THE TEAM behind the restoration of the historic Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat invited guests to its shelter in Donaghadee’s Copeland Marina car park at the weekend, to celebrate an important stage in the project.

THE project to restore the historic Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat in Donaghadee reached an important milestone at the weekend.

A special event took place at Copeland Marina car park marking the completion of work on the exterior of the former lifeboat, which is part of a three-stage initiative by the Donaghadee Heritage Preservation Company (DHPC).

Having already completed a shelter around the lifeboat to allow conservation work to take place, there are now plans to create a heritage centre in the town of which the lifeboat will be the focal point.

The chairman of the DHPC, Alan Couser, said the event on Saturday was to celebrate the completion of work on the exterior of the lifeboat and to view a new raised walkway and display panels, funded by the Garfield Weston Foundation.

“In addition to the Foundation, the company wishes to acknowledge the significant contributions it has received from the Kelly Family, who paid for the paintwork, the Copeland Distillery, the Headley Trust (Sainsbury Family) and the Lottery Heritage Fund and the Co-op Community Fund, as well as many private donors,” said Mr Couser.

He paid tribute to John Moore, who did the painting of the lifeboat; Andy McGuire, who built the raised walkway; Mark Thompson, who designed the display panels and the company Black Sheep, who supplied the panels.

“When the company was founded with the object of building a visitor and heritage centre for Donaghadee many were sceptical about whether we could ever do it,” he added.

“That scepticism must by now be receding.  We see the project as entirely feasible and we have a concept that no-one seriously questions.  Does anyone doubt that Donaghadee, with its growing visitor appeal, needs a facility to receive visitors?  Or does anyone question that this town, with its exceptional history as one of the historic, strategic gateways to the island of Ireland, justifies having a state-of-the-art heritage centre?  No, the project makes total sense, and it will happen.”

Mr Couser said there is a partnership with Ards and North Down Council, massive community support and a willingness from a range of charitable trusts to back the project.

“And above all, a really strong and enthusiastic team of Board members and volunteers,” he added. 

“The company depends very largely on the work of volunteers, and I would encourage anyone interested in volunteering or joining the company as a member to contact us on 028 9188 9180 or by emailing

The Mayor of Ards and North Down, Jennifer Gilmour, confirmed the council’s support for the project and spoke about her own family’s association with the Princess Victoria disaster. 

Her grandmother had been a telephone operator in Larne who had had to handle a huge number of calls from distressed relatives enquiring about what had become of their loved ones.

Designer and broadcaster Mark Thompson also spoke about his family’s association with the tragedy and read the poem his grandfather had written in honour of the lifeboat’s coxswain, Hugh Nelson Snr.

Other guests at the event were North Down MP, Stephen Farry, former Strangford MLA Lord Weir, North Down MLAs Stephen Dunne and Andrew Muir, and councillors Mark Brooks, James Cochrane, Janice MacArthur and Gillian McCollum, along with senior officers of the council.