‘The Towel Run’ – Sandycove Island Swim 2019

 

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim

Words Maureen McCoy, Photography Paul McCambridge

 

Ned, as is his usual want to goad me whenever he sees me, for not having swum Sandycove Island. This July at the Lough Erne 17k he “upped the anti” by brandishing a large white towel with a list of names adorning it – English Channel Swimmers who’ve done a lap of Sandycove…

“You have to do your lap to get your name on this.”

 

So here I am, almost two months later, signed on the dotted line for the Sandycove Island Swim, along with 200 plus other swimmers – the draw of the towel proved too strong!

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Island Swim

The forecast was not promising for the day with rain and wind due to drive in in the afternoon, around the time the race was scheduled to start.

Arriving in Kinsale with half an hour to spare for registration I collected my cap and time-chip from the organisers stationed at Hamlets and then caught up with some of the swimmers from the 7 Lakes challenge the previous weekend.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Island Swim

4pm and the rain was lashing down! Umbrellas up as sodden swimmers gathered at the bottom of the road. Two Myrtleville Turtles vainly tried to stay warm zipped together into one dry-robe…

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Island Swim

During the briefing Ned announced that the course would be brought inside the island – with the wind making it “quite lumpy” and a fog rolling in it would be unsuitable for many swimmers to do ‘The Lap’.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Island Swim

My fears of a mad crash of swimmers all vying for space were alleviated when it was clear that we’d set off in waves of 30 – fastest swimmers first. “So if your number is 185, you will be waiting around for ten minutes or so. Stay as warm as you can…Ha!”

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Island Swim

4.30pm and numbers 1 – 30 were called to line up and ticked off the list as they ran onto the slipway. The horn sounded and they were off as the next 30 lined up. The starts were quick, smooth and well executed.

The course; out towards the island, rounding the first large yellow buoy and then along the lee of the island, turn at the farthest buoy and return to the unmissable bright orange FINISH line.

280919 - Sandycove Swim '19 08

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Island Swim

After standing about in the pelting rain the sea was welcomingly warm, a short tussle on the way to the first buoy and then, after the turn, the field opened up and I could relax into my stroke across the bay.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim

©Paul McCambridge / Sandycove Island Swim

On rounding the far buoy my latent competitive urges piqued as I was flanked by two swimmers – one “skins” and the other wetsuit. I tried not to drop too far behind as the three of us raced our way in.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim, Mo

©Paul McCambridge / Sandycove Island Swim.

The rain was still pelting down as we hit the time check and climbed up the slipway, no hanging about – we each grabbed our gear and ran back to cars or vans for shelter.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim

©Paul McCambridge /  Sandycove Island Swim

Waiting for the traffic to clear we watched as the last of the organisers and boat crew were leaving and one lone swimmer came past on her bicycle. Through the pouring rain, water streaming down the road under her wheels, her black dry-robe flapping in the wind like something out of Harry Potter, she disappeared over the brow of the hill.

It was at that moment I realised – I still hadn’t done a lap of the island – I wouldn’t get my towel!

Link to results… Cork Masters Results

Neddie Irwin… 1st swimmer home

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim

©Paul McCambridge / Neddie Irwin –  Sandycove Island Swim

That evening the celebrations took us from Hamlets to dinner at Cru restaurant and then onto a local bar with live music and dancing!

Waking on Sunday morning to bright sunshine streaming through the windows, I was glad to see a complete turn-around of the weather having arranged to meet Ned for my lap of the island.

As we walked down the beach the tide was fast on its way out and Ned asked; “Have you ever swum around the island?”

“Yes.” I replied, “But you didn’t believe me and said it had to be witnessed!”

“Sounds like something I’d say.” he laughed.

“We need to go now though – soon there won’t be any water to swim!” Adding, “Whatever you do don’t walk on the rocks – your feet will be cut to pieces”

As we paddled in it seemed this would be more walk than swim and soon we were using a mix of crawl, sculling and good old crocodile crawling.

At one stage Ned managed to get completely stuck in the shallows – 6foot 6 of legs and arms “turtled” as he rolled about trying to find some water! As I giggled at the sight, I promptly ran aground myself and had to wiggle my own way across trying to avoid scrapes!

Finally outside the island we made it to deep water and a lively swim to the far corner. Here the breaking waves allowed us to surf in before returning to the slipway – my official lap done!

280919 - Sandycove Swim '19 02

©Paul McCambridge / Ned at Sandycove with bloodied knees – thanks for the guided swim and lunch!

Back at Ned’s we enjoyed the craic and a tasty lunch of steak and mushrooms all served up on Syrian bread and washed down with creamy hot chocolate – lovely, thank you Ned.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media 28th Sept 2019, Sandycove Swim,

Thanks also to all the hard working and drenched organisers and volunteers for a super event.

Links to Sandycove Swimmers + Cork Masters

TORY ISLAND AND THE KING OF TORY – RÍ THORAÍ

 

 

 

180817 - Tory Island 1st edit 104a

By Maureen McCoy and Paul McCambridge

 

 

Tory Island lies 9 miles off the coast North-west Donegal. 3 miles long and 0.6 of a mile wide, it is a rugged and exposed outpost of Irish island life. The small population of 154, at the time we visit, had recently been swollen by 3 new babies, Patsy Dan, the King of Tory, proudly tells us. His vision and hope that the island will begin to regenerate seeing a flicker of life with these happy tidings.

180817 - Tory Island 1st edit 127a

In his Gaelic island lilt, Patsy Dan takes his duty as the King of Tory very seriously. All visitors are made welcome. Patsy, as far as his health will let him, comes down to the harbour to welcome the ferry each time it arrives. A striking figure, although not a large man, Patsy conjures an almost Pirate King image to me. A large gold ring in his ear, sailing cap on his head and sharply dressed in a dark double-breast pea coat with a gold “O” pin on his lapel he cuts a dapper stride. His silver car parked close by with the personalised plate; King of Tory.

211018 - Tory Island - Patsy Dan Rodgers 3a

Patsy Dan Rogers, the King of Tory, passed away Friday, 19th October 2018, after a long-term illness aged 74.

Having only met him last year over a few days on the island, I was struck by his welcoming manner. On learning we were there to explore the islands interesting swimming spots and the music and art that the island is famous for. He immediately insisted that we pitch our tent close beside the Dixon Gallery where he, Anton and other local artists exhibit their work, to shelter from the stormy weather due to hit that evening.

 

180817 - Tory Island 1st edit 109ab

 

Patsy Dan described himself as a primitive artist and his paintings in the gallery hang alongside those of other family members. Although not born on the Island Patsy Dan was a great ambassador for the way of life there and it seems to me that they chose well on electing him King. The island has had a history of electing artists as their King. Born in Dublin he was adopted and came to the island around the age of four. A gifted musician and a natural storyteller he regaled us with stories both historical and recent of the island. Patsy Dan was also a great friend of the English artist Derek Hill who kept returning to Tory for close to 50 years. He described how Derek would spend days in his little studio/ ‘shack’ on the exposed northwest cliffs. He pressed the key into my hand and said “Go up and spend some time there when the weather clears, follow the track up from the road, just leave me the key back before you leave Tory!”

180817 - Tory Island 1st edit 18aAfter a wet and windy night, the day was settled as we cycled out towards the light house then turned right up the rough path to the shack. Between the natural rock and sparse grass were great slabs of concrete, most with heavy and rusted metal hoops embedded in them. I guess a hangover from the old telegraph station.

180817 - Tory Island 1st edit 25a

Inside the shack is still as Derek had left it, a small table in the narrow entrance hall with a slate top, perhaps this is where Derek would place his camping stove to boil water as he worked. The one-roomed building has windows on 3 sides and a second table sits in front of the largest, looking inland. In the corner a cabinet houses a few collectables – an old soap flake package, Oxo tins, a kettle, tea pot and even his paint palette on a slate. Derek might have only just stepped out the door a moment ago.

180817 - Tory Island 1st edit 33a

180817 - Tory Island 1st edit 24a

Looking across this craggy coastline with its cliffs and inlets, the rocks flayed with lines as though the sea, wind or both had whipped them repeatedly creating scars. I can see the draw for an artist to return year on year. How the light must change on the rock, sometimes grey, sometimes brown and even pink in the evening light.  The Atlantic, even on a calm day beats against the shore, whirlpools and sea-spray surging around the base of the cliffs and, as you follow the shoreline into one of numerous inlets the water is calm, the outer rocks taking the brunt of the ocean waves.

180817 - Tory Island 1st edit 45b

A wooden bench painted bright red and tethered down to large rocks, a makeshift solution after the original bolts had sheared off, provides a perfect seat to watch the changing elements. Just below a curved metal barrier hangs over the edge of the inlet and from this a steep and narrow stone staircase leads down to the water. The sun lights up the sea-weed under the surface as it sways gently in the crystal clear sea – who could resist?

 

180817 - Tory Island 1st edit 90b

 

This northern shore of Tory Island has the high cliffs, taking all the battery of the sea and not far from Derek’s shack is a small walled graveyard called ‘The Foreign or Commonwealth Graveyard’. Still tended by the islanders this is the resting place of British sailors who’s ship the HMS Wasp sank here in 1884, with only 6 survivors from their 56 crew. Their mission was to vacate the island as their landlord owed over ten thousand pounds to the British government and HMS Wasp was going to collect rent and rates or remove the residents off the Island. As word filtered to Tory that the ship had left Westport, Co Mayo, two islanders carried the ‘Cursing Stone’ to the extremities of the island, praying that it would put upon the ship a curse from the heavens. The Gun Boat sank 23rd September 1884.

180817 - Tory Island 1st edit 06a

The island has had many years of battling to maintain its permanent residents, a fight Patsy Dan continued to struggle with as he tried to convince the government and others to invest in the islands infrastructure and improve access for tourism.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media Tory Island. Picture by Paul McCambridge

A place for bird watchers, artists and poets, walking or off-road biking along this cliff top brings one past a series of inlets and inspiring rock formations. Approximately halfway along the island is a very narrow and extremely steep inlet that has two little gems for swimmers. The very steep grassy sides mean you must zig-zag your way carefully down to the waterside rocks. From here it’s a fairly easy climb down into the water, a large dark cavern gapes in the opposite wall. Swimming out of the sunlight into the darkness my heart beats faster, that nervousness of the unknown. My eyes take a moment to adjust to the dim light and I cannot stop myself from imagining all sorts of great sea creatures lurking in the shadows – quickly coming back into the safety of the light I spy a large rock near where I got in and I see a narrow gap behind. I slip through this gap into a tall circular chamber; an almost enclosed little pool.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media Tory Island. Picture by Paul McCambridge

Tory has many swim spots to discover; on the east of the island at Port an Duin, right at the end of the road, two beaches frame the narrow land bridge leading out to Balor’s Fort and The Lovers’ Flagstone. Lying back to back, depending on which direction the wind is from, one or other of these can often be sheltered enough to swim.

180817 - Tory Island 1st edit 131b

Worth the trip and despite its small landmass, Tory has a lot to offer for a visit, music, art, swimming and bird watching.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media Tory Island. Picture by Paul McCambridge

Thank you Patsy Dan, King of Tory for making us welcome.

180817 - Tory Island 1st edit 214a