The snot green sea off Dollymount was as choppy as it was cold and a bitter wind blew biting sand in swirls across the strand as the winter solstice dawned but it did not deter the hardy folk swimming to raise funds for Coolmine.
About 100 men and women and one dog raced toward the icy Dublin Bay water in various states of undress to raise money for the national drug treatment and rehabilitation charity as part of its inaugural solstice swim.
Leading from the front was Coolmine’s chief executive Pauline McKeown.
“It is a bit cold,” she said with a degree of understatement. “But it is the winter solstice and that makes it special. Clients when they come in to us have been homeless or in prison maybe so doing this today is about sharing the message that there are brighter days ahead.”
She said that while she was nota committed sea swimmer by any stretch of the imagination, she was “very much looking forward” to the experience that was just ahead of her.
Paul Walsh had travelled up from Tralee and was even more enthusiastic about the wintry plunge. “I do the cold showers and stuff and am really into all that cold therapy so I am going to embrace it,” he said.
He has been with Coolmine for almost six months and has two weeks left to run before his treatment programme moves on to the next phase. “It has changed my life, it is absolutely fantastic,” he said. “I have my life back and my voice back and my confidence back.”
And then off he went, approaching the dark and forbidding waves like he was on a sun-kissed beach in Greece at the height of summer.
The main backer of the charity swim was Mediolanum International, which has sponsored Coolmine since 2017. The company’s head of HR Mariano Mesolela was on the scene but wasn’t swimming. “I am Italian and it is too cold for me,” he laughed. He said he was hopeful the swim would raise at least €50,000 for “this wonderful organisation”.
Some of his colleagues were a bit braver. “I don’t sea swim at all,” said a distinctly nervous looking Avril Holmes from Glasnevin.
“On Christmas Day I jump in off Portmarnock but I jump in and then am out again. This is going to be different. I wouldn’t say I am looking forward to it,” she added, barely visible under the enormous dry robe she had borrowed for the day. “But it is for a great cause so it is worth it.”
And then the charge began. Dozens of men and women ran shrieking into the water. It being Dollymount, the descent into deeper water was gradual which clearly prolonged the agony for most of the swimmers leaving the screams of pain hanging in the breeze for what seemed like forever.
And Holmes felt like she had been in the water forever when she emerged and searched frantically for her borrowed dry robe. “It seemed like it was about 20 minutes but I think it was about two. I did duck down though.”
And how was it? “It was amazing, amazing,” she said before resuming her search for her robe.
McKeown was, if anything, even more excited by the experience. “It was breathtaking, so invigorating, once I got in and got acclimatised. It was important to keep moving. It was beautiful and so lovely to share it with our community, the women and the men and our corporate sponsors. It was just so special.”
And what was her plan for the rest of the day? “Hot chocolate, hot chocolate and hot chocolate and then back into the office feeling a whole lot brighter than when I woke up.”