Swim to Tory

At the end of the summer, ideas for swims come flowing into my head as though I could do anything after a long winter in the pool! Last year, an idea hit me to swim from Tory Island to mainland Donegal, a distance of eight and a half miles. I knew that it could be done as it had already been done by Anne Marie Ward from Donegal, Kieran Fitzgerald from Sligo and others. It had been in the back of my mind to do it since I was in third year of secondary school, when I heard, in an Irish listening comprehension test, about Anne Marie’s swim of over eight hours. Recently, I have come to know Anne Marie and, last winter, she offered to help me in whatever way she could if I wanted to do this particular swim. Without further delay, I decided to give it a go!

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

Tory and Inishbofin from Magheraroarty. (Photograph taken on the day of the swim.)

Straight after coming home from Dover, I saw on the weather forecast that there was to be a good day on the Friday of that week. I called Anne Marie and we arranged to meet in Letterkenny on the Thursday. It was a long arduous journey from Fermoy to Letterkenny! After meeting Anne Marie at the bus station, we headed north for her house, we had a bite (actually a big meal) to eat and put together all of the things that we would be needing during the swim. Finally, Anne Marie called Brendan Proctor, the man from the sub-aqua club and he said the weather would be good enough in the morning to swim from the mainland out to Tory, rather than the other direction.

Grianghraf – Anne Marie Ward

Going ashore at Magheraroarty beach for the official start!

In the morning, we got up early and drove to Magheraroarty, the starting place. On our way there, we passed through places that I had only ever heard about on the radio, Gortahork and so on. When we arrived at our destination, the sun was shining and there was little wind. Magheraroarty is a beautiful place, with a large pier, white sandy beach and clean clear water. After a while, Brendan and John Joe from the Sheephaven Sub-Aqua Club arrived with the boat. I put on my togs, hat and goggles. Then, we all got on board, we turned on the GPS tracker and I swam into the beach for the official start.

Grianghraf – Anne Marie Ward

Coming around Magheraroarty pier…

The same rules that apply to English Channel swimming apply for swims between Tory and the mainland. Because of this, I had to go ashore to start the swim properly. As soon as I was on dry sand, I turned around, ran back into the water and started swimming in the direction of Tory!

Grianghraf – Anne Marie Ward

The Tory Ferry on its way to the mainland…

I was very happy at the start of the swim; the sun was shining on my back and the water was much warmer than I had expected – a pleasant 14.5ºC today. As well as this, there wasn’t a jellyfish in sight, something that put me at ease! After a few minutes, the ferry came against us and we got a big wave from all on board. As I was swimming on the west side of Inishbofin, it became cloudy and the wind started coming from the West. This wasn’t the ideal wind direction as we wouldn’t get the same assistance from a westerly wind as we would from a southerly wind, and it was a southerly wind that was forecast. In any case, I kept swimming from feed to feed.

Grianghraf – Anne Marie Ward

Tory still a fair distance away…

After about an hour and a half, we cleared the shelter of Inishbofin and entered the Tory Sound. The tide was running from East to West, directly into the wind, and because of this the waves rose slightly. This didn’t bother me too much as the lee of the boat was giving me some relief from the wind and waves. We continued on like this for about another until the sun came out again. About three hours into the swim, the waves became much higher for between thirty minutes and an hour and there were white horses on them. That was a tough half hour to an hour. At the last feed, however, it calmed down a lot and that gave me a chance to go ashore at my ease.

Grianghraf – Anne Marie Ward

The finish is in sight at last!

I was very relieved when I was able to see the bottom underneath me as I was starting to get some pain in my shoulders by that time. Once we got to the pier, Anne Marie pointed out the beach to me and I swam into it. When I arrived at the beach, 4 hours 21 minutes after I started, I stood up on the sand. There was a crowd of children on the beach, the Islanders’ children, and after a few words with them, I turned around and there was a good crowd on the pier as well. I was very surprised as there’s usually no such welcome at the end of a swim like that.

Grianghraf – Anne Marie Ward

Coming into the beach in the harour on Tory Island.

After a minute, I spotted an older man coming across the beach. One of the children warned me that it was the King of Tory. The King, Patsaí Dan Mac Ruaidhrí, gave me a big welcome and said that it was a great honour for the Islanders that someone had swum out from the mainland. With that, he introduced me to his family and the Islanders and asked one man to take us back to his house and make sure that we got a shower and a cup of tea.

Grianghraf – Anne Marie Ward

With the King of Tory, Patsaí Dan Mac Ruaidhrí just after the swim.

After having a shower and a cup of tea with biscuits, we went back to the harbour. Then, we decided to go to Caife an Chreagáin for some food. On our way there, we met the Queen of Tory who was looking after a young falcon who had landed in Tory after going astray from County Clare! He was a magnificent bird. We met Patsaí Dan again in the café and we all had a great chat. After eating our fill, we went back to the boat and hot the waves. But before we could leave, a young boy asked me if I was going to swim back to Magheraroarty because the “rule” is that if you come on the boat, then you can go home on the boat, but if you swim out, you have to swim back!

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

A bottlenose dolphin as seen from Magheraroarty pier just after the swim…

Half an hour after leaving Tory, we were almost back at Magheraroarty pier, but our adventure was not over yet. Suddenly, four or five bottlenose dolphins came right up to the boat. They stayed with us, playing, for about ten minutes. That really made our day! That was pretty much the end of the day, a long day, but an enjoyable one at the same time. The excitement continued for a few days after the swim; it was in the local papers in Donegal that a young man, from Cork even, had swum from the coast out to Tory and Anne Marie and I had to do an interview with Áine Ní Churráin on the programme “Barrscéalta” on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta.

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

The Hills of Donegal and Magheraroarty beach.

I’d like to thank Anne Marie Ward for all her help and advice in organizing this swim and during the swim itself. I’d also like to thank Brendan Proctor and John Joe Roland from the Sheephaven Sub-Aqua Club for their great support! Finally, thanks to the people and King of Tory for the great reception that they gave us at the end of the swim.

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

Another one of the dolphins that came to greet us on our way back to the mainland…

I dedicated this swim to the memory of my friend, William, who died in the days just before the swim. RIP, Will.

7 thoughts on “Swim to Tory

    • Sorry, I meant to edit that in (I had in the Irish version). It was a very pleasant 14.5°C! Some rivers and lakes occasionally hit 20°C but only during heat waves. The sea never really goes above 18°C, even during the best summers… It’s also generally warmer here in the deep south than it is up in Donegal.

      • Oh…..my……g*d!! I am in awe of you swimming in 14.5C without a wettie. I’m in Sydney and only JUST going back into the sea at the beginning of summer where the temperature has only in the last week gone above 20C. Yes, I am a total wuss! I don’t even dive with a 5ml in 14,5C!!

      • It’s all relative, I suppose. 15°C is considered warm here, and we’ve been forced to do 6 hour swims in 11°C by cruel coaches (who shall remain nameless)! You have jimbles, etc. that we don’t have to deal with, so there are some bonuses to colder water…

      • That’s true; only a few days ago I was hit by a bluey across the arm, a mild sting compared to some I’ve had. Yesterday I was swimming through heaps of jelly blubber which can be a bit disconcerting (non stinging variety fortunately).

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