On 7 February 1936, 80 years ago, the Light Vessel Comet was moored off Cork Harbour in her position as the Daunt Light Vessel.
During that day an intense storm with hurricane gusts blew up, breaking the light vessel’s moorings. The crew, under Master Captain Scanlon, managed to get an emergency cable and anchor out, which held. As weather worsened, the light vessel issued a Mayday, which was responded to by HMS Tenedos, a destroyer, the Innisfallen, a coastal ferry, and the RNLB Mary Stafford, the Ballycotton Lifeboat.
The destroyer tried a tow, but the tow rope parted. When the lifeboat arrived on scene they also attempted tows, but the wire used could not take the strain. The lifeboat ran to Cobh (Queenstown) to get a heavier towing rope, while the other vessels stood by. When the lifeboat returned, its skipper Patrick Sliney, saw that the light vessel’s situation was now perilous and that the only option was to remove the crew.
It was decided to evacuate the men by a number of runs alongside the light vessel which would require its crew members to jump for it. In the first run, only one was rescued, another was a dry run and another saw one more rescued. Eventually they had six on board the lifeboat with two lightship crew still on board the stricken light vessel. By this time these crew members were so weakened, there was no possibility they could be saved unaided by some assistance. Patrick Sliney decided he would go alongside and have his crew grab the remaining survivors.
This was done with skill and courage as later acknowledged. In all, this rescue lasted some 63 hours with no food or sleep for the participants. Skipper Sliney and his brave crew were rewarded with seven medals, one Gold, two Silver, and four Bronze. This rescue has remained current in the folklore of Ballycotton.
Some years later the rescue was commemorated, by the Irish Postal Service, on postage stamps. As of now the Mary Stafford has been returned to Ballycotton and is presently being displayed on a plinth while being refurbished by proud volunteers. Brave people have a look of serenity about them and the attached photograph is impressive in depicting that fact.
1 Cathedral Walk, Cloyne, Co Cork