 17 years. He was also a director of the Foundation which highlights the fact that the charity is an international body rather than, as is sometimes seen, as being a solely Irish organisation.

During a brief overview of the charity’s activities Secretary John Connolly outlined the development of a survival floating promotion that had stretched over 13 years. Working with the late Surgeon Admiral Frank Golden, a school based teacher led 4 page instruction leaflet was published in 2004. In 2007 an A4 flyer was produced with the message FLOAT – DON’T SWIM. In 2013, influenced by Frank Golden’s research partner Professor Michael Tipton, the original message was given a positive rewording becoming FLOAT FIRST – SWIM LATER. In a test printing the A4 flyer was expanded in 2016 to an A3 poster containing explanatory information.

He drew the attention of those present to the new RNLI Float to Live promotion which has taken the float first survival message to a totally new level. He urged them to view the promotion on-line.

Speaking of his memories of Brendan he said that their friendship stretched back to the early 1970’s. He stressed that they were very lucky that their wives had become the best of friends. This joint friendship enabled them to meet often between board meetings and to travel internationally with their wives promoting lifesaving. He urged Brendan to use his soon to be free time on his retirement to write technical papers. His deep knowledge of practical drowning prevention matters was recognised internationally but it needed to be supported with published papers.

John Connolly, John Long, Brendan Donohoe, Cathaoirleach Tom Murphy, Niamh Browne (technical support)

At the start of the presentation John Long read a number of congratulatory messages received from The RLSS Commonwealth Office and from previous medal recipients unable to attend the ceremony. Here are excerpts from longer messages;

Mr. Clive Holland (UK), Deputy RLSS Commonwealth President

“On behalf of HRH Prince Michael of Kent, Officers and members of the Royal Life Saving Society …..We are delighted that Brendan has been recognised for the fifty years of service he has provided to saving lives from drowning and we send our congratulations and best wishes for a wonderful celebration.”

Mrs. Pat Wilcox (South Africa), 2010 medal recipient.

“I have to admire both your commitment to the ideals of lifesaving and your passion for promoting these ideals over the past 50 years.”

Professor Stephen Langendorfer PhD (USA), 2013 medal recipient.

“Your tremendous lifelong contributions to lifesaving, swimming, drowning prevention, and to The Lifesaving Foundation have enriched all with whom you have come in contact.”

Professor Linda Quan MD (USA), 2011 medal recipient.

“While each of us brings a passion and uniqueness to drowning prevention, your cheer, thoughtfulness and conviction bring joy to this expedition.”

Lee Heard, Head of Volunteering RLSS UK concluded this part of the ceremony saying

“Saving lives from drowning is mostly about people and Brendan has highlighted that excellently over many years as a leader at the front making things happen. He has brought a lot of new people into lifesaving, especially young people, who are involved in making good things happen not only locally and nationally in Ireland but also around the world.”

In his address Cathaoirleach Tom Murphy drew attention to the number of recent swimming fatalities and to the sad number of cases where individuals took their own lives through drowning. He believed that the majority of drowning deaths, as high as 90% were avoidable or preventable. They were avoidable by informed

decisions and actions of individuals and preventable by the actions of councils and governments. He was delighted to be present at this ceremony which recognised the long exceptional work of council employee Brendan Donohoe at a local, national and international level.

The Ireland Medal citation was read by Foundation director Dr. Patrick Buck after which the medal and framed parchment were presented by the Cathaoirleach.

Lifesaving Foundation Directors with Cathaoirleach Tom Murphy. John Connolly, John Long, Brendan Donohoe, and Patrick Buck.

Brendan Donohoe then addressed the assembly. In his address he said that

“as Chairperson of the Lifesaving Foundation I have had the privilege of personally knowing all individual recipients of the Ireland Medal and it is a humbling experience receiving it today knowing that I am standing on the shoulders of lifesaving giants…. I was an asthmatic youth living in Marino in Dublin City and in an attempt to help her son my mother asked a friend and neighbour if her son would help develop my swimming as a way of improving my health. Liam Hogan came into my life and with him St. Joseph’s Swimming and Lifeguard Club in my school. For 50 years Thursday night has been my pool night, first with St. Josephs and then with my local Monkstown club. It is well known that I should not be asked to do anything on a Thursday night as I will not be available. Liam Hogan took me through the full range of lifesaving and lifeguard awards and then in his role as RLSS IRELAND Branch Secretary he brought me onto the Irish Branch Executive. Many years later I was to follow Liam onto the RLSS UK Management Board. I have many memories of events as a voluntary and then as a professional lifeguard of which without doubt the big one was the afternoon lifeguarding Dollymount Beach when a commercial passenger aircraft with flaming engines lined itself up to crash land on the beach. Thankfully the pilot changed his mind and managed to land safely on the airport runway. …I want to acknowledge the important role played by deceased Garda Commissioner Eamonn Doherty in his role as chairperson of the RLSS Ireland Region. The regional committee consisted of representatives from the Republic and Northern Ireland Branches. Eamonn always made time to attend meetings and he skilfully guided the committee through sometimes difficult decisions. He has stated that chairing the RLSS Ireland Regional Committee convinced him that it was possible to get both traditions on this island to work together peacefully if there was a genuine will to do so on both sides…. I cannot end without acknowledging the support I have and do receive from my wife Terezita who is the wind beneath my wings.”