On Friday, February 20th 1914, a Norwegian boat called the Mexico was shipwrecked in a storm on the Keeragh Islands, close to Bannow. Despite the gale force storms, a lifeboat called the Helen Blake from the Fethard on Sea RNLI Lifeboat station set out with 14 crew members to rescue the crew of the Mexico. As the Helen Blake approached the Keeraghs it was battered against the rocks and 9 members of its 14 strong crew were washed away and drowned. Despite this tragedy the 5 surviving crew members were able to reach the Mexico and get all of its crew to safety on the rocks of South Keeragh Island.
The stormy weather continued for days meaning other lifeboats from counties Wexford and Waterford were unable to land on the island to rescue the men. The 5 remaining Helen Blake crew members and the 8 sailors from the Mexico spent 3 days exposed to wind and rain on the rocks without any access to food or fresh water. One crew member of the Mexico died of exposure. By early Monday morning the weather had subsided enough to allow the other lifeboat crews to attempt a successful rescue of all survivors. The wreck of the Helen Blake is still the worst tragedy to hit the RNLI in its history in Britain and Ireland. It has left a legacy of loss that is still felt in the community in Fethard on Sea to this day.
Discussions in Fethard on Sea about how to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the loss of the Helen Blake lead to a proposal to build a replica of the lost lifeboat. The local community sought expert advise and developed a proposal which is financially viable and which would leave a lasting social legacy in the local community. They have engaged actively with the LEADER and Tus programmes in Wexford Local Development as their proposals were being developed and now see the rebuilding of the Helen Blake as an opportunity to develop a training programme in ship building skills for young unemployed people in their locality. Wexford Local Development is strongly supportive of this proposal to provide a valuable training opportunity to unemployed young people and look forward to working with the community in Fethard on Sea to help bring this ambitious plan to fruition. The background to this project can be read at a special Helen Blake website.
The local community require private finance to act as matched funding for future grant aid applications for the construction of the Helen Blake replica and are now undertaking an ambitious fundraising campaign. Last night they launched their crowdfunding campaign to a packed meeting in the Talbot Hotel in Wexford town. People with an interest in maritime heritage or community development are now being given the opportunity to provide support for this innovative project at this critical time in its development. The Helen Blake committee has set up a crowdfunding page on indigogo.com which gives full details of how they propose to crowdfund this much needed finance – The Helen Blake Lifeboat Project