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Letterkenny Accommodation - Donegal Mountain Rescue

Increasingly over the years people have been straying into trouble in the wild and inaccessible parts of Co Donegal. In a lot of cases the only hope of search and rescue lay with the local guard and whatever hill farmers could be rounded up at short notice. In fact in 1943 when an RAF Coastal Command Shorts Sunderland flying boat strayed off course and crashed high in the Bluestack Mountains it was the local priest who co-ordinated the initial rescue effort.

From  about the mid-1960's organised search and rescue came through the An Oige youth hostel in Dunlewey at the foot of Mount Errigal. An Oige stored mountain rescue equipment at the hostel and groups used the equipment as and when required. During this time An Oige also maintained a national mountain rescue team which responded to large incidents across Ireland.

This ad hoc rescue system worked well enough for Donegal until the early 1980's. An evaluation of mountain rescue provision in Northern Ireland in 1978 had led to the formation of the North West Mountain Rescue Team (NWMRT) based in Derry City. As this team began to develop it brought its members to the Derryveagh Mountains as part of its training programme. During training some local people from the area joined the North West team on its exercises. NWMRT also began to take on the responsibility of responding to incidents in Donegal alongside the existing An Oige arrangements. However, with a response time of nearly 3 hours to Errigal it soon became evident that there was a need for a more locally focused and structured approach to mountain rescue.

Hence In 1982 a group of people from the Dunlewey and Gweedore areas came together to take the first steps in establishing the Donegal Mountain Rescue Team. To begin with they developed a training programme and used the An Oige equipment. In early 1983 the group approached the Irish Mountain Rescue Association (IMRA) and made an application for recognition as a mountain rescue team. This process of recognition took a full year and the Donegal Mountain Rescue Team was granted full recognition and membership of IMRA in 1984. The An Oige team disbanded the same year and many of its Dublin based members transferred to the newly formed Dublin/Wicklow MRT.

Donegal MRT continued to develop throughout the remainder of the 1980's increasing its skills, experience and capability. During this time incidents were not very common. Nevertheless, the team gained valuable experience through dealing with a number of serious incidents.

By the early 1990's the team had obtained its first 4 wheel drive response vehicle which was a decommissioned Forward Control Land Rover Fire Engine. Shortly afterwards an approach was made to Urdras Na Gaeltacht to rent a unit in the Gweedore Industrial Estate to act as a rescue station. In 1997 the team acquired a specially equipped 110 Defender Landrover.

By 2001 the team was well established in the Gweedore area, but was not present in other parts of the county. This meant long response times to parts of the Bluestack and the Slieve League area. As a result the team completely restructured in mid-2002 to begin to develop an effective response strategy which would serve the entire county.

Since 2002 the team has developed its skills and experience considerably and the number of incidents it handles each year has increased. Team members now live and work across the entire county and there are five response vehicles positioned strategically to ensure quick, effective responses to any incidents. It is now 25 years since the first steps were taken to establish the team and soon it will be 25 years as a fully recognised Mountain Rescue Team.

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