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Deserved honours for unsung heroes

IT was a proud occasion for many individuals and communities from the western region who were honoured with People of the Year Awards in the Mansion House, Dublin on Sunday last. Among the recipients was the community of Erris and Irish Coast Guard who were jointly honoured, with special recognition for the crew of Rescue 116 which was lost off the Mayo coast in March of last year.
The honour at the 43rd People of the Year Awards, organised by Rehab, was presented by broadcaster Bryan Dobson in recognition of the heroic work of the men and women of the Irish Coast Guard in risking life to assist maritime and coastal communities, while the people of Erris were recognised for their contribution to the search for the missing crew. The Awards were broadcast live on RTÉ One from the Mansion House.
Volunteer member Caitríona Lucas, who lost her life off the Clare coast during a separate operation, was also honoured.
Early on the morning of March 14, 2017, that Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 116 disappeared off the north coast of Mayo. On board were Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt Mark Duffy and winch team Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith. Hundreds of volunteers, fishermen, and colleagues supported the emergency services in combing the area for the missing crew, going above and beyond in a bid to recover the lost heroes.
The bodies of Dara Fitzpatrick and Mark Duffy were recovered in the subsequent searches. Sadly, however, the bodies of Ciarán Smith and Paul Ormsby have yet to be recovered.


Erris men John Gallagher and Dr. Keith Stanway accepted the award on behalf of the community.
Irish Coast Guard Search and Rescue Operations Manager, Gerard O’Flynn, said: “The selfless actions of those who put their lives on the line, for the safety of others, means Caitríona, Dara, Ciáran, Mark and Paul will remain an inspiration to us all . . .
“I would like to pay tribute to the community of Erris who left no stone unturned in supporting one of the most extensive search and investigation operations ever conducted in the area. Every possible assistance was provided, ranging from the fishing community providing local knowledge and advice, shoreline searching and, in particular, the huge catering operation that was put in place to provide valuable sustenance to all participants.  It was indicative of the long-established bond between coastal communities and the Coast Guard services. We are humbled to receive this award which honours the bravery of all of our colleagues and pray that their bereaved families will take courage from this recognition.”
A total of ten awards were presented at the ceremony which was hosted by Gráinne Seoige and Aidan Power and the west was represented with pride.
Members of the community in Ballaghaderreen received an award for their work in welcoming Syrian refugees to the town of Ballaghaderreen and making them part of the community. Tuam’s Catherine Corless again received a standing ovation from the audience in the mansion house when she received her award for tireless endeavours to expose the injustice of the Tuam Babies Scandal and her continued efforts to give the deceased a “voice” and provide as many as possible with Christian burials.
Still keeping it in Galway, the honouring of the All-Ireland hurling winning team was probably the icing on the cake for the west, particularly the presence on stage of Shannon Keady, daughter of former player Tony Keady who died a short time before the team’s All-Ireland success.
Ireland’s longest-running and most prestigious awards event, each of the winners is nominated by members of the public, with Young Person of the Year, Community Group of the Year, International Person of the Year and Sports Person of the Year, among the categories awarded.
Mo Flynn, Rehab Group Chief Executive, organisers of the Awards, said: “We have services throughout Ireland that support thousands of people with disabilities. Every day our teams in communities across the country meet people who are also doing great work, but they do not seek the limelight or get the recognition they deserve. The Awards serve to highlight all that is good about Ireland and honours those whose courage, resolve and bravery is boundless.”