The sod has been turned on an ambitious new project which for the first time will result in the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland (IWAI) and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) coming together to build a future for waterways users.
The partnership will focus on water safety and result in a shared home for the two organisations on the shores of Lough Ree in Athlone, where a new state-of-the-art lifeboat station for Lough Ree RNLI and a clubhouse for the IWAI is to be constructed at Dunrovin.
This is the former home of the Rice family, who generously bequeathed the site to the IWAI with the wish that the organisation would benefit from its use.
Due to the Covid-19 restrictions the historic occasion marking the start of work on the project was carried out virtually rather than at the build site.
The event saw IWAI present Alan Kelly cut a section of turf from beside Lock 12 on the Grand Canal and RNLI lifesaving lead Owen Medland collect sand from the beach close to the lifeboat station at Clogher Head. The soil and sand will be mixed to symbolically represent the coming together of the two organisations.
Owen Medland said: “This new shared facility will provide a permanent lifeboat station in the mid-Shannon region that will offer a top class search and rescue facility for those living near or visiting our beautiful area. Sustainability is at the forefront of all the RNLI’s projects and the design standards of the building are very impressive.”
“We are delighted, with the site provided for our permanent lifeboat station and looking forward to having new neighbours. For eight years lifeboat volunteers have operated out of temporary facilities on a site near here. Every second counts when launching our lifeboats and we have the perfect location here at Dunrovin.
“The new lifeboat station will serve generations of lifesavers and the community of waterway users in the midlands. Thank you to the IWAI for providing us with this incredible location.”
Alan Kelly said: “Today’s sod turning is an important historical milestone for the Inland Waterways Association, as it marks the regeneration of Dunrovin for waterways users. This facility represents a clear signal and firm commitment from the IWAI to the community and the area.
“Both the RNLI and IWAI are part of the fabric of the community they operate in and we are thrilled to be working together in partnership as we embark on this journey to build a new clubhouse and lifeboat station. Over the past few years we’ve worked together building our strategic partnership to reach this point and the next twelve months will be key for both organisations.”
He continued: “It is an exciting time for all waterways users and we hope to be at the centre of it. The combination of our mutual ethos, national branch and lifeboat station network, will ensure we are truly able to meet the needs of all waterways users, local, national and overseas visitors.
“Our new clubhouse will also provide a base for likeminded organisations who use the waterways, to conduct their activities both on and off season. The IWAI is an integral part of any community and has a long history of co-operating, supporting and engaging with local communities ensuring the inland waterways are developed with all users in mind.”
Alan concluded: “I would like to pay tribute to all of the volunteers, committees and branches and all our family members of our all Ireland association who have worked hard over the last number of years to reach this stage of creating a new future for our organisation.
“This will ensure our site serves all waterways users from fishermen to rowers to swimmers to sailors to boaters, both local and visiting who can safely enjoy the magnificent facilities of the River Shannon and Lough Ree.”
Watch the virtual sod turning online here: The virtual sod turning of Dunrovin – IWAI