Sunday, July 21, 2024

Local connection with LÉ Eithne rescue mission

Mullingar man, Pearse O’Donnell, Captain of the LÉ Eithne, has given an insight into life in the naval service and his role in the recent rescue of thousands of migrants from the Mediterranean Sea.

The historic rescue operation, which took place between Sicily and 60km north of the Libyan western coastline, has gained international recognition and it’s significant that a Mullingar man led the 68-man crew in what was a challenging mission.
Commander Pearse O’Donnell joined the Irish Naval Service as a naval cadet in 1979 after completing his Leaving Certificate in St Mary’s CBS, Mullingar. From 1980-1982 as part of his officer training, he spent most of his time with the Royal Navy in the UK. He was commissioned as an officer in the Navy in the rank of Ensign in September 1982 and joined LÉ Eithne on his first appointment as a sea-going officer in 1984. The LÉ Eithne will be his last appointment as a sea-going officer.
“I am 36 years in the Navy and worked my way up to the rank of Commander in 2008. I have been in command of three ships, LÉ Aoife (1998-’99), LÉ Roisin (2007-’08) and LÉ Eithne (2014-’16). Prior to my current appointment, I developed the Navy’s operational capability assessment system and was the Fleet Operations Manager for the navy fleet of eight ships for three years,” he explained.
Apart from Commander Pearse O’Donnell, there is another Westmeath connection with the LÉ Eithne. Chief Petty Officer, Paddy McCormack, who’s in charge of the electrical equipment on the ship, is from Athlone and was one of the watch commanders to care for the migrants for up to 50 hours when they were on board the LÉ Eithne.
“We both had a great laugh the day Westmeath beat Meath in the football. We did not see the match as we had no TV coverage close to the Libyan coast, but we got the result from my brother Padraig by email,” recalled Commander O’Donnell.
A member of a family of seven children, Commander O’Donnell’s late father, Patrick was local AGS Superintendent. He passed away in 2003, but Pearse’s mother, Bridget (94) is very much alive and well and living in Grange South, Mullingar. He has two sisters, Brege McCarrick and Siobhan O’Donnell-Murphy and one brother, Padraig, living in Mullingar, while another sister, Mary, resides in Clare. Pearse also has another sister, Mairtini, living in San Francisco, USA while his brother, Frank, lives in Drogheda.
“I was born in Donegal and came to Mullingar in 1967. I played underage GAA with Patrick Street and Mullingar Shamrocks (under 14/16/18),” he revealed.
Now living in Cork, Commander O’Donnell has a major interest in sport, physical fitness, golf, gardening, marine wildlife and of course family. He is married to Elizabeth and they have three children, Fiach, 22, Lorcan, 19 and Sorcha, 16.
In what was a hugely successful operation, 3,377 people were rescued by the LÉ Eithne in 22 separate search and rescue operations.
“They came from all over North Africa, including some from as far afield as Bangladesh and Pakistan. The migrant craft consisted of either a lightweight rubber dingy of approx. 10m in length carrying 110 persons or a wooden barge of 15m in length carrying 350 persons,” revealed Commander O’Donnell.
“Neither craft were seaworthy enough for a voyage of 300 miles across the Mediterranean and none of the passengers had lifejackets or sufficient space, water or food. They would have died if not rescued,” he added.
A typical operation could last up to 60 hours from start to finish.

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