A Brief History of the Lifesaving Foundation

The Irish Lifesaving Foundation grew out of a seed planted in a graveyard in Wales. John Long, then Royal Life Saving Commonwealth Secretary General, met John Connolly, then Branch Secretary of the Republic of Ireland Branch of the RLSS in the graveyard. Both had arrived early for the memorial service for the late Charles Thomson, President of The Surf Life Saving Association of Great Britain and were filling in time by walking around the graveyard. Although they knew about each other this was their first meeting.

They talked about lifesaving in Ireland and around the world and by the end of the day had agreed that RLSS Ireland would send Trainer Assessors to Kenya in 2000 to train lifeguards for jobs in hotel swimming pools. This was our first exposure to ‘Africa Time’ and it was 2002 by the time a very successful project was completed in Kenya. Although Irish lifesavers didn’t go to Africa until 2002 equipment and money was being donated to the RLSS Commonwealth Office since 2000 for distribution to lifesaving groups in the developing world.

Shortly after the first trainers returned home a request was received to send more lifeguard trainers to Kenya to train beach lifeguards; a German Tourism Group was offering to include beach front hotels in Kenya in its brochure – if the beaches were lifeguarded by lifeguards with internationally recognised qualifications. Plans were made but before they could be implemented bombs exploded in Nairobi and the Kenyan tourism industry and economy collapsed. It was decided by RLSS Ireland to continue with the project and to expand it to other developing countries. This would require money and to avoid confusion as to where monies collected would be spent a separate organisation was set-up.

The Irish Lifesaving Foundation was incorporated as a company limited by guarantee and registered as a charity in 2003. The Foundation is a totally independent organisation with an elected board of directors. Since 2003 the Foundation has provided €150,000 in funding and equipment to small lifesaving groups in Africa and Asia. Direct funding for schools based water safety education and lifeguard training has been given to organisations in South Africa, Lesotho, Kenya, Uganda, Gambia, Sri Lanka, India and Tanzania. Equipment has been provided to organisations in Antigua, Barbados, Botswana, Gambia, India, Kenya, Lesotho, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, St. Lucia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Over 400 lifeguards have been trained to date for employment positions in Africa, India and Sri Lanka. All of the money spent has been donated or raised by Foundation members.

The Foundation has not ignored Ireland’s drowning problems. Our country is well served by lifesaving organisations but we have identified three areas for research and targeted education – why swimmers drown; suicide by drowning and water safety on foreign holidays. We have published research papers and members have spoken at conferences on these topics.

The Ireland Medal was introduced in 2003 to promote an awareness and recognition of excellence in lifesaving in Ireland and by Irish persons or persons of Irish descent worldwide. It is now recognised as being a significant lifesaving honour by the world lifesaving community, thanks to the quality of medal recipients; An Garda Siochana, Admiral Frank Golden, Professor John Pearn, Garda Commissioner Eamonn Doherty, Foyle Search and Rescue, Australian Chief Justice Terence Higgins, Dublin Fire Brigade’s Marine Rescue Unit, and Mrs. Patricia Wilcox from South Africa.

In 2010 the charity’s name was changed to The Lifesaving Foundation to highlight the international aspect of its work. Membership of the Foundation is open to any person who is interested in our work; you don’t have to be Irish to join. About one third of our members live outside of Ireland. You don’t have to be a lifesaving expert either – only interested in saving lives from drowning.