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Tomsie O Sullivan of Lahinch RNLI who received a Gold medal to mark his 5o years with the RNLI. Photograph by John Kelly

O’Sullivan’s lifetime of service is recognised

RNLI honour Lahinch community activist Tomsie after 58 years’ voluntary service

A LAHINCH community activist has been honoured with a Long Service Award after almost 60 years volunteering with the RNLI.
Tomsie O’Sullivan, (89), who will celebrate 58 years with the RNLI next September, received a special commemorative medal for his decades of unstinting service.
RNLI chairman, Stuart Popham stated in his tribute “the difference your make is life changing and that is why your are an RNLI volunteer”.
“You don’t do it for recognition and celebration – but that is exactly what you deserve. The Long Service Award recognises your dedication and commitment to the RNLI, and marks an extraordinary milestone in our sterling service.
“The RNLI is extremely grateful to have long-serving volunteers like you. You are the lifebood of our charity and without your efforts, we wouldn’t be able to go on saving lives.”
His late wife, Marie, and Odhran O’Looney were each awarded a medal for 21 years’ service, while his daughter, Joan is due to receive this accolade next year and treasurer, Richard Devereux will receive the same award later this year.
Tomsie’s daughter, Marie, is currently helping him as assistant secretary and Tomsie is planning to step down later this year.
Initially, Tomsie was quite surprised as he wasn’t aware of an an award for 58 years’ service. He is thrilled to be rewarded for what he considered was a labour of love.
“I thoroughly enjoyed it and was influenced by the fact my brother was at sea,” he said.
The RNLI was very much a family affair as Tomsie’s children used to help him with church gate collections and flag days. Tomsie estimates the Lahinch branch used to raise between €6,000 to €8,000 annually over a 28-year period.
Born in Main Street, Tomsie’s father, Thomas, who was a carpenter, fell off a roof in the early fifties and never fully recovered.
This prompted Tomsie (16) to leave Ennistymon CBS before Fifth Year to become an apprentice and take over his father’s carpentry business.
After completing a part-time course in carpentry, he worked for McNamara Builders, Lisdoonvarna building a scheme of houses in Spanish Point and progressed over the years to become a foreman and, later, clerk of works.
Tomsie built his first house, which was sold, and his current modern dwelling on Station Road, Lahinch. During the winter, he worked as a carpenter and hired bikes and sold other items in the family shop in the summer.
In 1962, the first RNLI committee had Barney Higgins as chairman and Tomsie as secretary with support from other locals such as Michael Vaughan Senior.
While the chairman had to step down after a five-year period, this stipulation didn’t cover the secretary’s position, which was one of the factors that led to Tomsie remaining in this position almost 60 years later.
Even though the make-up of the committee changed over the years, at every annual general meeting the refrain was the same – “Tomsie, you will stay on as secretary”.
The initial focus of the committee was on church gate collections and fundraising ventures. A few tragedies highlighted the need for access to a lifeboat.
He recalls the group was able to assist in rescues for any boat that got into trouble along the West coast of Clare. Tomsie and three other group members were qualified marine radio operators and they purchased hand-held radios.
In the early sixties, the group met Clare County Council officials to express concern about lifeguard cover during the summer months. This helped secure water safety training in Lahinch swimming pool, which facilitated three lifeguards for the pool and beach.
In 1952, he got involved in An Tostal, a Bord Fáilte venture to extend the tourism season and set up a local group to run this event.
In the early seventies, Tomsie recalled a survey conducted by a marine expert revealed the population and projected call outs didn’t justify the presence of a lifeboat based in Lahinch all year round.
In 1973, Tomsie used his skills as a carpenter to make a boat with the help of his brother. They made a small sailing boat, Oisín, which he registered and this allowed him to secure a marine radio.
After completing a course, Tomsie also became a licenced marine radio operator, which meant that he could make communications with and be contacted by the station in Valentia, who would contact him if a marine difficulty emerged along the West coast.
With the help of a 30 foot mast, Tomsie used to broadcast weather forecasts for fishermen from Slyne Head to Fenit for about 25 years.
“Clare fishermen would ring me if they were out lobster fishing because overnight the winds could change. They were very dependent on the forecast I would give them in the evening so they could go and lay their pots.”
When the former Clare Champion correspondent got a second heart in 1977, he was advised to slow down and had another cardiac arrest in 1984 and got a pacemaker fitted in 2009.
Tomsie also got involved in numerous community organisations in North Clare such as social services in Lahinch that later set the seeds for Clarecare.
He helped set up the Friends of Ennistymon Hospital, which prevented its closure and over the years raised money for a major upgrading and provision of a daycare centre in 1979. He helped collect an estimated €3 million during a 28-year period.
He spent six years on the board of the National Combat Poverty Agency.
Nominated to become a church collector in place of his father back in the fifties, Tomsie developed a great love for community and saw the social needs in the locality as he fundraised to build a church in Lahinch and Ennistymon.

by Dan Danaher

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