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A Further Shore – III – The Harbour

Instead of a beach, shadows loomed over me and the water went from gold to black in sudden deep shade.

A wall of dressed stone met my fingertips and loomed two metres over me. It was a pier, stone mooring bollards along the edge. There was another pier twenty or thirty metres away to my left, like the coast had projected horizontal crenellations into the sea.

There are no stone piers on the Copper Coast. Even concrete slipways are rare on our exposed shore which lacks any suitable bays as harbours.  The Copper Coast rocks are primarily Old Red Sandstone and soft limestone. Why was I thinking about stone? I sought rationality, logic. The type of stone didn’t help. No, wait, the lee side of Tramore Pier behind the concrete is dressed stone. That’s a stone pier. But Tramore pier is how many kilometres away? Eight, nine? Away from where? I’ve swum the Copper Coast, every metre. I did not know this place and Tramore is just a single angled pier. Logic didn’t help.

There were steps near me built into the pier. In the shadows in the water the light became a type of dusk. Tarzan-style, head up, two strokes and I reached the stairs. I gingerly got a foot under me, then the second, and I stood and I climbed up. The pier edges were a charcoal grey, with the main mass a slightly lighter grey. Dark grey stone mooring bollards. The surface seemed almost swept clean except a dusting of bleached sand with faint mother-of-pearl sparkles. The rock was warm and the sand very fine under my bare feet. An ever-so-slight breeze had returned, a whisper that quickly dried my bare skin as I looked around me.from this vantage I could see other piers projecting out into sea.

A harbour. But no stacks of pots. No boats, no coils of gaudy nylon rope, no hauled out punts or moored tenders. No detritus of a working harbour.

The piers were fronted with low stone buildings, one or two stories, also stone, with slate roofs. All orderly, well maintained and pretty in the austere way of coastal communities, especially in the soft light.  No electricity poles. No diesel tanks, no mechanics.

This could not be. But it was. I was just a swimmer. You can’t accidentally swim to France or to somewhere you’ve never seen, never been. Arms are too weak against the Sea, despite our desire to prove otherwise.

We swim in part because it human-scales the world. Swimming makes the world both bigger and smaller. It becomes immense against the strength of our shoulders. But it becomes small and intimate and local, limited also by our shoulders. Driving a road a thousand times is not like walking it once. Sitting on the beach a thousand times is not like swimming out to the horizon once. We remember the scale of the world we’ve forgotten in the rest of our lives, we remember the absolute importance of the horizon.

What was this place?

Where was this place?


Previous parts

A Further Shore – I – The Arch

A Further Shore – II – The Golden Light

A Further Shore – II – The Golden Light

I’d swum a double handful of strokes on one breath, and seen so little and yet so much. Only water, rocks, kelp, light? You don’t understand.

Time to breath and navigate, I lifted my head. Golden sunlight dazzled me, washed over me. I know it had been months, the previous autumn since I’d last swum Kilfarassey, but surely the arch only dog-legged slightly? The mid-day Sun should have been to my left, instead it was ahead. I filled my lungs and swam on, out past the surrounding reefs for a few metres, until I could swing right, to the north, back toward the beach.

Out past the rocks I swam, so that I could see past Burke’s Island to the coast almost a kilometre away. The beach. Where was the beach and the cliffs? I kicked and sat up, threading water, my hands sculling as I peered right. Was the glare on the fogged and smeared goggles, which seemed so clear underwater now deceiving me? I couldn’t see the beach. Where’s the beach? I didn’t think anything. Involuntarily my head whipped around and as it did, mere fractions of a second, I saw the dark line of the coast ahead of me.

Wait. Wait. The Sun was ahead of me and the coast was ahead of me. What? That can’t. That can’t. This wasn’t just forgetting details from last summer. This Copper Coast is in my blood, no-one, no-one knows it like I do.

Don’t panic. Everything I know about the Sea kicked in. Everything learned, every time I risked a rock or a tunnel or a cave or a sketchy entrance or dangerous exit, every time in rough water, big water, unknown water, when I was by myself, testing myself, everything clamped down inside into “stay calm, you know this, stay calm“.

I felt it in my gut. My stomach twisted but I stayed calm. The reefs looked the same. The gaps were where I expected, the reefs all lined up in relation with each other. I looked behind. The Keyhole Arch was there, of course. The raucous guillemots still wheeled and the herring gulls still cried. But when I looked again, the coast was still in front, the  green of the fields and cliffs blackened and flattened by the back-light of the Sun overhead. This was not possible.

Nothing else happened. I looked around. I felt the clamp inside my gut, controlling me, my own internal governor. The light breeze had slackened and I noticed that the surface has glassed off to an oily silken sheen, inviting me forward. A swimmer’s version of bubble-wrap waiting to be popped, the water pleading to be pierced by my arms.

Swim, it’s what I do. Just swim in, figure it out later. I’d only been in the water twenty-five minutes or so, I’d passed two-thirds of the distance already. In the ten degree water, I wasn’t more than lightly chilled as I hadn’t stopped until now.  I couldn’t be severely hypothermic, I had none of the signs. Twelve to fifteen minutes swim, and a packet of jelly dinosaurs waiting in the glove compartment. The clamp relaxed just a fraction. Stay calm and swim.

I stroked ahead. Okay, swim in. Don’t think about it. Things happen in your head when you’re alone in the water. Things you don’t tell anyone. Things you will never tell anyone. Things they would never understand.

The water was glorious. I felt the edge, the finest sharpest molecular blade-edge of cold. That perfect feeling that cold water swimmers know, and can’t understand that others don’t appreciate. Like a fire on your skin, like when you have exhaled all your air, you can purse your lips and get that fraction more out. Like a drug or a mystery. Use everything and the cold gives you that tiny bit extra. Take a surgical scalpel, and draw the back of the blade down the inside of your forearm for a hint of that edge of cold.

Under the water the water was green suffused with argent, rich like ripe avocado. I was bathing in glory and brine, swimming in light as well as water. The light poured over me and basted my skin. I could taste the light in the water, in my mouth, like salty caramel. I could hear it. I could hear the golden light. Not with my ears, but with my proprioception. When I lifted my eyes to navigate, the light blasted my goggles and made gemstones of the world, sapphire, onyx, emerald and turquoise. The light cascaded and boiled into my lungs and filled me up. Every sense, new senses, filled with the golden light.

We swimmers know how low twenty metre tall cliffs look from just a kilometre away.  How a coast become flat, every part the same distance away, three-dimensionality lost. We know both how close and how far a kilometre is. A kilometre is a short swim but twice the distance required for a swimmer to become invisible to others on the shore.

The coast closed quickly as I swam. The light gave me a grace I’d never known. I didn’t just cut through the water or slip through the light. I became the water and the golden light. I was water and light swimming in water and light.

But when I reached the coast, when I could finally see under the glare, there were no cliffs. There was no beach.

Golden light through a Copper Coast arch
Golden light


Previous part

A Further Shore – I – The Arch

A Further Shore – I – The Arch

Winter reduces my range. I swim at the Guillamenes, along the cliffs and shore of Tramore Bay.  Maybe, just maybe, I might get down to Sandycove for a lap. Days pass when I see no-one, arriving, swimming and leaving without a soul.

Spring comes with almost imperceptibly warming water and air and increase in the number of people. The winds slacken, swim time gradually extends. The rest of the Copper Coast calls out to me, to return and see what the winter has wrought, to find new experiences and new memories.

Burke's Island & reefs, Kilfarassey
Burke’s Island & reefs, Kilfarassey

Kilfarassey and Burke’s Island are always my first Copper Coast spring swim away from Tramore Bay. My playground of the island and reefs sits just a short swim away at high tide, a full circumnavigation of all takes only forty-five minutes, with optional paths around the reefs to lengthen any swim.

There was no-one else around, the tide was dropping and the sky was blue with a few actual white puffy clouds, not the usual grey-bottomed bringers of Atlantic rain usually visible. The water wasn’t quite calm, a light easterly Force Two breeze ruffling the surface and adding a nip to the air as I walked the hundred metres from the car down the slipway, crossed the stream and beach and left my sandals burdened under rocks on the sand. I lined up the zero triangle and minute-hand on my watch to indicate departure time and waded in, then dove into an incoming mushy wave.

The water was about ten degrees Celsius, according to my built-in skin thermometer. The cold shock associated with such a temperature dissipated within a minute or so as I swam out toward the windward east side of the island, stretching out my arms and shoulders.  Within a dozen minutes I’d reached the nearest shark-fin-shaped reef, and instead of a longer circumnavigation around the outside reefs, I turned west across the back of the main island. The water was a clear cool mint and jade in the cross-shore breeze, submarine reefs reaching up, old friends from previous years welcoming me back.

Another few minutes and I passed the main island and reached the inside end of the channel that divides the easterly and westerly reefs.  I was at the east side of the largest reef, a north-south ridge some seventy five metres long and reaching in places up to ten metres above the surface. Populated by birds and guillemots, mostly by Black Shags, who have always vocally disapproved of my unaccustomed irregular appearances, they threw themselves from the reef into the air, wheeling and dive-bombing and screaming their indignation at my arrival in their offshore haven.

I was swimming to The Keyhole, my nickname for the first rock arch I’d ever swum through. It’s an east-west narrow-waisted arch in the ridge, only ten metres long at the water’s surface, with a bare dogleg between the ends. There’s not much of a roof,  cut away as it is to the sides. When conditions are right, the arch, which is too narrow for most kayakers, compresses the flow and a swimmer can shoot through like a fairground water ride.

The easterly breeze wasn’t enough to shoot through at speed but the clear water gave me hope of seeing an anemone clinging to the rocks under the low tide mark, so I decided to swim through without breathing, to extend my underwater investigation.

With head underwater, I cruised west  through the arch, feeling the water flow keep me clear of the harsh sides. The quality of the sub-surface light changed, surely a cloud filtering the light entering the water, transforming it to a rich golden hue.

Under the surface was so crisp, so clear. The sand of the bottom, the encrustations of thousands of generations of barnacles on the rocks, this reef their universe, our air their outer space. The kelps and weeds waved in the backward and forward tidal stream. Ochre, umber, sienna. Jade, olive, phtalo green. Marl and charcoal. A merman’s palette of literal water colours. No fish were visible in the clear water this day, but here was every child’s daydream of swimming in an aquarium’s watery castle. No plastic scuba or treasure diver was required to perfect this idealized underwater scene.

All for me, just here, just now. All this time to see so little and yet so much. Only a double-handful of strokes on one held breath from arch end to end.

You can’t eat scenery, they say in Ireland. I was a child when I first heard that and I still knew they were wrong. Not with your mouth. But you can eat it with your eyes and your mind and your imagination. You can use it to create your soul, to fill your self.

The Boston Marathon attack – an attack on all sportspeople

I don’t want to be trite about this event, and I’m far away from it in different country, an athlete in a different sport.

But regardless of nationality or sporting event, apart from being an event in America we should all see this as an attack on all athletes and sports-people whether participants or otherwise, around the world.

All athletes regardless of sport rely on three commonalities:

  1. The community of our fellow athletes.
  2. The support of our families and friends.
  3. The organisers and volunteers without whom events would be non-existent.

None is more important, some people pursue individual quests, some do it without family or friends, maybe some believe they do something entirely without organisational support, but no-one is completely individual and unconnected to the world. Kick out any one leg of the three and the whole pursuit, whatever your sport is, falls apart.

There may be for you, as there are for me, many sports in which you have no interest. But that is not the same as having no interest in the people who pursue them. It’s not the same as not recognising that every sports-person cares just as deeply about their sport.

This attack was on the athletes, the supporters, the by-standers, the families and friends, and the organisers. My stomach churns at the thought of the people who have some event planned for next week or next month after this. Some event that for them may the biggest sporting pursuit in their lives, or a personal goal or even simply just part of their lives, some sport that for them is as essential to living as swimming is for me. And trying to convince their family that they can continue, and worrying whether the organisers might not continue.

Because for many of them, one thought that will not arise will be to stop their sport, whether running, football of any kind, swimming. 

On that basis, ask yourself, if tomorrow in your swimming you had this hanging over you: Would you swim? And even if you did, as most of us would I think, think about the new burden that would bring to you and those connected with it.

Therefore I say, the Boston Marathon attack is an attack on every person who has ever participated, helped, organised, supported, or even watched, any sport in the world. I sympathise with those affected.

Everyone is a lone swimmer reaches a quarter of a million page views this weekend*, and I wanted to thank all the readers, viewers, commenters, subscribers and occasional visitors. It is very gratifying for an average swimmer in the middle of nowhere.

When I started this blog I honestly never expected it to reach such a figure, I never had such a goal or target. In fact I never had any particular target other than a continuing desire to share whatever I’d learned. It took a year and a half to reach 50,000 views and I remember both being very pleased but wondering how much life was left in the blog at that time, (something I still often wonder). And I was also pleased as you know by now to win the Sports and Recreation Blog of the year for 2012, to my very great surprise.  Personally one of the greatest pleasures have been the direct contacts and friendships I’ve made with swimmers around the world resulting from the blog.

loneswimmer monthly views Mar 2013

Readers come from almost all over the world, though Equatorial Africa and parts of the Middle East seem uninterested. The four regions for most readers are the USA, Ireland, the UK and Australia, with Canada, South Africa, India and the EU countries being the next most common origin. Darker colours in the map represent more readers.

loneswimmer world map Apr 13

About 700 posts, have been published (some have been removed due to being obsolete…or rubbish). Over 1200 comments have been left, and that’s despite my being sometimes poor at responding, especially in the early days of the blog. There have been over 42,500 SPAM comments! Most SPAMmer are idiots, but not are all and those few can confuse the SPAM filter, and the sheer volume means that occasionally a genuine comment or question will get caught in the SPAM filter & I might not see it for months. My apologies if this has happened to you and if I never responded it probably means I missed it entirely.

The most commented post is Introducing a Precise Open Water Temperature Scale, which is also the site’s third most popular post. “What temperature is too cold to swim in”, and the amended version of the same being the most popular posts, ongoing.

Apart from variations about cold water swimming, the most popular search is for Sea Lice, a continuing problem for open water swimmers around the world, and which seem to increase in volume in spring and late summer of both hemispheres. The incoming searches can be very varied. I see people who have plugged in the entire question from their homework verbatim, or others looking for images of some of my swimmer friends in bikinis or even naked. And those friends don’t have to be women!  Someone wanted to know if a dog can swim the English Channel and there are other occasional odd ones. How to get water out of your ear is perennially popular (I still prefer the hop up and down on one leg as my preferred method, for the jovial aspect at least).

English Channel from the ISS

Quite a few people visit because of images here, such the English Channel from the International Space Station, European Space Agency’s Grid Waves, (which caused a huge influx of traffic recently after it got shared around on Facebook, many thinking it was a fake). Other very popular images include the depth of the ocean to scale (look very carefully at the bottom of that image) and lot of people click-through on this image!  Also images for Jellyfish ID, the Training Zone chart, different types of athlete’s bodies, understanding waves, and how waves can interfere with swimmers, understanding prevailing winds are all popular, often or maybe even usually amongst irregular swimmers. My open water swimmer’s brain cartoon has escaped in the wild also.


The HOW TO series is continually popular, which is why I leave the link up there on top, and those How To posts tend to be the ones I most like writing since they are at the core of what I am trying to do. (I really need to organise an index for them). Interestingly theraband work for shoulder strengthening is the most popular of those, with the annual cold water swim advice for irregular swimmers being the second, and the next three are all on the subject of understanding and addressing hypothermia in swimmers. There have been three different April Fools joke, which have caused varying levels of consternation (2012 & 2013) or even panic (2011) but have always entertained…me!

In comparative terms to,, which Evan and I founded early last year, is coming on 600 members and has page views coming up on half a million! Are you a member yet? The power of community is always stronger than one person’s views.

So there we are, a quick overview and Thanks to you all!

Sometimes we are all lone swimmers, and everyday is the Channel.



{* In fact since quite a few people receive posts by email and aren’t recognised in the overall figures, the number was passed a while ago. In order to so some site housekeeping, email updates will revert to summary only for the moment and you’ll have to make a one-click jump from email back here to read the full article.}

Hitting the Big Time

It’s seems I am “Forbidden” in China*. Are open water swimmers subversive? Is Irish humour dangerous?  Is it the lascivious way we rub lanolin and suntan over ourselves? Is it the skimpy togs? Is it… the pictures of Gábor?

Are open water swimmers just too individual? Or is the mention of the freedom of open water swimming, how there are few things as truly free as an open water swimmer’s mind while they are swimming?

(*Family member in college in China at the moment).

Monthly views

Some facts as celebration

I started writing this post a few weeks ago when 50,000 pageviews was starting to become visible in the near distance. One of you reading this today will be the official 50,000th person. (I won’t be able to tell which of course).

Recently I realised that should be at least 50k. WordPress (the site platform) was not reporting internal links from other WP sites, so I’ve no idea how many were missing, over almost two years (the first year I had low numbers anyway) and once the WP referrals started to be counted, the numbers jumped over a week, then they (WordPress) broke the reporting again, but it looks like I passed 50,000 some time ago, maybe weeks. Page views is a pretty inaccurate figure, but it’s one of only measurements I’ve got for this niche open water swimmer blog. (I actually hate that word blog, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, and will again). Traffic has been steadily incremental.

But Thanks Very Much Everyone!

This is the 492nd post! I have no idea how many words. About 600 images uploaded (Maybe two-thirds of those I’ve taken myself).

In Analytic terms, I broke into the Top 4 Million of popular websites … Yeah, I know, that doesn’t sound like much. It can vary on a given week though by up to three-quarters million ranking, which doesn’t seem to be traffic related or even related to the pages linking in. Links-in continue to increase, thanks very much to those who add my page to their links.

Links-In are important for Google Search results. The Site Page Rank is Three, compared for example to, also at Three and Evan’s at Four. Congrats Evan! The Page Rank Scale is out of Ten. However the Average page rank of the webs billions of page is … Zero! Google hold onto details on size of ranks, etc.

email Subscribers are from the USA, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Philippines, Germany Switzerland and Netherlands, at least! Hello to you all and thanks very much.

Ok, it’s not quite what Google itself gets every minute (two million). But it’s not bad for a niche sport and again, it wouldn’t happen without readers.

What you readers have to put with:

  • Some guy blathering on about the sea and swimming.
  • Who regularly manages to put his foot in it (you should see some of the comments and emails I’ve received, and I’ve never tried to be controversial, natural Irish ability?)
  •  Who does continue to try to stick to his ethos of putting everything he knows about open water swimming here. Even if it’s sometimes wrong, or there’s better ways of doing it. And even with all the digressions.

I have NO regional stats however, but readership is about 50% USA, 50% everywhere else.

Apart from Front Page views, the most popular ever day was during my own English Channel swim (giving you value for money by spending an extra six hours in the water!) and the What Temperature Is Too Cold To Swim In articles (variation). Expect occasional further ruminations on this question as they occur to me.

The Top Ten searches that brought people here aren’t very revealing, they seem pretty random, except the loneswimmer moniker seems alive and well, and has grown in recognition beyond my imagining, thanks to the Sandycove Swimmers crew and Steve Munatones and Daily News of Open Water Swimming. Diana Nyad’s publicity for her swims seems wildly effective if the searches are anything to go by. Penny Palfrey is also hugely popular. A short post on a prehistoric sea creature, Anomalocaris brings in a lot! And in a windy world, we see an obvious interest in weather. As an open water swimmer, who therefore don’t look like an athletic ideal, I am delighted that people are open to the differences in athlete’s body shapes.

A lot of people have seen my Swim Box and were curious. I put the Swim Box up for a laugh, and I’m constantly surprised that it seems to have developed a personality of its own, and I often meet people who have already seen it, either on the site or at the Guillamene, before I’ve met them.

Another thing from the searches is that while the more technical HOWTO topics might not capture people’s attention when they are published (and very rarely garner any comments at all), they nonetheless bring in a constant flow of people.

Meteorology and sea-related related articles, such as exploring prevailing winds or tides or waves, bring in a continuous stream and occasional diversion on swimming locations and Irish landscape and language are surprisingly popular. My article on the etiquette of lane swimming is also a perennial, showing the frustrations of lane swimmers worldwide, and it’s been know to be printed out for swimming pools that care about their customer, unlike one pool I could mention.

95% of the time I can’t tell what will be popular, which is just as well I think, since I’m writing from whatever interests me and what I can consider relevant or useful to open water swimming. For example an ordinary post called about An Ordinary Irish Early Summer’s Swim was popular when I wasn’t sure anyone would be interested in it.

So far I’ve managed to stick to my own self-imposed rule, at least to my own standards. I do like to explore aspects of the natural world that occasionally seem tangential, but mostly the marine environment. Mentions of Irish Place Names and the images from my Project Copper, swimming all of Waterford’s Copper Coast were also popular. The inspiration from Evan Morrison’s Freshwaterswimmer to be more assiduous in posting mixed media seems beneficial, I’ve always been visually driven anyway, just not very good at photography, but if you take enough photo’s, some will turn out okay.

If I take out references to people, the top results become more interesting. Searchs related to Tramore and or the Waterford coast are unsurprising, since that’s where I swim and write most about.

prevailing winds
jellyfish id
different athletic body types
tall ships waterford
swimovate review
salt water chafing
destructive waves diagram
keypod review
third spacing
helvick swim
cold water swimming
peoples republic of cork
sandycove swimmers

Who would thought a swim watch review would be so popular? Also with Google’s Auto-complete now used as standard, terms will bring people here when they almost definitely were looking for something else (tentacle porn anyone?)

Given I write drafts for future posts, and usually have a list of posts ready in the background, I don’t often (but not never) write any posts specific to what people actually search for, as Finbarr and Lisa remind me when I write one of my more “flowery” posts.
About a third to more than half of views every day come from search engines, sometimes swim or weather related, general or a specific person (like Fran Crippen, Diana Nyad, Penny Palfrey). Shark-related brings in constant trickle.
According to a WordPress comment: Successful blogs draw between 30 – 60 % of their incoming targeted readers from search engine referrals.
My tagging system was very poor from a search point of view, and I’ve only recently changed it, and removed the tag cloud from the front page, leaving only categories. Tags will now be more post specific, which means the Tag volume will get larger, which will make searches more accurate, but a Tag Cloud feature will be too unwieldy for readers so I removed it.
I regularly get see some weird search terms that bring people here; sandycove nudist is one of my favourites, (Ned I guess). I occasionally get hits from people who have typed in an entire school homework question except for answer, e.g. if you are farther from the amphidromic point, the tidal range is … I hope you know the answer to this now, I’ve written about it here.
One of my favourites is:
How to tell a swimmer from a normal person?
(Expect a future post with that title). I’ve always said that open Water swimmers are the proud freaks, weirdoes and outsiders of the swimming world. Apparently the same applies to our relationship to the human race as a whole.
One question that reappears that I haven’t felt qualified to address is
Is swimming in cold water bad for pregnant women?” despite all my writing about cold. I’ll try to find someone who can answer this better, or I’ll look into the research.
I’ve asked a few people to write guest articles on subjects of their own choice, you’ve seen Julie Galloway’s guest post earlier this week, expect another high-profile guest post soon. Some others have said yes but we’re still waiting …(you know who you are).
Oh, and I still have plenty to write and post about, (though things will probably slow down a bit over the winter). There are enough and better people writing about most swim technique stuff that I can’t add much, so only whether it’s relevant to me, and therefore possibly to you.
Below are some of the funnier or just weirder search terms that people have inputed into search engines that have brought them to this site, because there was something apparently here. Some I can understand, others I have no idea. Would you imagine more than one person in the world is looking for pictures of jellies babies in relation to first aid in one day? Every term here has occurred more than a single time.
  • pictures of first aid/jelly babies
  • tennis tights
  • парусники
  • where are they putting the skips in palfrey
  • سباح
  • y u no
  • the most unusual thing ever
  • infrared pics of swim teens
  • shoe helps alleged swimming
Here’s to the next fifty thousand, or whatever. I hope you continue to visit.
Thanks again …
I’m just an ordinary swimmer, in the middle of nowhere.
End Polio

The Penny Palfrey Project

 Astonishing ultramarathon swimmer Penny Palfrey launched a new website last week to promote and support her Cuba to Florida swim next June, AND next year’s Rotary Club charity Global Swimarathon to eliminate polio. The two are inextricably linked. Penny is the first Global Ambassador to end Polio, and she needs to fund-raise for the Cuba-Florida attempt.

Cuba to Florida has been attempted by a few, and even swum (by Susie Maroney) but in a shark cage. Penny will be swimming without a shark cage. Penny Palfrey is the world record holder for the longest solo unassisted open water ocean swim and Penny is regarded as “the best” open water marathon swimmer in the world, highly respected and admired by her peers and the one of the few people capable of defeating the water that divides Cuba from Florida.

The Rotary Global Swimarathon’s website. The swim will be on February 25th organised by local Rotary Clubs and you can register interest on the website for updates, download a poster for the project, donate to the charity or sponsor Penny directly. Sponsors can even get to join Penny’s team.

You can contact the Rotary Clubs in your area (e.g Irish Rotary club directory or International). I’ve contacted Waterford Rotary Club to offer assistance in organising a swim for that day. The original Rotary Swimarathon was a team relay to do the maximum number of lengths in 55 minutes, something many of us could do by ourselves. Why don’t you do the same?

And the Cuba to Florida isn’t all. Penny is signed up for the Mouth of Hell, the North Channel in August of next year, the last swim for her in her attempt to be the first to complete the Ocean’s Seven, having recently completed Tsugaru.

As the quote above says, marathon swimmers (and others) around the world consider Penny the world’s best. But it’s a costly sport. For Penny to complete these swims in her own words; “we need to raise the money to pay for it”; she doesn’t have a huge PR organisation.

The Rotary Club has a donation page for one-off, or recurring donations. The Rotary Foundation enables Rotarians to advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through the improvement of health, the support of education, and the alleviation of poverty.

Edit: By the way: here’s Penny’s Twitter account.



Irish place names briefly explained

Entering Copper Coast roadsign

A lot of Irish places names have been appearing in my Project Copper posts and I said I’d do a brief overview.

Disclaimer: I’m not a native Irish speaker, but I have a few words like many people. If you are from overseas, we don’t call it Gaelic, by the way, but there’s a commonality to Irish place names such that certain essentials are easy to grasp.

First: Eveything in Ireland has a name. Everything. Fields, hills, beaches, rocks, apart from the bigger stuff. Every area in Ireland is divided in a province, then a county. Below that are townlands of which there are some 60,000. A townland might have only a few houses or even none. Maybe that feeds my desire to give my own names to some rocks when swimming past but when I am doing so, it’s always whilst wondering, “what is this really called or what was it first called?”.

Second: Some names are old. Really old. Names can come from pre-Celtic, Celtic, Viking, Norman, or Anglo/English origins or even portmanteau or european language origins. Some names can be over 2,000 years old and bear no relationship to why they are so-called.

Three: Old names get corrupted.

Four: Celtic names particularly tended to relate to the geographical features.

Fifth: Anglicisation of Irish names by British settlers or Crown representatives because the Irish spelling and broad syllables were difficult. (I have regularly difficulty with English people utterly unable to pronounce my name after they hear me say it, Evelyn in Varne still cannot handle it after 3 years of visiting Dover and her being half-Irish). -gh usually give an -f sound. -bh is a v sound. S- makes an -sh sound. The Irish language alphabet is only 18 letters and doesn’t  have  j, k, q, v, w, x, y, and z. Vowels with an accent overhead are long,  e.g. á is usually pronounced aw, ó is oh.

Some of the common repeating parts of Celtic names particularly can occur at the start or end of the name. Typically the noun is followed by the adjective like in the Irish language but it is often followed by a proper name of a person.

Some common examples:

The most common part name is Baile-. This is Irish for town OR townland. It was usually  Anglicised to Bally or Balli, followed by a description.

Kil- or Kill- are probably the other most common and comes from either of two Irish words. The first is cill, meaning church and the second is coill, meaning wood (forest). Sometimes it’s difficult to tell which was the original word.

Next is probably Dun- from dún meaning fortress. Carraig- or Carrick- comes from carraig, meaning rock or stone, common to a lot of the small skerries and reefs . Tra- comes from trá meaning beach or strandBun- means bottom, ard- means high or topBun- is usually used for estuaries, followed by the name of the river or stream. Inis- or -inish- is island.Cnoc becomes Knock-, usually meaning a small hill. -An- or -an- in the middle of a name means -of the-. Ceann becomes Kin- from head, either animal or geographic feature. Guil- is black or dark, Gar- is a field or a groveBeag is small and -Mór is -more or -mor which is big.  And so on and so on.

Of the names used here recently or on the sign above:

Bunmahon; the bottom or estuary of the Mahon river.

Dungarvan; Garbhán’s (a person) Fort.

Tramore; the big (or long) strand (strand is more common term than beach).

Kinsale: the head(land) of the salty water.

Helvick; a Viking name meaning rock-shelf.

Beginish: small island.

Stradbally; Street town.

Annestown, you’ll see has an Irish name with it which seems to bear no relationship. Not that unusual, Annestown was a Protestant/Anglo village, so the name given was not derived from the name used by the Irish themselves.

I don’t know what everything means, sometimes I’m not sure whether a trailing syllable(s) is an adjective or a proper name.

Fennor, apparently means the sunny side of the hill (all I could figure was “white” or “bright”).

Oh, my name: Donal in Irish is Domhnall. Buckley is Ó Buachalla (a name originally from the south of the country), Ó meaning of, so Donalson of the herdsman originally, or, as I always like to think in memory of my Dad, who loved Western movies and books, cowboy. Donal, the cowboy. :-)

Fun useless fact: Ireland has somewhere from 45,000 to 65,000 (Irish) family names.

On a related note, the Irish Central Statistics office has put the entire 1901 and 1911 census archives online in their original format. I thoroughly recommend a visit.

Landlocked Ireland

This is Tipperary town (about six kilometers out) and environ’s on yesterday’s hazy May afternoon, the town I’m from originally (yes, just like the song). The panorama was taken at a place called Bull Rock (Rock an Tarbh,  52°23’50.63″N,   8° 9’33.85″W) in the Galtee Mountains foothills, facing north-north-west toward Tipperary Town.

Tipperary is Ireland’s largest inland county. The picture is a big panorama, full size gives plenty of detail. But with the haze, the hills of east Limerick, and Clare and the Slieve Feilim hills aren’t visible except as vague outlines.

Tipperary is within a section of Ireland called the Golden Vale, because of its agricultural richness. Looking south from the same location is the Galtee Mountain range. Actually between the foothills where I took these photo’s from, and the mountain rang is the Glen of Aherlow, which is I think, one of Ireland’s great and most under-appreciated locations.

Galtee Mor

That’s Galtee Mór on the left, Ireland’s third highest mountain, just over 900 metres. Most mountain ranges in Ireland are near the coasts as you could see in last week’s big image of Ireland, with the centre of Ireland being very flat. You can see that Galtee Mór is very smooth, indicative of atmospheric aging and a stable geology, worn down by wind and rain and snow. Earthquakes are pretty unknown in Ireland, as we sit well inside the Atlantic plate. Yeah, all that green is nice, but it’s not the kind you can swim in.

Dee’s doglet says hello.

Something gave way in my brain while swimming


So only two days ago I mentioned how I was out of ideas for upcoming posts and how I went for a sea swim. Not very explicitly with the idea of addressing this, yet that was the end result. I came back with a list of ten items, which, for once, I wrote down. I’m not good at To-Do lists normally, and I often have ideas for posts while swimming or late at night (as we all do) that I promptly forget or realize afterwards are pretty rubbish… But I don’t know what happened, because that list is now at over 20 items and is still growing. Sweet Azathoth*!

One blog I discovered a few months ago after its author Evan Morrison left a comment on mine, was freshwaterswimmer.  Evan btw, recently WON the Tampa Bay swim and is this YEAR tackling Tampa, MIMS AND Catalina! I’m exhausted thinking about it.

Evan and I both use the same WordPress theme. It struck me how much better use Evan made of images. When I started writing this site, I composed most of my posts offline and remotely submitted them. That worked fine and suited me and gave me more flexibility…I thought. I’ve mentioned before that I read quite a bit, so I am always personally happy with wall-of-text posts. But, (and I should know better), it wasn’t using the format to best advantage. Sure, I often put up posts with video and pictures, but some the posts I’ve put most work into were often less than inviting in an age where people want more varied media.

So as a consequence of Evan’s layout (thanks Evan, btw) and thinking about this stuff again, I’ve been going back to some older posts and updating them with some visual aids, such as Understanding Waves For Swimmers, Part 1 and Part 2. I will also try to internally link relevant older posts. And I promise a continuing diversity of posts, at least until the current list runs out.

Also, I’m going to start Tweeting updates on the site also.

Meanwhile, best wishes to Alan Clack who is racing in the Canadian National Master’s this weekend. Alan, for the love of Dagon**, please update your blog! More ice swimming pictures. Show the lake. Talk about tapering, the Master’s, swimming in Vietnam, anything!

* Azathoth: the blind insane nuclear chaos at the centre of the Universe!

** Dagon: originally a Philistine fishing/sea/fertility god

Interviewed for Open Water Wednesday on Daily News of Open Water Swimming

I’ve obviously been too busy to write much for the last few day, so I thought I’d let you know that Steve Munatones interviewed me a few weeks ago for Open Water Wednesday spot on the Daily News of Open Water Swimming which is available to his subscribers, principally on my favourite subject…cold water. I rambled on, as will come as no surprise to you by now.

Steve’s intro is below. I’m not in the habit of collecting clips about myself and I can categorically say I had nothing to do with Steve saying these things but THANKS STEVE (who is a regular reader and commenter here) though I’m a bit embarrassed!

I picked up my first Far East subscriber last week (that I’m aware of) so hello to Thailand, where about 20 years ago, before I was a real swimmer, I swam on the beach at Pattaya and still remember the sunset.

Also, it seems like the name Loneswimmer, that I chose all that time ago, has finally stuck, which I’m pretty happy about. It still works best for me. I love to swim with my friends, particularly at Clonea, the Guillamenes and Sandycove, amongst other locations,  aand though we have an increasing number of OW swimmers along the Waterford coast, I still regularly feel the need to break Rule Number One.

Steve, I like the new site layout, by the way.

I think most of us OW swimmers visit the Daily News. “Have you seen on Daily News…” is a regular conversation starter particularly over the summer. And the  are great tidbits to be gleaned. The recent Coke & potato crisps as a possible remedy for a sick stomach for example (I hate Cola, but nevertheless), and I’ve linked, a long time ago, Steve’s great article on the renaissance in Open Water swimming, one of my favourites.

“Donal Buckley of Ireland is the LoneSwimmer.  But his exploits are followed around the world.  His words, his voice, his perspective give swimmers around the world reason to pull for him, although most have never met him.  He inspires, he educates and he makes people smile and think with his profound prose.  He takes difficult topics and makes them simple.  He takes unknown issues and makes them engaging.  He tackles the concept of marathon swimming with zest and vigor and a uniquely educational and entertaining point-of-view. Donal simply makes the global open water swimming world a better place.  He is an English Channel solo swimmer and relay member who enjoys the simple joys and difficult challenges of cold-water marathon swims.  His thoughts, his opinions, his ideas are all interesting, engaging, spot on and thoughtful. His topics range from physical to psychological, from hypothermia to injuries, from training to its impact on daily life.  He is introspective, intellectual, interesting and intriguing from his lone outpost in the southeast of Ireland.”

Some book stuff

Extracted from a discussion.

“would you mind expanding on which non-sport-specific books have you found useful in your sports, [...]?

This was during a discussion between myself and another endurance athlete, an ultra- runner. It’s a question I often ask since I read a lot and I often hope I’ll find something pertinent. This time the question was turned back on me, because he knew I often asked it. This was my answer:

“[Stephen Donaldson's  Chronicles of Thomas Covenant]. A lot of people give up during or after the first one because of something that happens. You’ll know what it is if you read it. Covenant is adult fantasy, it beats anything else except maybe Tim Powers out of the water. I’m not a fantasy fan generally. [Ed. - We all need inspiration. The surface details of the series are far less interesting than his writing about despair & powerlessness & how it is possible to overcome through perseverance & ethics].

Since [if you] read SF,…(I’ve been reading SF for 40 years). Dune obviously. Particularly God-Emperor of Dune. Anything by Gene Wolfe, since he is a literary genius. Stephen Donaldson’s Gap Series is my favourite SF though. What he puts his characters through is unforgettable. I thought of Morn Hyland, one of the central characters during the Channel. In fact I wrote the author, (a first for me, and he is my favourite author), told him the story and he was very gracious in return. [I haven't published his response here]

Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning ranks as, I think, one of the most important books ever written, as does Khalil Gibran’s poetry, The Prophet (not religious). Both of these have helped me greatly.

“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s first person account of the Scott Expedition, The Worst Journey In The World. [If] you like Touching the Void, this is a must read.

Philip Plisson’s photographic works. The Sea, Lighthouses of the North Atlantic and Ocean .

Gary Larson’s Complete Far Side and Douglas Adam’s Meaning of Liff when I want to remember something funny but my brain is dead.

Though it’s far from what I normally read, Tom McNab’s Flanagan’s Run, a fictional version of the Race Across America footrace is pretty fun, and you know reading it that he understands endurance athletes.”


Solstice Greetings!

Fellow Fishpeople!

Today is Solstice. So I asked myself how to concatenate that with some of my interests in one seasonal post? (Open water swimming, H.P. Lovecraft fan, baby-eating atheist and existentialist.)

I’m a fan of the HP Lovecraft Historical Society’s Scary Solstice “carols”. In fact when I hear the “real” version on the radio, I substitute the HPLHS lyrics, such as Silent Night, Blasphemous Night, It’s the most horrible time of the year, Away in a Madhouse” or Unholy night, etc, etc.

So I’ve gone with a great YouTube video of one of my favourites, , based on the story The Shadow Over Innsmouth, Dee’s favourite Lovecraft story.

Sing it to yourself while you are swimming on Christmas day.

And here’s the lyrics for your singing pleasure.

It’s beginning to look a lot like fish-men
Everywhere I go;
From the minute I got to town
And started to look around
I thought these ill-bred people’s gillslits showed.
I’m beginning to hear a lot of fish-men
Right outside my door,
As I try to escape in fright
To the moonlit Innsmouth night
I can hear some more.

They speak with guttural croaks and to hear them provokes
A profound desire to flee
Their eyes never blink and quite frankly they stink
Like a carcass washed up from the sea.

I wish I’d paid attention to that crazy drunken man.
He tried to warn me all about old Marsh’s Deep One clan.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Fish-men
Everywhere I go;
They can dynamite Devil Reef,
but that’ll bring no relief,
Y’ha N’thlei is deeper than they know.
I’ll continue to see a lot of fish-men
That I guarantee.
For the fish-man I really fear
is the one who’s in the mirror
And he looks like me.
He looks just like me.

Happy Solstice!