Television adventurer Bear Grylls has thrown his weight behind a campaign to preserve an historic Donaghadee lifeboat which was used to try and rescue his grandfather from a sinking car ferry.
The lifeboat he wants to see preserved is ‘the Sir Samuel Kelly’ which was used by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s volunteer crew at Donaghadee to save lives in two major sea tragedies.
His great grandfather, Sir Walter Smiles from Donaghadee, was among 130 people who died in the Princess Victoria tragedy of 1953 when the car ferry sank in one of the worst gales in living memory on the Irish Sea.
The lifeboat was used to save 33 of the ferry’s passengers. The same RNLI vessel was also involved in saving yachtsmen during the Fastnet yacht race disaster in 1979 when dozens of yachts were lost and at least three people killed after a freak storm, also in the Irish Sea.
Bear Grylls (inset) said: “I am delighted to express my support and extend my best wishes to the Sir Samuel Kelly Project.
“I do so out of respect for the 133 passengers who were lost in the Princess Victoria tragedy of 1953. The dead include my great grandfather Sir Walter Smiles at whose home in Donaghadee I spent many happy summer days as a boy.
“I do so also out of respect for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the volunteer crew of the Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat who battled monstrous seas for 36 hours and risked their own lives to rescue 33 people from the ferry. To the crew of today’s RNLI lifeboat based in Donaghadee, and the 234 RNLI lifeboat crews around the coasts of Britain and Ireland, I express my admiration at their courage and commitment.
“The restoration and preservation of the Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat, and the construction of a heritage centre in Donaghadee to provide it with a permanent home, will create a fitting memorial to all those who were touched by the Princess Victoria tragedy.”
The SSK (Sir Samuel Kelly) Project is a public appeal, initially for between £15,000 and £20,000 to build a temporary shelter for the lifeboat to allow it to dry out for the restoration job to be assessed. The next goal is to secure Lottery funding for a museum, the overall cost estimated to be £500,000.
Project spokesman Ken Walsh, said: “We know Bear has a special place in his heart for Donaghadee. He tells us it is where he found his love of the sea and the wild. We are delighted to have his support and encouragement.
“The Sir Samuel Kelly is an important part of Ireland’s maritime heritage and is on the UK’s National Historic Ships register. Restored, it will be a lasting memorial to the people who were lost in the Princess Victoria and Fastnet tragedies.”