Ballycotton Lifeboat Crew Member Colm Sliney Retires after 53 Years Service

By Claire o Donoghue


Ballycotton Lifeboat Station has been an institution since 1858. Colm Sliney came along slightly later in the mid-1960’s. Riding the white horses of the Atlantic in the Ballycotton lifeboat in the slipstream of his father William and Grandfather Pat. After 53 years of service, he’s handing over his pager and retiring. Today I found him looking out at a postcard view of Ballycotton Quay, living next door to the house he grew up in.
He began as lifeboat mechanic assistant for 2 years but once matrimony loomed on the horizon it was time to get a job elsewhere that would allow him to earn some money. So, he began working for Irish Shipping, Waterford Stanley and a few others besides. He volunteered as crew member on the lifeboat and began, over the years, to work his way up to position of 2nd coxswain. Then, the Government got involved. No, they didn’t provide funding, of course, they changed the age of retirement from 65 to 55. In their wisdom, with one fell swoop, they called ashore all the crew members around the country with the most experience. Clever eh? In Government terms, they caught on pretty quickly to the disastrous mistake they made and after 5 years reverted the age of retirement for crew back to 65 years of age.
Colm was able to return to service as a DLA (Deputy Launching Authority). The DLA decides (when there’s time for the luxury of discussion) to pick the crew for a particular callout and weighing the sea and weather conditions decide if the crew should go at all. “Colm, has there ever been a time here that it was thought best not to even try and go out because it was too much of a risk”? I asked, settling into my chair waiting to hear about some other-worldly storms and waves breaking over the pier wall. “No” he said calmly, “that’s never happened”.
What are his plans for retirement? Well, it’s off to New York for a holiday to see his son, Will (himself the 4th generation of the lifeboat crew who served for 5 years at the local station, logging 5 lives saved in the process). “I enjoy photography”, said Colm, “and I’ve plans to go sailing in Athens for a week in May with another RNLI man”. New York, Athens – live it up Mr.Sliney, you’ve more that earned that. In 53 years of service he’s faced all sea conditions, the horror of lives lost, exhilaration of those saved, the boredom and tiredness when the adrenaline of a call passes and “you find yourself then towing a boat 30 miles to shore, which could take about 5 hours” he said. Not to mention the cold! Have I reminded you already that this is all voluntary?? It goes without saying that it’s not a life for everyone. My father-in-law for example, when I suggested he go on the Blackwater River Cruise, exclaimed – “A boat!! I wouldn’t get into a boat if it was out in the middle of a field!”
The Slineys, who just between Colm, his father Pat and son Will alone, have logged 398 lives saved. Though when asked, I ‘m told with a wry smirk that Colm’s father saved 161 and Colm 162. It isn’t everyone’s experience to have so many years aboard ship in those conditions and survive for a happy retirement ahead ashore, you could he’s a lucky old son of the sea. Many thanks to Colm and RNLI members country wide for their years of devoted service.