Meet the Sligo Leitrim Mountain Rescue Team

For many years the Sligo Leitrim Mountain Rescue Team (SLMRT) have provided lifesaving services to walkers and mountaineers across Sligo, Leitrim and beyond. From guiding lost walkers to safety on the mountain through to the recovery of injured mountaineers, and more besides, this group of dedicated volunteers provide an invaluable service to all who access the mountains, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Members of the Sligo-Leitrim Mountain Rescue Team

Recently, Sligo Walks met some of the team at their base, located within the compound at the old Sligo Gaol, and we spoke with several members of the group ahead of a training exercise they were preparing for on Ben Bulben later on in the evening.

Ian Mounsey is team leader with the SLMRT and is responsible for co-ordinating different aspects of the activities of the group, including the live co-ordination of responses to emergency situations as they arise.

“In the event of a call out coming in, the team leader is the first port of call from the Gardaí. From there, the procedures start to follow, notifying the rest of the team members. The team leader wouldn’t be rushing in to the coalface as such, it’s more the management side of it, where you’re finding out what resources you have, get the information on what the nature of the call out is, and planning on the response.”

A completely voluntary group, the SLMRT grew out of the Sligo Mountaineering Club (which is still going strong) and the original members were all keen mountain enthusiasts.

Fiona Gallagher is a 25 year veteran of the SLMRT and is currently the group’s training officer, responsible for the recruitment and training of new members. In relation to those who become part of the team, she says:

“All members are trained to a national standard. They pass a rigorous interview, they are expected to do a lot of work outside. We are the only voluntary 999 service, and I think that says a lot about our level of dedication, not just ourselves but all who have gone before us.”

The group receives some public funding, however, increasing insurance costs mean that much of this is spent before new equipment can be purchased. And while special grants, such as the one which enabled the team to acquire a 4 wheel drive vehicle, are very welcome, it’s hard to provide a service with limited public funding.

“We need a little bit more recognition, a little bit more security of funding from the Government. We’re never quite sure from one year to the next what we’ll get,” says Fiona.

As a result, much of the income required to run the service comes from voluntary contributions, fundraisers and bucket collections, and it seems very unfair to ask these dedicated volunteers to provide so much of their time in raising the funds required to enable them to rescue people from perilous situations.

In the past 12 months, the SLMRT responded to 15 different requests for assistance. In some cases, people who need assistance on the mountain have been poorly prepared for the experience, and in other cases the team has dealt with people who prepared diligently and were just unlucky, for example, slipping or tripping on their descent. Whatever the case, the SLMRT will always respond to a call from the emergency services.

One of the responders, Chris Taylor from Strandhill, says that there are some simple steps people can take, which will, in large part help to avoid unfortunate incidents. There are questions each walker should ask themselves before heading out, especially on higher and more remote terrain.

“How to anticipate the weather, what to do if the weather closed in, any basic navigational experience, there’s a lot of mountain skills courses provided by Mountaineering Ireland, provide you with the basic background that I think is very well worth anyone’s time to go out and get the basics of how to read a map, how to use a compass. For an awful lot of callouts across the country (they) could be avoided,” he says.

So the message is, be prepared. And with so many beautiful walks on our doorstep, it’s equally important to enjoy the Great Outdoors and its many health benefits.

Ian Mounsey moved to Sligo from his native Scotland over a decade ago and has seen a huge upsurge in the popularity of walking. Especially with the development of many new walks in Sligo, he says that the time has never been better for people to get out and enjoy them.

“They’re well marked, the pathways are there, there are plenty of maps around, the Sligo Walks website has plenty of information on some very good walks around Sligo county. Certainly in the last few years, with the likes of the advertising of the Wild Atlantic Way, and the new walks being introduced, it’s certainly getting a lot busier and it’s very good for the region.”