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.

Snámh go Toraigh

Ag deireadh an tsamhraidh, tagann smaointe snámha chugam chomh flúirseach agus dá mbeadh aon ní sodhéanta agam tar éis gheimhridh fhada sa linn snámha! Anuraidh, do bhuail smaoineamh mé snámh ó Oileán Thoraí go Mórthír Dhún na nGall, ocht míle go leith sa tslí. Do bhí ‘fhios agam go raibh sé indéanta mar tá sé déanta ag Anne Marie Ward as Dún na nGall, ag Kieran Fitzgerald as Sligeach agus ag daoine nach iad. Do bhí sé im’ chionn é ‘dhéanamh ó n-a rabhas sa tríú bliain sa mheánscoil, tráth dá chuala, i dtriail chluastuisceana Ghaeilge, faoin snámh ní ba shia ná ocht n-uaire an chloig a bhí ag Anne Marie. Le déanaí, táim tar éis teacht i n-aithne níos fearr ar Anne Marie agus i rith an gheimhridh seo caite dúirt sí go gcabhródh sí liom i n-aon tslí gurbh fhéidir léi dá mba mhaith liom an snámh áirithe seo ‘dhéanamh. Gan a thuilleadh moille, do bheartaíos chun triail do bhaint as!

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

Toraigh agus Inis Bó Finne ón Machaire Rabhartaigh. (Grianghraf tógtha ag lá an snámha.)

Díreach tar éis dom teacht abhaile ó Dover, do chonac ar réamhfhaisnéis na h-aimsire go raibh lá breá le teacht Dé h-Aoine na seachtaine siúd, an 17ú Lúnasa. Do chuireas glaoch ar Anne Marie is do shocraíomair chun bualadh i Leitir Ceanainn ar an Déardaoin. Turas mór mílteach ar fad dob ea é ó Mhainistir Fhear Maí go Leitir Ceanainn! Tar éis bualadh le Anne Marie ag stáisiúin na mbusanna i Leitir Ceanainn, do chuamair ó thuaidh go dtí n-a tigh, do bhí blaisín (béile mór i ndáiríribh) le n-ithe againn is do chuireamair na h-ábhair go léir a bheadh ag teastáil uainn i rith an snámha le chéile. Ar deireadh, do chuir Anne Marie glaoch ar Brendan Proctor, an fear ón gcumann fo-thuinn agus is é a dúirt sé ná go mbeadh an aimsir maith a dóthain ar maidin chun snámh ón mórthír amach go Toraigh, seachas an treo eile.

Grianghraf – Anne Marie Ward

Ag dul i dtír ag trá an Mhachaire Rabhartaigh i gcomhair an tosaigh oifigiúla!

Ar maidin, d’éiríomair go moch is do thiománamair le chéile go Machaire Rabhartaigh, an áit tosaithe. Ar ár slí ann, do chuamair tré áiteannaibh nár airíos riamh fúthu ach ar an raidió, Gort a’ Choirce agus mar sin de. Um an dtaca gur bhaineamair amach ár gceann scríbe, do bhí an ghrian ag taitneamh agus ní raibh mórán gaoithe. Áit álainn is ea Machaire Rabhartaigh, le cé mhór, trá ghainmheach agus uisce breá glan. Tar éis tamaill, do tháinig Brendan agus John Joe ó Chumann Thumadóirí Chuan na Long leis an mbád. Do chuireas mo chulaith snámha orm, chomh maith lem’ chaipín is spéaclaí snámha. Ansan, do chuamair go léir ar bord, do chuireamair an rianaire GPS ar siúil is do shnámhas i dtír go dtí an trá i gcomhair an tosaithe oifigiúla.

Grianghraf – Anne Marie Ward

Ag teacht timpeall ar ché an Mhachaire Rabhartaigh…

Tá na rialacha céanna ‘tá i bhfeidhm ar thrasnálacha snámha an Mhuir n-Iocht i bhfeidhm ar thrasnálacha snámha idir Toraigh agus an mórthír. Mar sin, do bhí orm dul i dtír chun an snámh a thosnú i gceart. Chomh luath agus a bhíos ar ghaineamh tirim, do chasas timpeall, do ritheas ar ais isteach ins an uisce is do thosnaíos ag snámh i dtreo Thoraí!

Grianghraf – Anne Marie Ward

Bád Farantóireachta Thoraí ag teacht ‘n-ár gcoinnibh díreach tar éis an tosaigh…

Do bhíos ana-shásta ag tús na trasnála; do bhí an ghrian ag taitneamh ar mo dhroim is do bhí an t-uisce i bhfad ní ba theo ná mar a bhíos a’ súil leis – 14.5ºC! I dteannta leis sin, ní raibh smugairle róin amháin le feiscint, do chuir seisean ar mo shuaimhneas ar fad mé! Tar éis cúpla neomat, do tháinig an bád farantóireachta ‘n-ár gcoinnibh is fuaireamair cúirtéis ó na daoine a bhí ag taisteal air. Agus mé ag snámh ar an dtaobh thiar d’Inis Bó Finne, d’éirigh sé scamallach is do thosnaigh an ghaoth ag séideadh aniar. Níor thaitin an treo gaoithe sin linn mar ní gheobhaimís an chabhair chéanna ón ngaoth aniar le n-a ngeobhaimís ón ngaoth andeas, agus dob é an ghaoth andeas a bhí tuartha. Ar aon nós, do choimeádas ag snámh ó bheathú go beathú.

Grianghraf – Anne Marie Ward

Toraigh abhfad uainn go fóill…

Tar éis uair an chloig go leith, nó mar sin, do thángamair amach ó scáth Inis Bó Finne agus isteach i gCainéal Thoraí. Do bhí an taoide ag rith anoir-siar, díreach i n-aghaidh na gaoithe, agus dá bharr san d’éirigh na tonnta píosa beag i n-airde. Níor chuir sé sin isteach go ró-mhór orm mar do bhí scáth an bháid ag tabhairt faoisimh ón ngaoth agus ó na tonnta dhom. Do leanamair ar aghaidh mar sin ar feadh uair a chloig eile go dtí gur tháinig an ghrian amach arís. Timpeall ar thrí h-uaire an chloig istigh sa tsnámh, d’éirigh na tonnta i n-airde ar feadh leathuair nó uair an chloig is do bhí capaill bhána ortha. Seal crua dob ea an leathuair nó uair an chloig sin. Ag an mbeathú deireanach, ámhthach, do chiúnaigh sé abhfad is do thug sé sin seans dom dul i dtír ar mo shuaimhneas.

Grianghraf – Anne Marie Ward

An críoch ‘n-ár radharc fé dheireadh thiar thall!

Do bhí faoiseamh orm nuair go rabhas i n-ann an tóin poill d’fheiceáil fúm mar do bhí pian ag tosnú teacht isteach im’ ghuaillí fén dtráth san. Nuair a bhaineamair amach an ché, do thaispeáin Anne Marie dom an trá is do shnámhas isteach chuige. Agus an trá bainte amach agam, 4 h-uaire 21 nóiméad ó n-ar thosnaíos, do sheasas suas ar an ngainneamh. Do bhí scata páistí ar an dtrá, páistí an Oileáin dob ea iad, agus tar éis cúpla focal leo-súd, do chasas timpeall is do bhí slua maith daoine ar an gcé chomh maith. Dob orm-sa ‘bhí an t-ionadh mar ní rabhas ag súil le h-aon fháiltiú mar sin.

Grianghraf – Anne Marie Ward

Ag teacht i dtír ar Thoraigh.

Tar éis neomait, do chonac fear ní b’aosta ag teacht trasna an trá. Do thug ceann de na páistíbh rabhadh dhom gurbh é Rí Thoraí a bhí ag teacht. Do chuir an Rí, Patsaí Dan Mac Ruaidhrí, fáilte mhór romham agus dúirt sé gurbh onóir iontach do mhuintir an Oileáin gur shnámh duine amach ón mórthír. Leis sin, do chuir sé i n-aithne ar a chlann is ar mhuintir an Oileáin dom agus dúirt sé le fear éigin sinn a thógaint dá thigh agus cithfholcadh is braon tae do thabhairt dúinn.

Grianghraf – Anne Marie Ward

Rí Thoraí Patsaí Dan Mac Ruaidhrí agus mé féin tar éis an snámha.

Tar éis cithfholcadh is braon tae do bheith againn, do chuamair ar ais go dtí an cuan. Ansan, do shocraíomair chun dul go dtí “Caife an Chreagáin” le h-aghaidh bídh. Ar ár slí ann, do bhualamair le Banríon Thoraí agus sise ag tabhairt aire d’fhabhcún óg a tháinig i dtír ar Thoraigh tar éis dó imeacht ar strae ó Chontae an Chláir! Éan álainn ar fad a bhí ann. Do bhuaileamair le Patsaí Dan arís sa chaife is do bhí comhrá iontach eadrainn go léir. Agus ár sáth ithte againn, do chuamair ar ais go dtí an bád is do bhuaileamair fairrgí. Ach sara rabhamair i n-ann imtheacht, do chuir buachaillín óg ceist chugam an rabhas chun snámh ar ais go Machaire Rabhartaigh mar dob é an “riail” ‘tá i bhfeidhm ann ná: má thagair ar an mbád, is féidir leat dul abhaile ar an mbád, ach má thagair ag snámh, caithfir snámh abhaile freisin!

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

Deilf ó ché an Mhachaire Rabhartaigh…

Leathuair an chloig i ndiaidh Toraigh d’fhágáil, do bhíomair beagnach abhaile i n-aice le cé Mhachaire Rabhartaigh, ach ní raibh ár n-eachtra críochnaithe go fóill. Go h-obann, do tháinig ceithre nó cúig cinn de dheilfeanna díreach i n-aice an bháid. D’fhanadar linn ag súgradh ar feadh tamaill. Do chuir an méid sin gliondar ‘n-ár gcroíthibh go léir. Dob é sin deireadh leis an lá, lá fada a bhí ann, ach lá breá taitneamhach ag an am céanna. Do lean an floscadh isteach sna laethanta i ndiaidh an snámha; do bhí sé ins na nuachtáin áitiúla i nDún na nGall gur dhein fear óg, Corcaíoch fiú, snámh ón gcósta amach go Toraigh agus do bhí orm-sa is ar Anne Marie agallamh a dhéanamh le h-Áine Ní Churráin ar an gclár “Barrscéalta” ar RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta.

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

Sléibhte Thír Chonaill agus trá an Mhachaire Rabhartaigh.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas ó chroí do ghabháil le h-Anne Marie Ward as an gcomhairle agus as an gcabhair go léir gur thug sí dom i n-eagrú an snámha so agus sa tsnámh é féin. Buíochas, chomh maith, le Brendan Proctor agus le John Joe Roland ó Chumann Thumadóirí Chuan na Long ón dtacaíocht iontach! Ar deireadh, gabhaim buíochas le muintir agus le Rí Thoraí as an bhfáiltiú iontach gur chuireadar romhainn.

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

Ceann de na deilfeanna a tháinig chun bualadh linn agus sinn ag druidim leis an gcé…