The first lifeboat in Portrush was delivered in December 1860, it was initially named ‘Zelinda.’
The vessel, 30ft long, weighing two ton required six to ten strong oarsmen to propel it.
At that time, Portrush was a small but well established fishing town and a growing tourist destination.
‘Zelinda’ had been sent as a gift by the Royal National Life Boat Institution -RNL(B)I- courtesy of Laura Cecilia MacDonnell, Countess of Antrim.
Laura’s late husband, Hugh Seymour McDonnell was the 4th Earl of Antrim. Laura was highly respected in the Earl’s estate and she took a great interest in the towns within it.
Not long after ‘Zelinda’ arrived in Portrush, the RNLI considered moving it to a new station in Greencastle.
This news was not well received amongst the people of Portrush and a protest meeting was held on 7 January 1864 in the Antrim Arms Hotel (later the Northern Counties).
Leading the campaign, in support of Lady Antrim, was the town’s Presbyterian minister, Rev. Jonathan Simpson.
It was a short campaign, but in the face of several protest meetings spearheaded by the considerable influence of Lady Antrim and Rev Mr Simpson, and a torrent of letters, the battle was won.
However there were two conditions laid down by the Life Boat Institution – the Portrush Lifeboat Station would have to be reorganised and Mr Simpson would have to take over the critical position of Honorary Secretary, today’s Operations Manager.
The name of the first vessel was changed in 1870 to ‘Laura’ in recognition of Lady Antrim’s pivotal role in the creation of the Portrush Lifeboat and in 1985 the station’s first inshore lifeboat was named ‘Jonathan Simpson’.
Today Portrush and the surrounding community are tremendously proud of its Lifeboat crews, the men and women who voluntarily go to sea in often terrible and appalling conditions to fulfil that noblest of acts for their fellow men and women – the saving of lives at sea.
They have done it several hundred times since 1860 and been awarded several gallantry medals as a result and saved many, many lives.
All members of the crew are volunteers and part-time, with the exception of a professional, full-time coxswain.