The Blackwater is catching!

I’ve always been passionate about “the Irish Rhine”, Munster’s Great River, the Blackwater. I’m proud to know it so intimately, having swum every inch of it between Ballyhooly and the sea (the bottom 70 km of its 170 km course). The Blackwater Valley is truly stunning: with breathtaking scenery around every corner, and peace. Exploring it at a swimmer’s pace is a great way of appreciating, and from a unique angle. It’s a shame that, until recently, I was one of very few people to have experienced this, so I’m delighted that members of Blackwater Triathlon Club have started pushing out their distances in the water and are making good use of the beautiful river on our doorstep! Over the last two weekends, they started catching the bug…

Cregg/Castlehyde to Fermoy Rowing Club

The first swim, from just upstream of Castlehyde House to Fermoy Rowing Club, a distance of about 4 km, was last Monday morning. Dave Mulcahy, Declan O’Keeffe and I had been doing this swim once a year for the last few years, but this was the first time that a decent-sized group took on the challenge…

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Setting off in dribs and drabs from the riverbank just upstream from Castlehyde.

The swim was a great opportunity for many to challenge themselves with their longest swim to date, which it was for most of the 15 swimmers who completed it. It was also a good opportunity for my boyfriend, Wagner, to get to grips with kayaking for a bigger group of swimmers, which it turns out mightn’t be as tough as listening to them talking about swimming!

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Wagner getting used to the kayak…and listening to swimmers talking about swimming!

The swim was thoroughly enjoyed by all who took part, so much so that the possibility of an organised event is on the cards for next year, though maybe starting just below the fast water…

Blackwater Sub-aqua Club to Clondullane

The second swim took place last Sunday. It was a little longer, at 5 km, but seven dedicated swimmers took up the challenge (that number would likely have been higher had Cork not been playing Waterford in hurling at the same time). We had plenty of safety back-up for this swim, with Wagner kayaking again, as well as Declan’s daughter Anna and one other also kayaking, and Iain MacCallum accompanying us in a boat. Again, all completed the swim and are looking forward to doing it again!

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Assembling on the Blackwater Sub-aqua Club slipway, just downstream of the town.

What’s next?

Now that appetites have been wet for longer swims in the river, we may be able to get a group to try out the 7 km from Cappoquin to Villierstown, in the tidal reach of the Blackwater. From there, who knows, let’s hope that it’s just the start of great long-distance swimming culture on our great river!

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I have a blog, I haven’t forgotten!

***I originally wrote this post on Christmas Eve last but, for a variety of reasons, I’ve had to delay making it public until now. I’m glad that it’s finally up here and open to everyone!***

I know, I know, it’s been an age since I last posted anything on this blog. Why have I not been writing? The honest answer is that I haven’t really had much to write about, and that I couldn’t really be bothered to write, quite frankly. So, what have I been up to? Plenty, but not a whole lot of swimming, to tell the truth…

Photograph – Adrian Healy

Racing the 1,500 m in UL back in March. I haven’t seen the inside of the building since – oops! (Image: Adrian Healy)

A few weeks after my last post way back in March, I found myself in a somewhat awkward situation and having to finally confront some personal issues that I had been choosing to ignore for far too long. The first of these was the pretty poor state of my mental health throughout most of my first two years at university, the causes of which were many and varied, but which need not be discussed here. Just what it was that brought that awful period to a close was what forced me to talk about it… To cut a long story short, I took comfort in the company of a friend, another boy, and gradually began to think of him as more than just a friend. After a year, I couldn’t bear to keep the secret anymore, and so I told him how I felt. This was a huge step for me as I had never told anyone – and I mean absolutely anyone – either about my mental health or that I was gay. Unfortunately, though not unexpectedly, this step didn’t go all that well. Knowing that this [as well as other complicating factors that revealed themselves in the following days and weeks] might trigger another, possibly worse bout of whatever it was that I had suffered before, I started talking. I was and am very lucky to have the most incredibly supportive friends and family, who helped me to process a good decade’s worth of emotional sh*t, for want of a better phrase, that I had built up in my head. I am beyond grateful for everything that they have done for me. So, thank you to everyone who has supported me!

But I did do *some* swimming!!!

As you might have seen in posts from earlier this year, I had gone back to training properly in the pool with my old club, Fermoy SC. That actually went quite well! Thanks to starting some light running and regular pool training, I lost a decent amount of weight and made a lot of gains in the pool, finally going under the minute in the 100 m freestyle and making good PBs in the 400 m and 1,500 m events too. I even managed to compete in the 400 m event at the Irish Age Group Championships & Summer Open in July, something which I’d given up on five years ago. I had an okay-ish season in the open water too, though I didn’t swim any major distance. I did go back to the Costa Brava though for my favourite event ever, the 6.5 km Marnaton “eDreams”  Cadaqués, where I had an “interesting” race that I might discuss in a later post… I’m sorry to say that there was little other news on the open water front – it would appear that weight loss and cold water tolerance don’t agree very well with one another!

Photograph – Edna English

On the podium again in Cadaqués. Not exactly in the position that I’d have liked but good to share it with meu amic, Albert Cortés Rovira. (Image: Edna English)

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The beautiful village of Cadaqués just after the swim – a truly stunning location! (Image: Owen O’Keefe)

Much to the disappointment of many, I did dip my toe into the world of triathlon this summer. Many dyed-in-the-wool open water swimmers would have me hanged, drawn and quartered for such a transgression! I must say that I’ve really enjoyed having a variety of sports in which to train. I always have and always will love swimming, so no need for an explanation there. I think that running is a very accessible sport (it’s inexpensive and there are so many opportunities for participation) and one which is very social too. Cycling I have found very enjoyable in a solitary way. Plus, I live in great cycling territory, something that my friend, Eoin McCarthy, will vouch for…

Side note: Many congratulations to Eoin on recently signing for the An Post-Chain Reaction Seán Kelly cycling team! Continued success to this incredible athlete…

As regards the sport of triathlon itself, I joined my local club, Blackwater Triathlon Club, this year and really enjoyed being part of the club, especially cycling the Ring of Beara, which was a fantastic experience. Once trained up a bit, I took part in two sprint distance triathlons: one in Carrick-on-Suir and one at home in Fermoy. The local event, which is now part of the Triathlon Ireland National Series, was amazing and I enjoyed it immensely. I wasn’t displeased with my performance either, I must admit. So, yeah, triathlon: it gets the thumbs up from me!

Photograph – Finbar O'Hanlon

Look, there I go………triathlon-ing! (Image: Finbar O’Hanlon)

Anyway, forgetting for *two seconds* about university, that’s pretty much what I’ve been up to since I last posted. While there are a lot of things that I’d rather forget about, 2014 has not in fact been the worst year ever and I can write now a happier and healthier person than ever before. Finally, a very happy Christmas [or whatever mid-winter festival you’re celebrating] and see you in the new year!

Go mbeirimíd beo ag an am so arís, and let’s hope that it’s not an am so arís before I write anything on here again…

“How’s the water?”

My apologies for not having posted in so long, the exams are over now though and I’m back in the land of the living at last! I’m pretty much a full-time swimmer for the next three months which is a nice change, though it’s not that easy at the moment with water temperatures well below average for the time of year…

Open water swimmers all around Ireland and the UK go to great lengths to avoid the tabooed use of “the ‘c’ word”, i.e. “cold”. The current unwillingness of the water to heat up reminded me of a great word that is possibly confined to use by a particular generation of swimmers on the River Blackwater in Fermoy.

When asked “How’s the water?” or “What’s it like?”, my grandfather, Leo Bartley and other such swimmers would often give the ambiguous answer “‘Tis holding”. This would leave the innocent enquirer none the wiser as to the actual conditions.

What exactly is meant by the word “holding” depends on what the water has been like over the last few weeks, so it’s completely meaningless to anyone who hasn’t been swimming in the area long-term, let alone those who don’t swim at all! I had planned to do a 3 hour training swim in the river this morning but had to get out after 1 hour 45 minutes. I think “holding” was appropriate in the negative sense here as it hasn’t warmed up for ages. “Holding” is a good thing in August and September though when it should really be getting colder. In summary, “holding” is a very welcome temperature in Autumn, but not so welcome in Spring!

Other words used locally to avoid saying “cold” include: fresh, refreshing, bracing, hot, boiling, gorgeous, beautiful, te, too warm, roasting and many, many others. This is possibly a reflection of a habit of doing a lot of talking about swimming and maybe not so much actual swimming!

Yes, I’m still here!

I haven’t posted in a while, but I am still here! The last week and a bit have been very busy with a college field course. We had a great 3 days doing ecological research in Garretstown (one of our less regular swimming spots), Castlefreke (not advisable to swim here) and Glengarriff (home of the Gaddin’ About Garnish swim). I seemed to be one of the few people to get the reports in on time so that leaves me with almost 3 full weeks to study for the summer exams, or maybe get distracted and actually do some swimming!

In my absence from blogging, though, I have actually been doing some swimming for a change. On Sunday, I travelled to the University Arena in Limerick for some long course training with Fermoy SC and have been swimming regularly with them over the last few weeks. As well as that, the weather has been improving so Dave Mulcahy and I headed for a swim in the Blackwater on Tuesday. The water temperature was much higher than expected (about 8ºC) but there was a strong flow which was reflected in our 0.5 km splits of 16 minutes and 5 minutes for our 1 km dip! Hopefully the trend in increasing temperatures and increasing swimming will continue over the next few weeks, and maybe I might get some study done as well…

Ba mhaith liom ádh mór do ghuí ar gach duine atá ag déanamh a scrúduithe béil sa Ghaelainn agus sna teangacha eile an tseachtain, mo dheirfiúr ach go h-áirithe. Go n-eirí go geal libh go léir!

Entries open for two great swims in June…

Promotion – Owen O'KeefeThis week entries opened for two great swims this June. On the evening of Friday, 14 June, the Martin Duggan Memorial Swim will take place over a 2 km course on the River Blackwater in Fermoy. This swim began as the Blackwater Swim in 1999 and, 10 years later, changed its name in memory of Martin Duggan, a local schoolboy who drowned tragically in the river on 12 July 2012. All information relating to entry criteria, etc., can be found on the event website (linked above). One aim of the swim has been to encourage people of all ages, but especially young people, to take part in open water swimming and learn to enjoy swimming outdoors in a way that is safe. Another aim of the swim is to show the people of Fermoy that our beautiful River Blackwater is not something to be feared and avoided, but rather something to be respected and enjoyed.

Photograph – George O'Keefe

The second wave of 2 km swimmers during the in-water start for the Martin Duggan Memorial Swim in 2010.

Any money left over after the all of the costs of running the event have been covered are donated to the Blackwater Sub-Aqua Club Search & Recovery Unit who are based here in Fermoy and who have provided great support for this swim over the last few years.

Another swim that supports its local water rescue services is the Myrtleville to Church Bay Swim which raises money for Crosshaven RNLI. This swim is also 2 km in length and is organised by the Myrtleville Swimmers. This year’s swim takes place on Sunday, 16 June and entry is through the Myrtleville Swimmers website (linked above).

Photograph – Myrtleville Swimmers

The crowd just before the start of the Church Bay Swim in 2012. I believe that I came third in this race, behind Chris Mintern and Ned Denison.

Despite the protracted winter and ever-elusive spring, their is a great sense of optimism about the 2013 open water season with some new events being created and existing events raising their profiles. Let’s hope it lives up to expectations!

A Bit of a Whinge…

There’s really very little going on at the moment – the winter has been dragging on and on this year with double figure temperatures still very elusive and frost most mornings. From taking to the gang at the Sandycove Swimmers spring dinner the other night, it sounds like practically nobody is swimming in the sea at the moment! Because of this, I’ve pretty much nothing to write about so I’ll just have a bit of a whinge instead…

Last year, works began on the Fermoy South Drainage Scheme. The aim of this scheme is to “save” the town from floods which happen once or twice a year. So far, the whole project has cost, I believe, some where in the region of €37 million (with no guarantee of effectiveness), has caused untold disruption in the town, more so than any flood has, not to mention the total loss of the aesthetic appeal of the town, mostly through the loss of trees.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Flood prevention works on Ashe Quay, Fermoy as seen from the bridge on 5 April 2013.

My main issue with the project is that it seems to be part of an ongoing process of Fermoy turning its back on the river. Were it not for the River Blackwater, the town wouldn’t even be here and it is still the source of a huge amount of revenue in the town, especially during the summertime with visiting coarse and game fishermen and oars-people. The total abandonment of the plan of what works were to be done when has meant that there has been a big reduction in parking in the town centre and extremely limited access to the river. This has affected both Fermoy Rowing Club, who may even have to cancel the Fermoy Regatta which is one of the busiest days of the year in Fermoy, and swimmers who haven’t been able to get in and out of the river. It remains to be seen when the whole affair might be completed – it won’t be anytime soon.

On the plus side, though, we have gotten a nice new slipway out of the whole project. This new slipway is located on Barnane Walk, immediately in front of Fermoy Rowing Club, and should make it safer and easier for large groups to get in and out of the water…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

New slipway at Fermoy Rowing Club just after opening on 4 April 2013.

On a related subject, entries are now open for the Martin Duggan Memorial Swim 2013 on Friday, 14 June at Fermoy Rowing Club. You can enter online or on paper and all relevant information can be fount here: Enter | Martin Duggan Memorial Swim

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Back to the Blackwater

I’ve done virtually no open water swimming so far this year. I did a quick dip in Sandycove a few weeks ago which I wrote about in My first sea swim of the year… but nothing else since. I’ve been trying to concentrate on my fitness, etc. in the pool and worry about the open water when it [eventually] warms up enough to be able to do proper swims. For the last few years, Dave Mulcahy and I have been aiming to be back in the Blackwater for about St. Patrick’s Day. Though it has been a cold March so far, Dave and I decided that we’d better get in before we put it off for another month!

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

First river swim of the year in the Blackwater on St. Patrick’s Day.

So just before the parade on Sunday, we headed down to the Rowing Club where we got changed. It was to be my first time to use the new slipway, which is not quite finished but suitable for use. Dave had already had the privilege of using the new slipway, and was among the first to do so, during the Fermoy Christmas Day Swim last December. It was a dry, bright morning but a cool one at the same time. There was a slight westerly breeze, which was a nice change from the chilling north-easterly which we’d had for the last week or so. Another nice change was being able to walk all of the way into the water, a much easier entry than we previously had!

My first few strokes felt good, even if I found it a little hard to take a breath. I decided that it would be better to lift my head up for a few strokes and then go back to normal swimming again. After a minute or two, my hands and feet became quite sore, as did my face. I felt like getting out but then thought of my ice swimming friends and other, colder swims that I’d managed before and decided to keep calm and keep swimming. After about 200 m, which took about 6 minutes swimming against the current, I decided that I’d done enough and decided to head back to the slipway at my ease.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Dave on the new slipway at the Rowing Club on St. Patrick’s Day 2013.

Dave turned at the same time as me and we arrived back at the slipway having swum for about 10 minutes. Dave and I estimated the water temperature at about 6ºC so I was pleased enough to have done 10 minutes at that temperature. Hopefully, it will start warming up soon and we will be able to do longer swims!

As Nuala Moore often reminds me, the swim isn’t over until you are dry, dressed and regaining body heat. On this occasion, I managed to get dressed reasonably quickly (this was a great achievement for me) and my feet, which were very painful on exiting the water, starting to warm up pretty quickly. Things didn’t go so well for Dave, however, who discovered that his pants were locked into the Rowing Club! He then had to endure the walk of shame back to his car and drive home to ask Brigid, his wife, to collect them from the clubhouse after the parade. He won’t make that mistake again…

It was an enjoyable swim, all in all, and it feels good to have finally been in the river. It can only get warmer from here and, hopefully, I’ll start to see the results of my winter “quality rather than quantity” training in the pool.