Ring-a-Ringarogy

One of my favourite island swims this year was my 10 km swim around Ringarogy, again near Baltimore in West Cork. The island of Ringarogy, Rinn Ghearróige in Irish, is situated near the mouth of the River Ilen. Home to the first swimmer ever to swim around Sandycove Island, Steven Black, the island has a very small population and so it’s a very quiet and tranquil place. Steven (as well as John Kearney, Imelda Lynch and Ossi Schmidt) has swum around the island, both clockwise and anti-clockwise, at various stages in the tide, so if there’s anyone who knows how to do it, it’s him! The benefit of having Steven’s experience to rely on will become apparent later on, when I will describe the swim itself…

Photograph – Unknown

Spanish Island and the south-west corner of Ringarogy.

The swim came at the end of a long and difficult week. The previous Thursday I did my 18.6 km swim from Fermoy to Ballyduff. On the Saturday I did the 6 km Beginish Island Swim in Kerry and in the early hours of the next morning we got the dreadful new that Páraic Casey had passed away during his English Channel solo attempt. That Monday I had a cold and miserable swim in Myrtleville, the following morning did my 15.0 km swim from Ballyduff to Cappoquin and on the Thursday I had lovely “adventure” swim at Kilfarrasy Beach on the Copper Coast with Donal Buckley and did a lap of Sandycove at just before midnight – that’s 5 hours of driving the evening before a long swim!

Anyway, it felt great to be on the road to West Cork on a warm and sunny Friday morning after the week that I’d had! For this swim, I had arranged to meet Steven Black at his house on the island so that he could explain the correct course to me. Also, his son Rowan kindly agreed to kayak for me. As with any visit to Ringarogy, the adventure starts as soon as you cross the causeway onto the island. There is a saying that says that “civilization never crossed Ballymaquirk Bridge”, and this comes to mind once you arrive on Ringarogy. Tarmac on the road is a luxury, and where it does exist, you shouldn’t expect it to extend from one side of the road to the other. While navigating the highways and byways of the island, you may come across one or two of it’s inhabitants “trying to make land where God failed”, as one of them eloquently put it. (In West Cork the land can be rocky and difficult to farm, especially on the islands.) True to fashion, I got completely lost trying to find Steven’s house. I did get there eventually get there but not before having to reverse half a mile down a rugged boreen! (The word “boreen” is Hiberno-English for “small road”, it comes from the Irish bóithrín.) After the 2 hour journey from Fermoy, it was a relief to get out of the car!

Photograph – Unknown

Sherkin Island and Cape Clear as seen from the road on Ringarogy.

Besides the peace and quiet, Ringarogy offers some great views, despite being relatively flat. From the top of Steven’s driveway, one can see all of the island of Roaringwater Bay, including those that I’d already swum around (Sherkin Island, Cape Clear, Heir Island and Spanish Island). In any case, that’s enough about Ringarogy, time for the serious part – the swim!

After getting changed at Steven’s house and loading the kayak into the jeep, we drove to a random gate along the road. There we stopped, leaving no room for anyone to pass, though it was highly unlikely that anyone would wish to do so for a few days at least! We then had to hop over the gate and go on a bit of a trek to find the start (pretty much bang in the middle of the aerial photograph above) in Hackett’s Creek – this was a bit of a rushed job as we had to be started at a certain time to reach the bridge on the causeway at exactly high tide. Just as we were ready to start, I realized that I had forgotten my feeds – ah well, I would just have to do without them!

Photograph – Web

An example of a pelagic siphonophore – these are closely related to the Portuguese man-o-war and have a nasty sting.

I finally hit the water at exactly midday and Rowan followed on in the kayak. The water was about 13ºC, which is a little chilly but ok for a 10 km if the air temperature is warm, which it was. We headed straight for the gap between Spanish Island and another small island, which I think is called Aughinish. There are lots of seals in this area so I was a little bit nervous… Much to my relief, none of the seals that we saw (mostly grey seals) didn’t come too close. Keeping the island on our right, we headed up the Ilen. There were some interesting things to see underwater – there seemed to be a lot of aquaculture in the area and few jellyfish, although I did spot one or two of those stinging siphonophores (pictured right) that I’d first during my swim around Cape Clear a few weeks previously.

It seemed like ages at the time but we made good time to the corner of Inishbeg, where we left the main channel of the Ilen and the swim started to get a bit more interesting. In the narrow channel between Inishbeg and Ringarogy we passed the remains of a passage tomb and exited into a shallow area of slack water known as the Lag. After navigating through some small, heather-clad islands, we could see the bridge (and Steven’s jeep parked near it). I did the silly thing and swam straight for it, which Steven had warned me not to do! I ended up straying out of the channel and into the mud flats – first switching to legs only and then began to resemble one of these:

Having eventually reached the bridge (and deep water) it was good to see Steven waiting there with my feeds! He dropped the feed down to me and I drank it and through the bottle back up. The tide was still pushing me back under the bridge so we had time for a quick chat before it turned and we continued on the swim. I felt great having had a feed and having the tide with me. We kept on our course, passing all the familiar sites of Church Bay and Baltimore Harbour. Then, we entered the very narrow gap between Ringarogy and Spanish Island – this is the most beautiful part of Hackett’s Creek and it’s a real pity that I’ve no photographs of it. About 10 minutes later, we arrived back where we started. Rowan stopped the stopwatch on his mobile phone and told me that my time for the 10 km was 2 hours 30 minutes – not too bad for me!

Steven came back down and picked us up. He kindly let me use the shower in his house before having a sandwich and hitting the road for Fermoy. Thanks to Steven and Rowan for a great swim around Ringarogy – island number five for me…

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