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Former Doolin Coastguard volunteer and Deputy Officer In Charge Tom Doherty who has 34 years service with the unit.

‘That really knocked the heart out of me after 34 years’

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A FORMER Doolin Coast Guard volunteer has revealed he was very hurt when he heard last year how he and his colleagues were regarded as a danger to themselves and others in the unit.

Tom Doherty was a former deputy officer in charge of the Doolin Unit and has worked as a ranger in the Cliffs of Moher for the last 16 years, which has helped him to build up a wealth of knowledge about the landscape and where bodies are sometimes found in the sea.

As a ranger, he is often the first point of contact when someone dies.

This dovetailed very well into his role as a Coast Guard volunteer, which proved invaluable during numerous rescue and recovery missions.

Coast Guard director, Eugene Clonan told a Joint Committee on Transport and Communications on Thursday, November 18, 2021, “The Doolin Unit has been having problems for years. Six members resigned and there are 12 members left. Based on what I have been told, my belief is the interaction between the team is not safe.

“The 12 members are not safe to go out because of the issues that have arisen as a result of the internal conflict. I will not have people going out to sea or climbing cliffs if I do not have confidence in them doing so safely,” he stated.

Mr Doherty said, “When a national Coast Guard representative stated we were a danger to ourselves and others, that really knocked the heart out of me after 34 years. That was very hurtful. It left me wondering what did I do wrong.”

In 1987, the Doolin native joined the local Coastal Life Saving Service while he was in his mid thirties as some of the middle aged volunteers wanted to recruit some younger members for cliff climbing.

When he was in his late twenties and early thirties, he enjoyed caving and abseiling down cliff edges as a pastime.

Mr Doherty and his brother, John, were two of the first to get involved in the cliff climbing system as people were needed to abseil down Isle na Sharach and smaller cliffs from Fisher Street, Doolin towards the Cliffs of Moher.

In the early eighties, Tom recalled a fisherman broke his leg on one of the cliff ledges and had to crawl out of the area himself because there was no way of taking him up out of the area safely.

As this life saving service evolved over the years, the name changed to the Doolin Coastal Cliff Rescue, the Irish Marine Emergency Service and then became Doolin Coast Guard around 2000.

He recalled one occasion he saw a fissure opening in the rocks near the Cliffs of Moher and felt it should be monitored, having worked in quarries for 15 years.

“I am always up walking around the Cliffs. I will be looking at the Cliffs to see if any rocks have fallen. One one occasion in 2010 I noticed the joint had widened on one of the rocks on the ledge. I knew this was going to fall.

“I told management at the Cliffs and I brought some Coast Guard members up to show them and told them don’t walk on this area because it is going to fall. Within three months, all the section of rock had gone.”

Tom was a constant presence during all these changes. When Tom first joined there was no uniform of Personal Protection Equipment given to volunteers, apart from helmets for climbing. Overalls were the first piece of clothing that was provided, boots came next and then helmets.

On October 13, the best man at the wedding of a man who went missing off the Cliffs of Moher came from France to meet Tom to find out what may have happened.

Tom recalled he and his colleague Bernard Lucas had spotted the body of the man who was subsequently located by Rescue 115.

“I met the best man and the one thing that was bothering him was why his friend didn’t contact him if he wasn’t feeling well. He brought flowers and a card.”

After spending about 30 minutes looking out to the sea, the best man came over and asked Tom who had come over to attend his friend’s funeral.

“The man’s wife and father and mother came over to the Cliffs. The day before they left they came to the Cliffs with flowers. I took them over to a particular location and I threw up the flower where I knew the wind would take it over the cliffs. They were really happy to be able to do this,” he recalled.

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