RNLB Mary Stanford

Daunt Rescue
A postage stamp was issued in 1974 to mark the 150th anniversary of the RNLI. This depiction of the rescue of the crew of the Daunt Lightship by the Ballycotton lifeboat RNLB Mary Stanford was chosen as the image to be represented on that postage stamp – Oil painting by B. F. Gribble
Career RNLI Flag
Name: Mary Stanford
Owner: RNLI
Builder: Saunders Roe Ltd, Cowes.
Cost: £9,402-15s-11d
Christened: 7 July 1931
Completed: 22 July 1930
Maiden voyage: 17 September 1931
In service: 1930
Out of service: 1959
Identification: ON733
Fate: Languishing in Grand Canal Dock
Notes: Only Lifeboat to be awarded a gold medal
Donor: John Frederick Stanford, London.
Station Ballycotton
General characteristics
Class and type: Barnett
Tonnage: 2
Length: 51 ft
Installed power: 2 x six-cylinder 60hp Weybury C.6 petrol engines running at 1,200 rpm
Sail plan: auxiliary sail
Speed: 8.88 knots
Capacity: 100
Crew: 12
Notes: saved over 100 lives

RNLB Mary Stanford

RNLB Mary Stanford(ON733) was the Ballycotton Lifeboat from 1930 to 1959. Ballycotton is on Ireland’s southern coast, a trade route to the Americas. There are many dangerous rocks and shallows with on-shore prevailing winds. Ballycotton has a long tradition of life-saving. Mary Stanford had 41 “shouts”[ref]”shouts” = went on 41 rescues[/ref]. and saved 122 lives. She performed what many regard as the most famous rescue: the Daunt Lightship rescue on 7 February 1936. She is the only lifeboat to be awarded for gallantry (boat as distinct from the crew).[ref]Siggins, Lorna (2004). Mayday! Mayday!. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan. pp. 17. ISBN 0717135292. “The volunteers on Ballycoton’s Mary Stanford were awarded a gold, a silver, and four bronze medals, and the lifeboat itself was also given a gold medal for an extraordinary mission”[/ref] Today Mary Stanford languishes in a backwater of Grand Canal Dock. Nearby are timbers, all that remain of the Iris.[ref] Lowth, Cormac (2008). “Maritime Art and D√ļn Laoghaire”. Irish Maritime Art History. Maritime Institute of Ireland. http://www.mariner.ie/history/articles/stories/maritime-art. Retrieved 21 November 2009.[/ref]


Mary Stanford after the Daunt rescue in 1936 (photo credit:RNLI)

Mary Stanford after the Daunt rescue in 1936 (photo credit:RNLI)

The RNLI established a lifeboat station in Ballycotton in 1858.[ref]“History”. Ballycotton Lifeboat. http://www.ballycottonlifeboat.org/history.htm. Retrieved 2009-03-27[/ref] There is a long history of life saving at Ballycotton. The first to be acknowledged by the Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck (predecessor of the RNLI) was when they awarded a silver medal in 1826.[ref] “Lot 214 : Royal National Institute For The Preservation Of Life From Shipwreck silver medal, type 1, engraved (Dennis Cronen), complete with silver ring”. Artfact Auctions. 1998. http://www.artfact.com/auction-lot/royal-national-institute-for-the-preservation-of-1-c-gmef9f5o8x. Retrieved 2009-03-27.[/ref] On 21 December 1825, the vessel Britannia was wrecked in Ballycotton Bay. Her Master, the only survivor, lashed himself to a rock. There he remained for seven hours. In spite of the danger, a local man, Dennis Crowen rowed out and rescued him and then sheltered him in his cottage for four days.

There were many early rescues by coast guards.[ref] Daly, Tony. “coastguards of yesteryear”. http://www.coastguardsofyesteryear.org/articles.php?article_id=14. Retrieved 2009-03-27.[/ref] For example, on 13 December 1850, in a violent storm, the Mountaineer was being driven onto rocks at Dunmanus Point. The coastguards rowed out to assist, and got on board. Then their boat was smashed on the rocks. Fortunately the Mountaineer was carrying a cargo of timber and although damaged, remained afloat. Using their local knowledge, the coastguards were able to steer the Mountaineer to mud flats and beach her. The rescue of the 28 crew of the Mountaineer resulted in the award of one gold and five silver Lifesaving Medals to Lieutenant Goss and the men of Dunmanus Coastguard Station.[ref]Cox, Brian. Lifeboat Gallantry. Spink & Son. ISBN 0907605893.[/ref]


The current lifeboat Austin Lidbury and the new lifeboat station.

The current lifeboat Austin Lidbury and the new lifeboat station.

The need for a purpose-built lifeboat was evident. The boat was delivered in time for the visit of Prince of Wales Albert Edward in 1858. The lifeboats prior to the Mary Stanford were all powered by oars and sail. As ships became larger the need for a motorized craft was realised. On 12 December 1928, the RMS Celtic was wrecked at Roche’s Point, Cobh. She was the largest ship in her day, one of the “Big Four”, the first to exceed 20,000 tons, dwarfing the Ballycotton Lifeboat, which came to the rescue. The Mary Stanford was named on 7 July 1930 by the First Lady, wife of President Cosgrave. The cost, ¬£11,000, was donated by Mr. J.F. Stanford, of London.[ref]“The Life & Times of the Church & Community of Ballycotton; 1921 – 1930″. The Mary Stanford. Scoil R√©alt na Mara, Ballycotton. http://www.scoilrealtnamara.ie/nineteentwentyonetonineteenthirty.htm. Retrieved 2009-03-27.[/ref] There was a previous lifeboat, named “Mary Stanford”. Two years earlier, it had capsized with the loss of all 17 crew in Rye Harbour, England.[ref] “The ‘MARY STANFORD’ Disaster”. Rye Harbour Lifeboat Station. http://www.ryeharbourlifeboat.co.uk/mary.htm. Retrieved 2009-03-27.[/ref] The new Mary Stanford would be more fortunate. She would save many lives, including the famous rescue of the Daunt Lightship. Not only would her entire crew receive gallantry awards, she would be the only boat, in lifeboat history, for a boat to be awarded.[ref]MacSweeney, Tom (16 February 2006). “Seascapes” (smil). Radio Telef√≠s √Čireann. http://www.rte.ie/radio1/seascapes/rams/2006/16february.smil. “the boat also being awarded one, the only time this has happened in lifeboat history”[/ref]

Daunt Lightship Puffin

Daunt rock has always been a hazard to shipping. The first lightship was stationed there by the Irish Lights Board in 1864 following the wreck of the City of New York on the rock. Lightvessel Puffin took up this duty. There was a severe gale on 8 October 1896 and the Puffin vanished.[ref]Blaney, Jim (1996). “Puffin Lightvessel”. Beam Magazine (The commissioners of Irish Lights) 5 (25). Retrieved 2009-03-28.[/ref] The wreck was not found until 5 November 1896, a month later.[ref]“Shipwrecks of Cork Harbour”. http://www.iol.ie/~mkeniry/llpuffin.htm. Retrieved 2009-03-27.[/ref] The remains of the crew were never located. In folklore they remain at their post, as a “Ghost ship”, appearing to warn of impending danger.[ref]“The Phantom Ship”. Phantoms Of The Sea. Waterford County Museum. http://www.waterfordcountymuseum.org/exhibit/web/WAIVersion/article/164/3/. Retrieved 2009-03-27.[/ref]

Daunt Rescue

Oil by Tim Thompson (for prints contact: http://www.timthompsonmarketing.com

On 7 February 1936 a south-eastern gale, with rain and snow, developed into a hurricane. Mountainous waves were crashing over the pier and breakwater transforming the harbour into a seething cauldron, the spray was flying over the lantern of the 196ft high lighthouse[ref]“Ballycotton”. Ballycotton lifeboat station. http://www.ballycotton.com/village_history.htm. Retrieved 2009-03-31[/ref]: “stones, some a ton in weight, were being torn from the quay and flung about like sugar lumps”[ref]The Famous Daunt Rescue (Midleton News). 25 September 2008. http://www.midletonnews.com/issues/sept2508.pdf. Retrieved 29 March 2009.[/ref] At 8am next morning an SOS was received: the LV Comet, on station at Daunt rock, had broken from her moorings and was drifting dangerously. Without waiting for orders, in horrendous conditions, Coxswain Patrick (“Patsy”) Sliney took Mary Stanford to sea. Comet was not at Daunt rock, she was riding at anchor a quarter mile away. Other ships arrived, but dare not approach the Comet in such conditions. Lightships, are not ‘lightweight’, they are heavy: built for endurance. The Comet was being tossed around by the waves, were it to hit another ship, that ship would suffer serious damage.


Oil painting by Bernard Gribble.

Oil painting by Bernard Gribble.

Mary Stanford made several attempts to get a steel cable aboard the Comet. Every time they did, a terrible wave crashed the ships further apart and the cable snapped. When darkness fell, Mary Stanford headed for Cobh to get stronger cables. The Ferry Innisfallen and a Destroyer, HMS Tenedos (H04), stood by. The Lifeboat crew had been, all day, without food. They ate, slept for three hours and received a change of clothing. Early next morning (Wednesday) Mary Stanford returned to Daunt rock. The sea was just as stormy. It was now enveloped by a thick fog. It was impossible to effect a rescue. The lifeboat remained in the storm all day and all night. The Commissioners of Irish Lights vessel ILV Isolda had arrived and stood by while Mary Stanford went to Cobh at 7am to refuel, and promptly returned.

Postage stamp commerating 150 years of RNLI.

Postage stamp commerating 150 years of RNLI.

That evening, the storm increased. Comet drifted closer to Daunt rock. When she was 60 yards from the rock, as darkness approached, the Coxswain decided the only option was to try and get alongside and for the crew to jump for the lifeboat. He knew the dangers. On the first attempt, one man got on board, on the second attempt no one jumped; a third time, and five men were safe. The lifeboat went in a fourth and fifth time, and again no one was able to make it. Two men were still on board, clinging to the rails, too exhausted to jump. On the sixth attempt, as the Mary Stanford came alongside, the two were seized by the lifeboat crew and dragged aboard. (This moment was depicted on the postage stamp).[ref]“Rescue at sea (2)”. http://www.philateliemarine.fr/phil_mar_e/sos2.htm. Retrieved 2009-03-27[/ref]

They then went to Cobh and disembarked the rescued at 11pm and then returned to Ballycotton. Mary Stanford had been away for 79 hours.[ref]Ballycotton History”. Royal National Lifeboat Institution. http://www.rnli.org.uk/rnli_near_you/ireland/stations/BallycottonCork/history. Retrieved 2009-03-27[/ref] The crew had only three hours sleep during the 63 hour rescue (from leaving Ballycotton to disembarking Comet‘s crew at Cobh), they were all suffering from colds, saltwater burns and hunger.

A Gold Medal was awarded to Coxswain Patrick Sliney, Silver Medals to Second Coxswain John Lane Walsh and Motor Mechanic Thomas Sliney, and Bronze Medals to Crew Members Michael Coffey Walsh, John Shea Sliney, William Sliney and Thomas Walsh. Even the boat Mary Stanford received an award – the only time this has happened in lifeboat history. This rescue became legend. It was depicted by marine artists. It featured in popular books.[ref]Boys’ Book of the Sea. p. 64. http://books.google.com/?id=tlIVAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA63. Retrieved 2009-03-27.[/ref] When a postage stamp was issued to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the RNLI, this rescue was chosen. The design of the stamp was based on the painting by Bernard Gribble,[ref]“Ballycotton Lifeboat Postage Stamp Ireland 1974″. Nick Gribble. http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nrg1/BallycottonLifeboatStamp1974.jpg. Retrieved 2009-03-31.[/ref] which depicts the last two lightshipmen being pulled on to the lifeboat.

Other Rescues

Languishing in Grand Canal Dock

Languishing in Grand Canal Dock

Mary Stanford had many other rescues to her credit. The years of the Emergency (as World War II was known) were difficult. There was a serious risk from drifting mines. On 27 January 1941 a mine exploded on the Baltimore shore, demolishing the curate’s house and smashing the windows in the church.

Rescues which merited medals were:

  • On 30 January 1941, there was a strong wind, thick fog and drifting mines. The eight man crew of the SS Primrose of Liverpool were rescued just as she was sinking. Bronze medal awarded
  • On 23 December 1943, the Irish Ash was in difficulties. This rescue took 30 hours. They managed to bring the ship to safety in Cobh. One silver and two bronze medals were awarded.

Some rescues involved the Cliff Rescue Team. On 1 February 1947, the Irish Plane was driven onto rocks below cliffs, west of Ballyshane. The Mary Stanford was called out. Attempts to pull the Irish Plane off the rocks failed as she had been holed and started to breakup. As the lifeboat couldn’t get close enough, because of the rocks, the crew of the Irish Plane were rescued by the Cliff Rescue Team.

Naomh √Čanna and Mary Stanford

Further reading

  • Leach, Nicholas (1 May 2005). The Lifeboat Service in Ireland. The History Press. ISBN 0752435094.
  • Leach, Nicholas; O’Driscoll, Brendan (June 2009). Ballycotton Lifeboats – 150 Years of gallantry. Landmark Publishing. ISBN 978 184306 472 5.


Mary Stanford retired on 16 September 1959 and she was replaced by Ethel Mary. Lifesaving continues at Balycotton, there have been many callouts, including the 1979 Fastnet race. Two Gold, seven Silver, and eight Bronze medals have been awarded to Ballycotton lifeboatmen.

Since March 1998, Ballycotton has been served by Trent Class lifeboat Austin Lidbury.

The Daunt Lightship Comet survived. After she was sold, she became Radio Scotland, a pirate radio station.[ref]Lightships in the Irish Lighthouse Service”. Commissioners of Irish Lights. http://www.cil.ie/sh675x4532.html. Retrieved 2009-10-15.[/ref]

Coxswain Patsy Sliney retired in 1950, he had taken part in the rescue of 114 lives and was awarded Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals .

Mary Stanford was a reserve lifeboat from 1959 until 1969 when she was sold to the Limerick Harbour Commissioners, where she served as a harbour pilot launch until the mid-1980s. An organisation called the “Dublin Nautical Trust” announced plans to establish a floating museum in Grand Canal Dock. The were given a number of historic craft on the understanding that they would be preserved.[ref] Leech, Ballycotton, page 58[/ref] Without funding the work was abandoned. Now the dockmaster refuses to admit boats to the dock unless he is assured that they intended to continue.[ref]Goggin, Brian (Autumn 2002). “Death of a dock”. Inland Waterways News. Inland Waterways Association of Ireland. http://iwn.iwai.ie/v29i3/deathofadock.PDF. Retrieved 2009-10-15.[/ref] Mary Stanford now lies in the backwater of Grand Canal Dock. Beside her is the Naomh √Čanna, which served the Aran Islands.

Effective Service

Effective Services
Date ship home port action saved
17 Sept 1930 Fishing Yawl Boozer Ballycotton saved yawl 2
19 Oct 1930 Steam Trawler Phineas Beard London assistance
10 Aug 1931 Yacht Ailsa Southampton assisted to harbour
26 Mar 1932 Steam Trawler Macaw Milford stood by
27 Oct 1932 Fishing Boat St. Mary and a punt Ballycotton escorted
15 Dec 1934 Steamship Lady Martin Dublin escorted
11 Feb 1936 Daunt Rock lightvessel Comet 8
2 May 1936 Steam Trawler Evaristo Perez Vigo assistance
2 May 1936 Steam Trawler Teresa Camposa Vigo assistance
16 May 1937 Ketch Garlingstone Milford Haven stood by
2 Jan 1939 Motor Drifter Yankee Girl Ballycotton escorted
30 July 1939 Motor Fishing Boat Point Girl Ballycotton saved boat & 4
23 Aug 1940 Motor Fishing Boat Point Girl Ballycotton saved boat & 4
19 Nov 1940 Steamship Nestlea Newcastle landed 22
20 Nov 1940 Steamship Nestlea Newcastle helped
20 Nov 1940 Steamship Nestlea Newcastle saved a boat
30 Jan 1941 Steamship Primrose Liverpool saved 8
29 Apr 1941 Ship’s boat saved boat
12 Mar 1942 Ship’s raft saved raft
15 Dec 1942 Steam Trawler Dereske Milford Haven assisted
23 Dec 1942 Steamship Irish Ash Dublin saved vessel & 35
23 Jan 1943 Fishing Boat Emily Ballycotton saved boat & 4
15 Jan 1945 Drifter Ptide of Rosslare Dunmore East escorted
26 Apr 1945 Fishing Boat Emily Ballycotton saved boat & 2
6 Nov 1947 Steam Trawler East Coast Milford Haven assisted to save vessel & 9
12 Sept 1949 Yacht Betty Cork escorted
11 Oct 1949 Daunt Rock lightvessel landed injured man
10 Jan 1950 Irish torpedo boat M4 gave help
8 Feb 1950 Steamship Joseph Mitchell London saved 13
11 Dec 1950 Fishing punt Ballycotton saved boat & 2
13 Mar 1952 Motor punt Ballycotton escorted
6 Aug 1952 Fishing boat Rapid Ballycotton gave help
10 Sept 1952 Fishing boat Irish Leader Dublin saved boat & 2
10 Sept 1952 Fishing boat St Mary Ballycotton gave help
9 July 1953 Fishing boat Irish Leader Dublin gave help
26 Oct 1954 Schooner Windermere Dublin escorted
4 June 1955 Fishing boat Inis Caol Dublin saved boat & 2
16 Nov 1955 Fishing boat Maid of Loughshinney Dublin saved boat & 2
15 Jan 1956 Fishing boat St Mary Cork saved boat & 2
4 April 1958 Fishing boat Pride Helvick saved boat & 3
10 June 1958 Fishing boat Ballycotton saved boat & 1
10 June 1967 Fishing boat Cait Schull gave help
Source: appendix 3 Leach, Nicholas (2009). Ballycotton Lifeboats. Landmark Publishing. ISBN 9781843064725.

Further Reading

  • Leach, Nicholas (1 May 2005). The Lifeboat Service in Ireland. The History Press. ISBN 0752435094.
  • Leach, Nicholas; O’Driscoll, Brendan (June 2009). Ballycotton Lifeboats – 150 Years of gallantry. Landmark Publishing. ISBN 978 184306 472 5.

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