Donegal 82-year-old wins prestigious open water swimming award

Paddy Conaghan swam at dozens of beaches and piers around country, sleeping in customised van

An 82-year-old islander who swam around Ireland for charity has described his man of the year award from a worldwide open swimming association as an honour.

Paddy Conaghan began a seawater swim challenge in late 2021, stopping at numerous beaches and piers each day and sleeping in his customised van. Starting and finishing on his native Arranmore island off the coast of Co Donegal, he raised more than €104,000 for charity.

The feat resulted in him receiving the man of the year award from the World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA), an American organisation that recognises the achievements of open water swimmers from around the world.

Paddy was named as the winner at an event in San Francisco. According to WOWSA, the awards celebrate “individuals and offerings that embody the spirit of open water swimming and have positively impacted the community, showcasing their determination, fortitude, and sense of adventure”.


Over 143 nominations were evaluated by the 94 members of the WOWSA awards voting academy and narrowed down to 10 finalists in each category, hailing from 23 countries.

“More than 11,400 public votes were cast, with a 75 per cent weighting from the WOWSA Academy and 25 per cent from the general public, to determine the top three winners in each category,” it said.

Of Mr Conaghan’s first place finish, it said: “The 81-year-old completed a non-contiguous charity swim around Ireland, raising over €104,400, starting and finishing on Arranmore Island, swimming more than 300 times during the stage swim.”

Mr Conaghan (82) has since embarked on another circumnavigation of the country. He said: “I feel honoured to be sure with all the famous names in it but I got plenty votes around the country and met a lot of people.”

He said his adventure wasn’t motivated by awards. “I just took off last year around the ports and around there harbours and the beaches of Ireland just carried it on and things just took off from there,” he said.

Mr Conaghan finished ahead of South African Lewis Pugh, who swam 123.42km on a 16-day stage swim from Tiran Island in Saudi Arabia to Hurghada in Egypt in an attempt to effect change in the marine environment, and Italian Gregorio Paltrinieri, who won a string of medals at the 2022 FINA World Championships.

Paddy wasn’t the only Irish winner. Cork Distance Week (Distance Training Week), a marathon swimming preparation camp designed and led by international marathon swimmer Ned Denison, won service or product of the year. Based in Sandycove Island, it aims to help participants achieve their marathon swimming and channel swimming goals.

Mr Conaghan’s first fundraiser was for Gemma’s Legacy of Hope and his latest challenge, which he calls the Ducking and Diving Around Ireland adventure, is raising funds for Accessible Counselling Tullamore, Lisheens House West Cork Suicide Prevention Service, RNLI, Mindspace Mayo and PIPS Suicide Prevention Ireland. It has already exceeded its target.

Mr Conaghan said he hopes to complete his latest tour around the Irish coast and return to Arranmore in March.