Martin Duggan Memorial Swim 2013

Last Friday evening, I took part in what was my first Martin Duggan Memorial Swim in the beautiful River Blackwater. I’ve been organising this event since it before it changed its name from the “Blackwater Swim” in 2009 so have been present at every swim but never actually taken part. This year, however, I was able to place the running of the event in the very capable hands of Brigid Noonan and Jim Sheehan while I took a half-hour beak from the organisation to see how the swim looks from the swimmers’ point of view!

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Our referee, Jim Sheehan, gets the proceedings underway. We split swimmers into two starting groups for safety.

Having run the swim on Sunday afternoons for the last few years, we took Finbarr Hedderman‘s advice and decided to try running the event on a Friday evening and see if it made any difference to the attendance (which had fallen in the last two years). It seemed to work as we had a total of 51 entries and only 4 no-shows on the day. This was a notable improvement on the last two years, when we had far fewer entries and, generally, a  higher number of no-shows on the day. Also, all of the 47 swimmers that started the swim finished and all did so within the time limit (1 hour). This was very impressive as, for a few of the swimmers, this was their first ever open water swim and they were anxious about finishing in a respectable time…

Photograph – Twitter

Bryan Keane (left) and Gavin Noble (right) are first swimmers home at MDMS 2013.

The first swimmer home was Ireland’s top triathlete Gavin Noble (Sandycove Island SC) who completed the 2 km in a new course record of 23 minutes 32.7 seconds! Not far behind him was fellow elite triathlete Bryan Keane (Templeogue SC). I was very pleased to be the next swimmer home, finishing in 26 minutes 50.1 seconds. This is my best time over this course, which I swim practically every day during the fine weather! It was good to be the first non-wetsuit and, more importantly, non-elite swimmer home! I really enjoyed the race, though, especially having abstained from participating for the first four years of its existence. I was very pleased also that everyone else seemed to enjoy their swim and that the event can attract some top-class athletes. You can find full results of the swim on Results 2013 and more photographs on our Facebook page.

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Me finishing the swim in third place overall and first non-wetsuit, but none of that really matters once I beat Ned, which I did!

There was a great turnout of Fermoy SC swimmers also – total of 18 swimmers from both the Masters and Torpedoes squads. The next Fermoy SC swimmer after me was Paul Noonan who swam 29 minutes 2.1 seconds for the 2 km – sub-30 isn’t too bad for someone “not racing” but this is the same guy that “accidentally” swam the 5 km instead of the 3 km at GaddinAbtGarnish last weekend… There was some great swimming also by Grace Corbett, who swam 31 minutes 11.1 seconds (non-wetsuit) for this, her first ever open water at only 12 years of age, beating a handful of older and more-experienced club swimmers! This was also a first open water race for Mary Brooks and Anna Sheehan, both of whom swam very well. Mary won the Martin Duggan Memorial Shield for the Youngest Swimmer as she was just 12 years 170 days old on the day of the swim. There were some impressive swims also by a couple of the Masters squad swimmers for whom this was their first proper event in the open water.

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Some swimmers at the finish pontoon, including Fermoy SC members Anna Sheehan, Declan O’Keeffe, Kurt Malmstrom and Mona Sexton, as well as Conor Power (Carrick Dippers SC) and Una McIntosh (Cork Masters SC).

There are lots of people to whom great thanks is owed as regards running this event but I’m not going to thank them here – they’ve been thanked on the event’s own websites (first two articles linked below). I would, however, like to personally thank both Brigid Noonan and Dave Mulcahy who do a lot of the background work on this swim. I wouldn’t have a hope of keeping this event going without their help. Thanks, Brigid & Dave!

Last chance to enter Martin Duggan Memorial Swim…

Today is the last day for entries for the Martin Duggan Memorial Swim 2013. Entries will close at midnight tonight and the starting list will be published tomorrow morning on the event website (click on event logo below).

Logo – Owen O'Keefe

Official MDMS logo (click to go to the event website).

This is a friendly 2 km race in the River Blackwater in Fermoy and is open to all members of Swim Ireland-affiliated clubs and swimmers from overseas who are affiliated to their national governing body for swimming. The entry fee is €25 for those who will be 18 years of age or older and €15 for those who will be aged 12 to 17 years (inclusive). There are four vouchers worth €25 each for The Edge Sports in Cork to be won on the day and a perpetual shield for the youngest swimmer.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

I took this photograph about two weeks while swimming the course of the Martin Duggan Memorial Swim. What a great venue for a race!

It promises to be a great swim so if you want to be a prat of it get moving and enter as soon as possible! If you will be around but don’t feel like swimming we always have plenty space for volunteers – contact the event through the website if you feel like doing a bit of spotting, timekeeping or anything else…

Global OWS Conference 2013

It was announced last week that the fourth Global Open Water Swimming Conference will be held in Cork, Ireland in October 2013. University College Cork, where I am a full-time student, will be the location for this conference. This is the first time that the conference has been held outside of the USA, with previous locations including the United Nations HQ in New York City and the RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, California.

Quadrangle at University College Cork

This year’s World Open Water Swimming Association Awards will be presented at the conference and the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame will also induct its class of 2013 in Cork. The conference will also feature a series of lectures from world-wide authorities on the sport and other relevant experts, including Prof. Tom Doyle of the Coastal & Marine Research Centre (based at UCC) who will present a lecture on the various cnidarians found in Irish waters, as well as a reception at the Clarion Hotel and a dinner at the Rochestown Park Hotel.

This conference has previously been hosted by Steven Munatones and are now being brought to Cork by Ossi Schmidt and Paschal Horgan. It promises to be a great weekend so mark 11 to 13 October 2013 in your diary!

Related Articles:

River Blackwater explored on “Abhainn” tonight…

At 19:30 tonight, the second episode of Series Four of “Abhainn” will be broadcast on RTÉ One. This programme will follow the course of the River Blackwater in Munster from its source in the Mullaghareirk Mountains on the Cork/Kerry border to where it enters the sea at Youghal Bay on the Cork/Waterford border. Swimming in the Blackwater in Fermoy will feature about halfway through. Here is the trailer for the series:

The programme will be broadcast in Irish but there will be English subtitles. Cláracha Gaeilge are doing a great job with these series about Ireland’s rivers. Past episodes can be found on RTÉ Player and the one about the An Laoi (the River Lee) is well worth the watch of you get a chance.

Related Articles:

Overnight Swim for Down Syndrome Ireland

In July of 2013, six swimmers (Caitlin Desmond, Owen O’Keefe, Maeve Ryan, Lynne Lynch, Carol Cashell and Eoin O’Riordan), collectively called Crosóige Mara, will attempt an English Channel 2-way relay crossing in aid of Down Syndrome Ireland. We are very ambitious and are hoping to make lots of money for this great charity and break the Irish record for this swim by completing the 2-way crossing in under 24 hours…

Logo – Maeve Ryan

Crosóige Mara, Channel Relay Team 2013

In order to raise more money for the swim, Dolphin Masters SC are hosting an overnight pool swim. If you would like to take part, here are the details:

  • When: 21:00 on Saturday, 29th December to 05:00 on Sunday, 30th December.
  • Where: Mayfield Sports Complex, Cork (Northside).
  • Price: €20 for any 2 hours or €50 for the entire 8 hours.
  • Options: Swimming will be in repeat 100 m swims. You can swim for 8 hours, swim for 1 hour and rest for 30 minutes or do what you can when you can…
  • Lanes: Five lanes will be in use. There will be one lane repeating on 1:40, another on 1:50, another on 2:00, another on 2:10 and another lane for leisure…

Please note that you must be at least 16 years old in order to take part. Also, tea/coffee and snacks will be available but you will need to bring your own energy drinks if you want them. If you would like to take part, or have any questions, please send an e-mail to Carol Cashell on in good time…

Logo – DSI

Down Syndrome Ireland – providing information, advice and a voice for people with Down syndrome and their parents/guardians across Ireland.

You can follow Crosóige Mara on Twitter @CrosoigeMara and you can donate online through our iDonate page. Thanks to everyone for their support so far!

Blackwater Project: Part 2 – Fermoy to Ballyduff

With a little help from Google Earth, I managed to break the full 60 km stretch into three more manageable stages. It also happens that the two points at which I broke the 60 km are the only two points with reasonably good access to the River for both a swimmer and a kayaker. The three stages were:

  • Fermoy to Ballyduff18.6 km
  • Ballyduff to Cappoquin – 15.0 km
  • Cappoquin to Youghal26.4 km

On Thursday, 19th July, conditions finally came right to try the first swim. Maeve Mulcahy of Dolphin SC kindly agreed to kayak for me. Taking the swim as 18.6 km, as it appears on the map, I prepared feeds to last for five hours. However, as soon as we arrived at the Rowing Club, we could see that we would be done well within that time! There had been a lot of rain recently so there was a good flow in the River. Another cause for relief was that the water temperature had increased from 10ºC to about 14ºC in the last week.

Photograph – Maeve Mulcahy

Starting the swim from Fermoy Rowing Club on Ashe Quay, a group from Blackwater Outdoor Activities arriving from Ballyhooly…

Our first obstacle came no more than 200 m into the swim in the form of Fermoy Weir. There is no way around this impressive structure, so the only solution is to slide down it. Maeve went over first in the kayak and I followed. Once safely at the bottom of the Weir, we navigated under Fermoy Bridge and through a large set of gravel islands, using the current to our advantage. After this turbulent beginning, there is 5 km of deep, slow-moving water. Landmarks on this stretch include the huge M8 motorway bridge, Fermoy’s Sewage Treatment Plant, Carrigabrick Viaduct, Isleclash House, Halloran’s Rock (one of the many distinctive limestone cliffs on the Blackwater) and the confluences with the Funcheon and Araglin Rivers.

Photograph – Maeve Mulcahy

Getting ready to slide down The western end of Clondulane Weir!

The next major obstacle is Clondulane Weir, similar in design to Fermoy Weir. Two of my great-granduncles drowned at this Weir, something I wasn’t aware of while sliding down it at considerable speed! There are very strong currents just below the Weir, which make swimming a bit tricky.  The area just downstream of the Weir is known as Careysville and is very famous amongst game fishermen for its Atlantic salmon.

We continued on this stretch of shallow, fast water, passing fishermen’s huts along the banks. Swimming along the boundary between Counties Cork and Waterford, a fisherman asked me if I was doing the swim as part of a triathlon! It had been very overcast at the start of the swim, but it did start to brighten up at this stage.

Photograph – Maeve Mulcahy

Going under the red iron bridge in Ballyduff just before the end of the swim.

As we progressed further, the weather continued to improve and we got some beautiful views of the widening Blackwater Valley. The River also became deeper and there were some strong currents on the bends. Recognising one particular bend, where the River demarcates the townlands of Mocollop and Ballyneroon, I knew that we were only 4 km from the finish and would be done within the hour. There is some very fast water at Cloonbeg, about 2 km from the finish. Here, we met Dad, who had just kayaked up from Ballyduff to meet us. The last 1 km was in pretty fast water so took I took my goggles off and floated down to the finish, taking in the scenery…

The finish point was on the right, just below Ballyduff Bridge. At this point, Maeve called out the swim time: 2 hours 41 minutes 5 seconds. I was completely amazed – this was an hour less than it had taken us to kayak the same route just a few weeks beforehand! We were greeted at the finish by three geese and some lambs. Needless to say, the geese were far more vocal in their “welcome” than the lambs!

So with the first stage of my Blackwater Project completed, I was feeling great and looking forward to the next two stages. We provisionally agreed to try the second stage (Ballyduff to Cappoquin) on the coming Tuesday, depending on how both Maeve and I were feeling after the Beginish Island Swim in Valentia that weekend…

Blackwater Project: Part 1 – Background to the Project

Growing up swimming in the River Blackwater in Fermoy during the week and in the sea at weekends, I was always fascinated by the idea of swimming from Fermoy to the sea in stages, but never really gave the idea any serious thought. The reason for this was that, although the last 30 km of the River’s course is tidal and is sufficiently deep for both a swimmer and a support boat at high water, there is 30 km of not-so-deep water between Fermoy and the tidal limit. This 30 km has three weirs and plenty of rapids. Neither I nor anyone that I knew was familiar with the idea of swimming in the presence of such obstacles, so I put the whole notion to bed, for a while at least.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Fermoy Bridge as seen from the water. We never swim downstream of the Bridge…

However, another idea that had always interested me was to swim the 10 km downstream from Ballyhooly to Fermoy, also on the Blackwater. Having already kayaked this route, it seemed less daunting. Also, the distance was manageable, especially given the assistance from the current. Eventually, in August 2010, I convinced Ned Denison to join me for this exploratory river descent.

On a warm, sunny morning, on my last day of summer holidays before going into my Leaving Certificate year in school, Ned and I met up at the usual spot, Fermoy Rowing Club, and decided to give the swim a go. We got changed at the Rowing Club and left our stuff in Ned’s jeep for the finish. Once we were ready, my grandfather collected us in his car and drove us to Ballyhooly. It took a while to find easy access to the River. Eventually, we found a way: over a gate, across a field and under Ballyhooly’s iron bridge. There’s a flat concrete area underneath the Bridge, which made it easy to walk out to the middle of the River. At about 10:00, we finally hit the water…

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Austropotamobius pallipes – a freshwater crayfish. These are endangered but we come across them occasionally in the Blackwater. This one was found by my father at the Strand near Fermoy.

The water crystal clear, very fresh and we could see lots of young trout and other fish swimming upstream. No more than 100 m into the swim, we were faced with our first set of rapids. Neither of us was quite sure how to approach it, so we both stood up and attempted to walk. Bad idea – it was almost impossible to walk over the stony riverbed barefooted, as we were, and neither of us could maintain an upright position for more than a stride or two! As we came to more rapids, our technique in traversing them gradually improved. We carried on through the countryside, passing some very bemused looking fishermen, until we came to the first recognizable feature, the infamous Poll Pádraig. This maze of island, pools and rapids marks the halfway point and is also the place where two “known priest-hunters” are said to have drowned.

Next we came to Cregg Castle, where there is a good stretch of deep water. Shortly after this there are more rapids and the River is joined by Cregg Stream, which flows from Knockanannig Reservoir, another Fermoy swimming location. Luckily, I knew this area of fast water quite well so I was able to navigate the narrow channel, avoiding the need to stand and gaining some speed from the force of the water. The final set of rapids at Castlehyde is very shallow and there is no option but to stand up and walk. From here, there is a 3.5 km stretch of very familiar deep water held back by Fermoy Weir. We finished the swim back at the usual spot, exactly 2 hours 30 minutes later.

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Swimming past the very beautiful Castlehyde House in June 2009.

The time was a little slow for a 10 km downriver swim, but the River was at its lowest level for over seven years that week, which meant more standing up and walking than expected. On the plus side, it did make the underwater visibility excellent so we got to see all the wonders of the riverbed! After this swim, the idea of swimming further down the River was beginning to sound a bit more plausible…

Photograph – Liam Maher

Pioneers of the first “Lee Descent” swim from Inniscarra Dam to County Hall.

The following year, Ray McArdle from Dolphin SC came up with the excellent idea of swimming from Inniscarra Dam to County Hall in Cork, a distance of 12 km. He contacted the ESB, who agreed to discharge a large volume of water from the Dam to make the lower part of the River Lee suitable for swimming. A dozen swimmers started the swim just below the Dam. With a strong flow, it wasn’t long before we had reached our first feed stop at Ballincollig Weir. The next feed stop was at a small gravel beach near the Angler’s Rest. Just after this point, there is a bridge, at which many of us learned the hard way that, when swimming under bridges, it is very important to look out for remnants of older bridges! We all finished back at the Lee Fields amenity car park, well inside our expected times for 12 km.

This swim was repeated in June 2012 as part of Ned’s Cork Distance Week. This time, with an even greater flow in the River. Most of us finished the swim in just two thirds of the time that we expected it to take us! By this stage, I had become a veritable expert in traversing weirs and rapids. The Blackwater descent now seemed entirely doable. All that was left to do was to break it into reasonably swimmable chunks…