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Wednesday 31 May 2023 Dublin: 14°C
# To the rescue
Bear Grylls wants to help save Ireland's most famous lifeboat
The Sir Samuel Kelly was involved in a number of high-profile incidents.

Bear Grylls

ADVENTURER BEAR GRYLLS has backed a new campaign to restore an Irish lifeboat that was involved in the attempt to save his great-grandfather’s life.

The television presenter’s relation, Sir Walter Smiles, was among 130 people who died in the Princess Victoria tragedy of 1953.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s (RNLI) volunteer crew at Donaghadee in Northern Ireland, aboard the Sir Samuel Kelly, risked their lives to save 33 passengers in the incident.

The lifeboat was also involved in saving yachtsmen during the 1979 Fastnet yacht race disaster.

Kelly's Heroes - the crew of the Sir Samuel Kelly    1953.

Grylls said:

I am delighted to express my support and extend my best wishes to the Sir Samuel Kelly Project. I do so out of respect for the 133 passengers who were lost in the Princess Victoria tragedy of 1953. The dead include my great grandfather Sir Walter Smiles at whose home in Donaghadee I spent many happy summer days as a boy.

He said he also does so “out of respect for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the volunteer crew of the Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat who battled monstrous seas for 36 hours and risked their own lives to rescue 33 people from the ferry”.

To the crew of today’s RNLI lifeboat based in Donaghadee, and the 234 RNLI lifeboat crews around the coasts of Britain and Ireland, I express my admiration at their courage and commitment.

He said that the restoration and preservation of the lifeboat, and the construction of a heritage centre in Donaghadee to provide it with a permanent home, “will create a fitting memorial to all those who were touched by the Princess Victoria tragedy”.


Artist's impression of the proposed temporary shelter Artist's impression of the proposed temporary shelter

A new initiative called the SSK Project has been set up to raise money to build a temporary shelter for the lifeboat.

The hope is that the public appeal will raise between £15,000 and £20,000.

The shelter was designed by architects Fraser Bell and Michael Collins, in order to allow the lifeboat to dry out so that the restoration job can be assessed.

The team behind the project also want to secure Lottery funding to build a permanent museum which would have the lifeboat as a centrepiece.

Project spokesman Ken Walsh said that the Sir Samuel Kelly is an important part of Ireland’s maritime heritage and is on the UK’s National Historic Ships register.

Restored, it will be a lasting memorial to the people who were lost in the Princess Victoria and Fastnet tragedies. It will also be a fitting tribute to the bravery of the RNLI crews who daily risk their lives to save others. With public support we believe we can raise the £500,000 needed to build her a fitting home in a town where she was stationed for 25 years and is still cherished.

The Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat was named after a Belfast coal importer and philanthropist who died in 1937, and was built by J Samuel White & Co at Cowes on the Isle of Wight in 1950.

It was stationed at Donaghadee from 1951 until 1976, before becoming part of the RNLI reserve fleet at Courtmacsherry, Co Cork. It was retired in 1979.

The lifeboat was purchased by the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and passed to the project group in 1985.

Walsh added: “We know Bear has a special place in his heart for Donaghadee. He tells us it is where he found his love of the sea and the wild. We are delighted to have his support and encouragement.”

More information can be found at or on Facebook.

Read: How to: Survive when you’re lost in the (Irish) wilderness>

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