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…

Circumnavigation of Cape Clear: The Swim Itself

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Ready for the start – a foggy morning too…

We reached Cape just before midday. I took off my clothes and put on my togs, swimming cap and goggles. I wasn’t too cold at all standing out in the air, but I know that this wouldn’t be the case once I was in the water! I gave one look into the cold, dark water and jumped in. I went straight towards the slipway for the start, but didn’t exit the water onto it (John told me that this wouldn’t be too safe as the slipway would be very slippery indeed with the tide out). After placing my hand on the slipway, I was started!

I have to admit that I really felt the cold of the water, this made a little bit nervous about the swim and it was no help to me that the water was so dark at the same time. But I did my best to put these concerns to the back of my mind! While swimming around the first corner of the Island, Cooslahan Point, there were flocks of birds (guillemots, razorbills and so on) flying around me. However, the view underneath me was not so pleasant! Jellyfish of all kinds were coming into my view, including some that were entirely new to me… I’ve neglected to mention until now – we were going around the Island in a clockwise direction.

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Swimming south-west at Cooslahan Point.

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Waves breaking over Carriglure, I’m in there somewhere!

The next way-marker was Carriglure, a large rock situated just below the surface of the water a few metres from the bottom of the cliffs. The waves were breaking over the top of the rock that day and I didn’t want to swim between it and the cliff at all, but John told me that it would make much more sense if I did. So, I did it, undoubtedly with great hesitation, but the  way through was a lot shorter than it would have been had I swum on the outside of it. After meeting up with the boat I had my first feed. What is in the feed is a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein formula with some warm water – High5 is the name of my feed of choice.

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Crossing the mouth of the South Harbour, no sign of the seals or dolphins…

It wasn’t long before we had reached Pointanbullig and were just about to cross the South Harbour. I’m told that there were seals and dolphins swimming around me at this point but, unfortunately, I didn’t see any of them myself! I didn’t take us very long to cross the South Harbour but as we were progressing the waves were getting bigger. Having reached Blananarragaun, the most southerly point on the Island, there was a heavy swell. From time to time, I could see the Fastnet Rock, Carraig Aonair in Irish, over the tops of the waves. This song kept coming into my head whenever I saw the famous rock.

Looking out to the Fastnet, often alluded to as the Teardrop of Ireland, it is hard not to think about the many people who lost their lives in the seas around it over the last hundred years or so. After  a while, we were at the imposing Bill of Cape! I was very happy having reached this point because it meant that I had more than half of the swim done. There was a lot of foam on the water at this point due to the action of the Atlantic swells on the rocks, but this didn’t bother me too much as I have plenty of experience with foam and the like from swimming at  Sandycove in Kinsale.

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Swimming through the foam at the Bill of Cape.

We left the Bill of Cape behind us and began heading north-east again. It wasn’t long before Dún an Óir Castle (the castle of the O’Driscoll Clan) came into view. Before long, we were at the North Harbour, where the Cape Clear ferry comes ashore. It was here that we began to get some shelter from the waves, but the downside to this was that the jellies were taking relief here also and I got a few fine stings from them! The swim began much easier after this as we were in the lee of the Island and the tidal currents were giving us some assistance…

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Swimming a few hundred metres out from Dún an Óir, the sun comes out at last!

Coming around the last corner of the swim, the current was like a river flowing through the Gascanane Sound! After spending 3 hours 47 minutes 32 seconds in the water, I landed back at the slipway in Comillane. Until now, no one had told me the temperature of the water – 11.5ºC – I was very glad that I didn’t know that before the swim! Once I was dressed again, a few of the men that were on the boat went diving for a short while and Tom swam into a sea cave while we were waiting! All that done, we headed back to Baltimore after a very successful day.

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Circumnavigation of Cape Clear: Introduction

At the beginning of July last year, I swam from Baltimore in West Cork to the slipway in Comillane on Cape Clear, a distance of 8.0 km, with Ned Denison. It was a very pleasant summer’s day and we both had a very enjoyable swim, even though the water was no warmer than 12ºC! We had some swell while swimming along the southern shore of Sherkin Island and crossing the Gascanane Sound, but yet, we had the entire 8.0 km put behind us just inside of two hours. Having done this swim, I really wanted to a lot more swimming in this part of the world…

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

The Beacon or Lot’s Wife, Baltimore looking out at Sherkin, Cape behind.

After a failed attempt at swimming around Heir Island with Steven Black and David Merriman, I thought that it would be a nice idea to try to swim around all of the Carbery Isles! At the end of August, I swam around Sherkin, with Lisa Cummins on the support boat, and the day after, Gábor Molnár and I swam around Heir Island. No one had ever swum around those two islands before! Towards the end of the summer, I swam around Spanish Island with Steven Black and Severin McCullagh, as well as a few seals… I now had three islands done before the end of 2011 and had two more in mind for 2012. Cape Clear was the first of those.

Grianghraf – Lisa Cummins

Swimming around Sherkin in August last year…

Cape is a beautiful island. It is situated 8 km out to sea from Baltimore and is 5 km long and 2 km wide. There is a permanent population of just over 100 people on the island and it is an official Gaeltacht area, that means that Irish, specifically Munster Irish, is the primary language of the Islanders. Starting and finishing at the slipway in Comillane on the eastern side of the Island, the shortest possible circumnavigation is 13.2 km. While that doesn’t seem so bad, it can be hard to quantify the challenge by the distance in this bit of water due to tidal streams, winds and so on – the whole thing depends on the weather, just like everything else in Ireland!

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

On board the Amy-K just before leaving the mainland for Cape.

On 4th July, however, an improvement came with regard to the weather and John Kearney, the man who has Baltimore Diving Centre, gave me the chance to swim around Cape. We me on the pier in Baltimore early that morning. Tom McCarthy from the Myrtleville Swimmers came with us as crew. Tom completed a relay crossing of the English Channel this year as part of the oldest relay team ever to have completed the crossing! As well as John and Tom, a few of John’s friends from Penzance in Cornwall were on the boat too. We had a great chat as I have an uncle living in Cornwall, not far from Penzance, and Tom would knew a lot of people from the area from his days in the Naval Service. With our nattering finished, we set off from the quayside in the direction of Cape Clear…

Snámh Timpeall ar Oileán Chléire: An Snámh Féin

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Réidh chun tosnú – maidin cheomhar a bhí inti…

Do bhaineamair Cléire amach píosa beag roimh mheán lae. Do bhaineas mo chuid éadaí uaim is do chuireas mo chulaith snámha, mo chaipín is mo spéaclaí snámha orm. Ní rabhas ró-fhuair ar aon chor agus mé amuigh fén aer, ach do bhí ‘fhios agam nárbh amhlaidh a bheadh an scéal agus mé istigh sa bhfarraige! Do chuireas súil isteach ar an uisce fuair dorcha agus do léimeas isteach ann. Do chuas díreach go dtí an fánán chun tosnú, ach níor thánag amach air (dúirt John liom ná beadh sé sin ró-shláintiúil mar do bhí an fánán thar a bheith sleamhain agus an taoide ‘n-a lag trá). Tar éis mo lámh do chur ar an bhfánán, do bhíos tosnaithe!

Caithfead á admháil gurbh fhuair gur mhothaíos an t-uisce, do bhíos neirbhíseach dá bharr agus níorbh aon chabhair dom é go raibh an t-uisce chomh dorcha san ag an am chéanna. Ach do dheineas iarracht airsean do chur go cúl m’intinne! Agus mé ag snámh timpeall ar an gcéad chúinne an Oileáin, Pointe an Chuais Leathain, do bhí scataí éan (forachain dubha, crosáin agus mar sin de) ag eitilt timpeall orm. Ní raibh an radharc fúm chomh deas san, ámhthach! Do bhí smugairlí rón de gach aon tsaghas ag teacht im’ radharc, cinn nár airíos riamh fúthu san áireamh… Do bhí sé glan dearmhadta agam go dtí seo – do bhíomair ag dul timpeall ar an Oileán ar deiseal.

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Ag snámh siar ó dheas ag Pointe an Chuais Leathain.

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Tonnta ag briseadh that Charraig Liúir, táim-se i n-áit éigin ‘n-a measc!

Dob é an chéad sprioc eile ná Carraig Liúir, carraig mhór atá suite díreach fé imeall an uisce cúpla slat ó bhun na n-aillte. Do bhí na tonnta ag briseadh thar a cionn an lá so agus níor mhian liom-sa snámh idir ise agus an aill ar aon chor, ach dúirt John liom go ndéanfadh sé ciall dá ndéanfainn é. Mar sin, do dheineas é, do bhí sceitimíní orm, gan aon dabht, ach do bhí an tslí abhfad ní ba ghiorra ná mar a bheadh sí ar an dtaobh thall di. Tar éis dom bualadh leis an mbád airís do bhí beathú agam. Dob é a bhí ins an mbeathú ná uisce te, carbohydrates agus proteinHigh5 an t-ainm atá ar mo rogha bheathaithe.

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Ag gabháil trasna an Inbhir, níl aon chomhartha de na deilfeanna nó na róin…

Níorbh fhada go dtí go rabhamair ag Pointe na Boilge agus díreach chun an Inbhir do thrasnáil. Deirtear liom go raibh roinnt deilfeanna agus rónta ag snámh im’ thimpeall ag an bpointe seo ach níor chonac-sa aon cheann acu! Níor thóg sé mórán ama chun an Inbhir do thrasnáil ach an fhad is a bhíomair ag dul chun cinn do bhí na fairrgí ag eirí i n-airde. Agus Ballán na nDeargán, an pointe is faide ó dheas ar an Oileán, bainte amach againn, do bhí an fharraige go trom. Do bhíos i n-ann Carraig Aonair d’fheiscint ó am go chéile. ‘Sea ansan do tháinig an t-amhrán san isteach im’ chionn:

Agus tú ag féachaint ar an gcarraig sin, Carraig Aonair, ní h-éasca gan smaoineamh ar an líon daoine a d’fhág an saol so ins na fairrgí timpeall uirthi. Tar éis tamaillín, do bhíomair ag Ceann Cléire! Do bhí an-áthas orm agus an pointe seo bainte amach agam, mar do bhí ‘fhios agam go raibh ní ba mhó ná leath den tsnámh déanta agam. Do bhí an-chuid cúr ins an uisce ag an bpointe seo chomh maith, ach níor chuir seisean isteach go mór orm mar do bhí taithí maith agam ar chúr agus rudaí eile den tsórd san de ó bheith ag snámh ag Cnoc an Rois i gCionn tSáile.

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Ag snámh tríd an gcúr ag Ceann Cléire.

D’fhágamair Ceann Cléire ‘n-ár ndiaidh is do thosnaíomair ag dul soir ó thuaidh airís. Níorbh fhada go raibh Dún an Óir (Caisleán Chlann Uí Dhrisceoil) tagtha ‘n-ár radharc. Sara ‘bhfad, do bhíomair ag Trá Chiaráin, an áit ‘n-a thagann an bád farantóireachta i dtír ar Chléire. ‘Sea anso do fuaireamair faoiseamh éigin ó na tonnta, ach dob é an fadhb ná go raibh na smugairlí rón ag fáil faoiseamh anso chomh maith agus fuaireas roinnt stoingí maithe uathu! D’eirigh an rud go léir abhfad ní b’éasca i ndiaidh sin mar do bhíomair faoi scáth an Oileáin is do bhí sruth na taoide ag tabhairt cabhair dúinn…

Grianghraf – Tom McCarthy

Ag snámh cúpla céad slat amach ó Dhún an Óir, an ghrian ag silleadh solais is teasa orainn fé dheireadh!

Agus sinn ag teacht timpeall an chúinne dheireanach den tsnámh, do bhí an sruth mar abhainn ag rith trí Shúnta an Ghaisceanáin! Tar éis 3 h-uaire 47 nóiméad 32 soicind do chaitheamh ins an uisce, do thánag i dtír ag an fánán i gComalán airís. Go dtí an pointe seo, níor inis éinne teocht an uisce dom – 11.5ºC – do bhí an t-áthas orm ná raibh sé sin ar eolas agam roimis an snámh! Tar éis dom ‘bheith gléasta airís, do chuaigh roinnt de na fir a bhí ar an mbád ag tumadóireacht ar feadh tamaill is do shnámh Tom isteach i bpluais fairrge ar thóir na craice! Agus an méid sin déanta againn, do chuamair thar n-ais go Dún na Séad agus abhaile linn go léir.

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Snámh Timpeall ar Oileán Chléire: Réamhrá

I dtosach mhí Iúil anuraidh, do dheineas turas snámha ó Dhún na Séad i n-Iarrthar Chorcaí go dtí an fánán i gComalán ar Oileán Chléire, 8.0 km sa tslí, i dteannta le Ned Denison. Lá breá samhraidh a bhí ann is do bhí turas an-taitneamhach ag an mbeirt againn, cé ná raibh an t-uisce ní ba theo ná 12ºC! Do bhí fairrgí breátha móra linn agus sinn ag gabháil thar bráid Inis Earcáin agus ag trasnáil Shúnta an Ghaisceanáin, ach fós féinig, do bhí an 8.0 km i n-iomlán curtha ‘n-ár ndiaidh againn díreach laistigh de 2 h-uaire a’ chloig. Tar éis an snámha san ‘bheith déanta agam, do theastaigh uaim abhfad níos mó snámha ‘dhéanamh ins an gceantar áirithe sin…

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

Bean Lót, Dún na Séad ag féachaint amach ar Inis Earcáin, Cléire taobh thiar di.

Tar éis iarracht teipthe ar snámh timpeall ar Inis Uí Dhrisceoil le Steven Black agus David Merriman, do cheapas gur shmaoineamh deas dob ea é snámh timpeall ar Oileáin Chairbre go léir! Ag deireadh mhí Lúnasa, do dheineas snámh timpeall ar Inis Earcáin, le Lisa Cummins ar an mbád tacaíochta, agus an lá ‘n-a dhiaidh do dheineas-sa ‘gus Gábor Molnár snámh timpeall ar Inis Uí Dhrisceoil. Níor shnámh éinne timpeall ar an dá oileán san riamh roimis sin! Agus an samhradh ag dul uainn, do shnámhas timpeall ar Inis Píc le Steven Black agus Severin McCullagh chomh maith le cúpla rón… Do bhí trí oileán déanta agam roimh dheireadh an bhliain 2011 is do bhí dhá oileán eile breactha síos agam i gcomhair 2012. Oileán Chléire dob ea an chéad cheann acu.

Grianghraf – Lisa Cummins

Ag snámh timpeall ar Inis Earcáin i mí Lúnasa anuraidh…

Oileán álainn is ea Cléire. Tá sí suite 8 km amach ó Dhún na Séad agus tá sí 5 km ar fhad is 2 km ar leithead. Tá thart ar chéad duine ag maireachtaint go buan uirthi agus ceantar Gaeltachta oifigiúil is ea í, ciallaíonn sé sin gurb í an Ghaelainn príomhtheanga mhuintir an Oileáin. Ag tosnú agus ag críochnú ag an bhfánán i gComalán ar an dtaobh thoir den Oileán, tá 13.2 km sa turas timpeall uirthi. Ní dealraíonn an fad san ró-olc, ach is deacair an dubhshlán a mheas go díreach de réir an fhaid ins an bpíosa fairrge áirithe sin de bharr sruthanna taoide, gaoithe agus mar sin de – braitheann an rud go léir ar an aimsir, mar aon le gach aon rud eile i n-Éirinn!

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

Ar bhord an Amy-K roimis ár bhfágaint na mórthíre chun Chléire.

Ar 4ú Iúil, ámhthach, ‘sea do tháinig feabhas éigin ar chúrsaí aimsire na tíre seo i mbliana is do thug John Kearney, an fear go bhfuil Ionad Tumadóireachta Dhún na Séad aige, seans dom snámh timpeall ar Chléire. Do bhuaileamair ar an gcé i nDún na Séad go luath an mhaidin sin. Do tháining Tom McCarthy ó Shnámhaithibh Bhaile an Chuainín linn mar chriú. Do dhein Tom snámh sealaíochta trasna an Mhuir n-Iocht i mbliana mar pháirt den fhoireann sealaíochta is sine chun an Mhuir n-Iocht do thrasnáil! Chomh maith le John agus Tom do bheith ar an mbád tacaíochta, do bhí roinnt cara le John ó Penzance i gCorn na Breataine air. Do bhí an-chomhrá eadrainn-ne mar tá uncail liom-sa ag cur faoi i gCorn na Breataine, ní fada ó Penzance, is do bhí aithne ag Tom ar go leor daoine ón áit sin ó n-a laethanta sa tSeirbhís Chabhlaigh. Tar éis an chomhrá san do bheith againn, do scaoileamair seol i dtreo Chléire…