An Investment in Life (20 Aug 2010)
CLARE County Council’s expenditure of  €250,000 annually for lifesaving facilities and personnel represents “value for money”.
That’s according to Clare Water Safety development officer, Liam Griffin, who confirmed there is no major reduction in the annual budget covering lifesaving equipment and wages for 30 lifeguards at 12 locations throughout the county.
Mr Griffin said the Clare lifeguard service is a vital facility for day-trippers and tourists who flock to seaside resorts and Lough Derg during the summer.
“When people come to holiday in West, North and East Clare they like to know there is a lifeguard in place to provide assistance in the water if they get into difficulty,” he said.
The council provides four lifeguards in Lahinch and Kilkee; three in Fanore and Spanish Point; two in Bishopsquarter, Ballyvaughan; two in Doolin; two in White Strand, Miltown Malbay; two in Seafield, Quilty; two in White Strand, Doonbeg; two at Cappa, Kilrush; two in Mountshannon and two in Ballycuggeran, Killaloe.
Many lifeguards are third-level students, which restricts their availability during the early summer months. A full-time lifeguard service is provided at all beaches during July and August while in September, the council facilitates a part-time service at the four most popular beaches – Lahinch, Spanish Point, Fanore and Kilkee at weekends, depending on weather conditions.
Anyone who wants to become a lifeguard has to pass a rigorous Irish Water Safety Association examination as well as a stringent water lifesaving and resuscitation test before they can join the panel for interview.
In addition to receiving garda clearance, a lifeguard also completes a manual handling and a child protection course and at least two lifeguards are present for their own safety in all locations.
Mr Griffin revealed that people who are intoxicated have subjected lifeguards to verbal abuse. However, apart from one attack on a lifeguard over five years ago, he pointed out that assaults are rare.
“We advise the public only to swim where there is a lifeguard on duty and we can’t cover every waterway in the county. We also only want to provide a service in a safe environment where our lifeguards are not put under undue risk,” he noted.  
Clare lifeguards have performed very well in national surf lifesaving competitions over the last seven years. Half of the Irish team heading to the lifesaving world championships in Egypt next October are from Clare, including Colm Fitzgerald, Oisín McGrath, Bernard Cahill, Dylan Barrett and Siobhán McGrath.
Clare lifesavers also performed very well at the Irish Junior Surf Lifesaving trials in University of Limerick and White Strand in July 2009. Bernard Cahill, Dylan Barrett, Declan Bredin and Conor Rooney secured places on the boys’ team while Siobhán McGrath, Caoimhe Gowran and Lúise O’Donovan claimed their places in some very close contests.
Ennis man Fionán Cronin, who qualified as a lifeguard in 2007, has been based in Lahinch for the last two summers. With three surf schools in Lahinch, he notes there are always plenty of surfers be it sun, hail, rain or snow.
“Lahinch is known as one of the best locations for surfing in the county. Lifeguards have to keep an eye on the water at all times which keeps us on our toes.
“A lot of people come to Lahinch to learn how to surf, which makes the beach very busy. We keep the body boarders and surfers separate from swimmers as much as possible,” he said.
His three colleagues from Ennis, Cormac O’Sullivan, Tom Whyatt and Bernard O’Brien are all friends having grown up training and competing in the Ennis Swimming Club. They have represented Ireland at the European Junior Surf Lifesaving Championships and are members of the Clare senior surf lifesaving team.
Ennis’ Katie McEnery became a lifeguard in 2007 and has remained in Kilkee since then, which she thoroughly enjoys.
“I love it. Being a lifeguard is different every year because of the different things that happen and the accidents that crop up. We patrol the water on land and in a kayak,” she said.
Kilkee attracts very few surfers compared with Lahinch because it is very sheltered. However, the duo on duty from the crew including Melissa Power (Newmarket-on-Fergus), Gary Ryan (Ennis) and David Marrinan (Ennis) are usually kept busy, particularly at weekends.
Gary Ryan has found his lifeguard training to be beneficial for his medicine training in college and feels the provision of a trained general practitioner would be an added bonus to the lifeguard service.
“Once the weather clears up, the beach in Kilkee can get busy very quickly. Lifeguards also provide advice on tides and how to be safe in the water,” he said.
There is a different emphasis for lifeguards in Ballycuggeran, Killaloe where Kate Brooks (Clarecastle) and her colleague, Gary O’Donoghue (Ennis), work in co-operation with the local Coast Guard Unit to ensure jet skis stay within their confined safety zones.
Ms Brooks, who became a lifeguard in 2008, loves the job, following in the footsteps of her brothers, Maurice and David who provided lifesaving cover in the past in Lahinch and Spanish Point.
“People come to enjoy Lough Derg in Mountshannon and Killaloe because of the service lifeguards provide. It is a big responsibility but it is enjoyable and Ballycuggeran is a beautiful part of the lake,” she said.

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