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RNLI celebrates lifesavers on call this Christmas with one Wexford lifeboat family giving generations of service

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has launched its annual Christmas fundraising appeal, with a focus on the generations of families who have volunteered their time and commitment 24/7, 365 days a year, to ensure the charity’s lifesaving service has continued for nearly 200 years. The charity has highlighted the dedication of one such family in Rosslare, through their Christmas campaign, who can trace their lifesaving back five generations to the 1800s.

Rosslare Harbour RNLI Lifeboat Volunteer Sean Cullen (18) holding photographs of his great-great grandfather James Wickham and great-grandfather Jack Wickham, both former lifeboat coxswains.

The Wickham family from Rosslare in Wexford have an incredible record of service, having five generations serve on the lifeboat, from Thomas Wickham in the late 1800s, who was the Lifeboat Coxswain, followed by his sons Edward and James, both of whom also became Coxswains. Then Jack Wickham, James’s son, was second Coxswain and Mechanic on the lifeboat, while his son Matt became station mechanic. Matt’s cousin Fergus Wickham was also lifeboat Coxswain and his brothers Brian and Billy were volunteer crewmembers. The current generation have also become lifeboat crew with Matt’s grandson, Sean Cullen, becoming a lifeboat volunteer, along with his cousin Ronan Hill.

The family have also received recognition for their callouts, including the Mexico rescue in 1914, which took place over three days, the Mountblairy in 1927, where a crew of five jumped from their wreck onboard the lifeboat and the rescue of seven people in November 1954, when the tanker World Concord broke in half during a storm of exceptional violence in the Irish Sea. Matt’s first callout was to the Tuskar Rock tragedy in 1968.

Matt Wickham is now retired as Rosslare Harbour RNLI Lifeboat Mechanic and crewmember and features with his grandson, lifeboat volunteer Sean Cullen (18) in the RNLI’s Christmas campaign, which celebrates the families that have given generations of service to the lifeboats. Matt was on his first lifeboat callout at 17 years of age. He said, ‘They were a person short and the Coxswain asked me if I’d go and sure I was reared on the sea. My father told me to grab a lifejacket and I was off. I never looked back. It’s very different now, with Sean, he is always training to be ready for every type of callout. Nothing stays the same and the RNLI always changed with the times, with kit and training. I am very proud of the service my family have given to the lifeboats over the years. I never felt it was something to live up to, but we just knew it was something we wanted to do and we knew the stories of those that went before us.’

Rosslare Harbour RNLI lifeboat volunteer Sean Cullen with him mother Mag and grandfather, retired station mechanic and crewmember, Matt Wickham. (Photos: David Branigan / RNLI)

Matt’s daughter Mag Wickham is again sharing a home with a lifeboat volunteer as she watches her 18-year-old son, Sean, volunteer for the lifeboat. Trained as a nurse in Dublin, Mag couldn’t follow family onto the lifeboat, but she now raises funds for the station, following in her own mother and grandmother’s steps. Mag commented ‘I wasn’t tempted to the join the lifeboat crew but my cousin Pamela was a lifeboat volunteer for a while. I knew that Sean would volunteer the minute he turned 17 years of age.

‘With volunteering, everybody is able to do it and the funds raised make it all possible. If you want to help and commit, you’ll be shown how. You’ll be trained, provided with the correct equipment and what you get back, is that feeling of being able to save somebody, with the best people around you. With the RNLI, when someone calls for your help, they really need your help and when you stop and think about that, you realise it is just massive.’

RNLI lifeboats launch throughout the year, including Christmas day, whenever and wherever they are needed. Whatever weather winter throws at them, RNLI crews are ready to battle the elements to save lives at sea and on inland waters. These rescues, and others, all year round, are only made possible by the RNLI’s generous supporters, helping to fund the essential kit, training and equipment needed by lifeboat crews.

To make a donation to the RNLI’s Christmas Appeal, and enable the charity to continue its lifesaving work, visit: RNLI.org/WinterAppeal