BRAVE local RNLI volunteers attended a ‘moving’ Westminster Abbey service to mark the lifesaving charity’s 200th anniversary on Sunday.

Members of Donaghadee, Bangor and Portaferry RNLI teams were amongst a 1,800-strong congregation as they joined colleagues from lifeboat communities from across Ireland and the United Kingdom for the bi-centenary service.

Three RNLI lifeboats were brought to the Abbey and put on display for the service while a number of volunteers such as Mr Philip McNamara, Donaghadee Lifeboat coxswain, who has completed 41 years dedicated service and Mr Ross Bennett, a lifeboat crew volunteer for two decades, attended in uniform. 

Today the charity operates 10 lifeboat stations in Northern Ireland, with the lifeboats having launched 9,472 times with their volunteers saving 1,535 lives and coming to the aid of thousands of more.

During the thanksgiving service, the charity commemorated its history, reflected on the lifesaving service it continues to provide and looked ahead to inspire future generations of lifesavers and supporters.

The service was conducted by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, praising the RNLI volunteers as ‘models for everyone’ who ‘risk their lives for those who are not known to them’.

The charity was founded in 1824 following an appeal from Sir William Hillary, who lived on the Isle of Man and witnessed many shipwrecks. Today, the Duke of Kent is president of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and after attending the service he signed the charity’s 200th pledge scroll.

Margaret Ramm, Donaghadee Lifeboat press officer, was honoured to attend the service saying: “The service was very moving, to be in Westminster Abbey and when the choir was singing, it was very engaging.

“It was lovely to hear the various speakers and the recognition that the RNLI is made up of volunteers who are committed to saving everyone at peril on the sea. It was also great to meet a lot of the other crews from across the whole of Ireland and the United Kingdom. Together we are all one crew and we work together.”

For Margaret one of the highlights of the service included a  fourth verse especially written for the hymn ‘Eternal Father’ in commemoration of the RNLI ‘which was very moving’.

“We also then recited the RNLI pledge,” she said.

Closer to home, RNLI volunteers from Bangor, Donaghadee and Portaferry were among those who gathered at Belfast Harbour to represent their lifeboat stations and launch the charity’s 200th anniversary celebrations in Northern Ireland.

Two centuries have seen vast developments in the lifeboats and kit used by the charity’s lifesavers – from the early oar-powered vessels to today’s technology-packed boats, which are now built in-house by the charity; and from the rudimentary cork lifejackets of the 1850s to the full protective kit each crew member is now issued with.

The RNLI’s lifesaving reach and remit has also developed over the course of 200 years. The charity designs and builds its own lifeboats and runs domestic and international water safety programmes.

While much has changed in 200 years, two things have remained the same – the charity’s dependence on volunteers, who give their time and commitment to save others, and the voluntary contributions from the public which have funded the service for the past two centuries.