Saturday August 22 was a red letter day for the South Eastern Mountain Rescue Association (SEMRA) when it officially opened its new headquarters at Heywood Road, Clonmel.
The new building was provided at a cost of €160,000 thanks to the generosity and support of the South Tipperary Development Company, Boston Scientific, Merck, Sharp and Dohme; the County Council, Fire Service and Civil Defence.
“We were formed nearly 40 years ago and now we have a home of our own”, says PRO Jimmy Barry. “We’re not going around cap in hand to anybody else asking if we can use their facilities for training and storage”.
The organisation started life as SEMSA (South Eastern Mountain Safety Association). Local hill walking and mountaineering groups came together to form the association after members of the Tipperary Town-based Tipperary Adventure Sports Club and other volunteers had responded to a plane crash in the Galtees on September 20 1976, helping to locate the crash site and recover the bodies of three men who were returning to Abbeyshrule airfield in Longford from Kilbrittain in West Cork.
Today SEMRA is a 24-hour/365-day-a-year voluntary 999/112 emergency service responsible for mountain search and rescue in an area of over 2,000 square miles of the south east covering the Blackstairs, Comeraghs, Knockmealdowns, the Galtees and Slievenamon. So far this year it has been involved in 21 incidents, responding to calls from the Gardai and ambulance service.
All 44 volunteers, who include 16 members from Clonmel and South Tipperary, receive no remuneration for any team activity. Their common denominator is a love of the mountains and a willingness to assist those in trouble on them. Most are also members of local mountaineering and hill walking clubs. Each year trainees come into the team and only become full active members of the team when they complete a rigorous training course and pass their assessment.
Members are highly qualified in all rescue techniques, advanced first aid training and search management. Courses are attended both at home and abroad to maintain the team to the most up-to-date level in terms of training and equipment. The team regularly trains with the helicopters from both the Coastguard and Air Corps.
Last year 3,147 hours were clocked up on its activities. This included training, callouts, standbys, administration and travel. Last year the team responded to 29 callouts and also attended on Croagh Patrick for the annual pilgrimage.
SEMRA receives a government grant but this meets only one fifth of running costs. The rest has to be raised by flag days, donations from walking clubs in the south east and private donations.
The team has three vehicles and a large amount of specialised rescue equipment. The team’s Command and Control base vehicle is one of the most modern in the country. Independent assessors carry out an assessment of the team on a regular basis. The assessors are drawn from other mountain rescue teams and monitoring organisations from home and abroad.
County Council Cathaoirleach Seamus Hanafin stated at the official opening ceremony that “volunteers like the people in SEMRA are the backbone of so many communities all over this country and we owe them our gratitude and thanks for the work they do.”
For more information log onto www.semra.ie and follow the association on Facebook.