At the end of 2019 Joyce Fegan interviewed me for an article she was writing for the Irish Examiner featuring all year sea swimmers around the coast of Ireland.
When did you start sea swimming? And when did you start winter sea swimming?
I’ve been sea swimming all my life. Growing up in Sandycove, Co. Dublin, in the 1960s and ’70s inevitably meant living a sea-affected life*. Early learning took place at the Dún Laoghaire sea water baths, progressing through the pools — baby, kids and then big. Sandycove Harbour was next before graduation at the iconic Forty Foot. My brother Conor and I did a couple of winters together at the Forty Foot about ten years ago which gave me a taste of it. When I started swimming daily in Greystones, about 5 years ago, it just seemed natural to keep on going through the winter.
Why do you swim in the sea/what do you get out of it?
I had got to the point in my life where I realised I need to carve out a small section of the day for myself. I had just got to the end of a summer where I had been swimming a few times a week with the kids, which I loved. The day they went back to school I went for a swim on my own — early, as it was a work day. It led to a chance meeting with some other swimmers. “See you tomorrow?”, “Yeah, sure”, began an amazing journey that goes way beyond the simple act of swimming. I find trying to define what it means to me, or what I get out of it fraught with danger. Putting a label on it is futile, it is too complex and, just like the sea, it is amorphic. I don’t look to define it as I am happy to take what it gives regardless. Sometimes I look back at the shore at my belongings and I feel imune from what they represent. Other times I just float. More often than not lately I am trying to create a photographic image of my swim.
Do you ever not want to get in and how do you coax yourself in and how do you feel after?
Yes, there are plenty of times when I don’t want to get in. So while on one level I avoid putting limits on this experience through definition, there are certain practical aspects that can be described. The feeling of achievement, of overcoming trying conditions. The feeling of readiness, the rest of the day seems more inviting. The feeling of cameraderie, you encourage me today, I’ll encourage you tomorrow, we’ll all benefit from the group.
Who do you swim with and is who you swim with important?
Who I swim with is the most important aspect of my swimming life. I can’t imagine this experience without them. The Swimrise group at The Cove in Greystones are like family, they are the dumplings in my stew. Every now and then we visit the Vico or the Forty Foot and powwow with other swim tribes which is always a treat.
Is it a dip or a swim?
It’s a dip. Floating and clicking. Gas bagging and rock chewing. Always make sure you can get out, always be thankful.
*Sea-affected life — I borrowed this term from my old friend Mick Sowry, check him out @micksowry on insta.