Ballydehob's newest world champion
BY NOEL COAKLEY
A CARNIVAL atmosphere gripped Ballydehob on Monday night as the village prepared to welcome home its own newest world champion, endurance swimmer Steve Redmond, who became the first person ever to complete the Oceans Seven Challenge at the weekend in Japan.
Generations of Ballydehob children have been reared on tales of the exploits of the locality’s legendary 1930s’ world champion wrestler Danno Mahony, known as the Irish Whip, but statistically it wasn’t probable that a village of less than 400 people would be able to boast of having a second champion.
From early morning, the Community Council, with its chairperson Martin Swanton at the helm, was busily preparing the welcome home. Some had ‘Hobson’s Choice’ of staying back to ensure that everything was in order for the late-night arrival, while others were able to travel to Cork Airport to accompany Steve’s wife, Anne, and their children, Siadbh and Steve Junior, and catch a first glimpse of the returning hero.
Though not due for another couple of hours, young and old, native and visitor alike, began to assemble on Main Street for the homecoming from 9pm onwards. Local musicians kept the crowd entertained as reports of the itinerary from Cork were updated by mobile phone.
A big welcome was expected in Skibbereen but the magnificent reception in Clonakilty took everyone by surprise and, even though it meant a further delay, hadn’t Steve and his team more than earned every plaudit available? Then he was in Skibbereen, at the rugby club, where he once wore a forward’s shirt.
As the cavalcade passed through Kilcoe orders were transmitted to torch the welcoming bonfires at the entrance to the village and, within minutes, Steve’s arrival on an open-top bus was heralded by the siren of the leading Garda car. There were moments of great emotion, elation and high drama as the first swimmer to complete the Oceans Seven Challenge alighted from the bus and was buffeted back and forth by a tide of well-wishers, who just wanted to touch him and utter the words ‘Well done! We’re so proud of you!’
After a hectic and draining 72 hours, speeches were brief and, in accepting the acclamation of the welcome home, Steve said failure to realise his goal was never an option because he could not let down all the people gathered here who supported him throughout the odyssey of the seven channels. He also said that he would shortly be back in the water with another swim around the Fastnet in aid of the Cork Southwest Autistic Association.
His support manager, Noel Browne, also said a few words and then retired teacher and neighbour, Eugene McSweeney, read a poem, aptly titled, ‘The Sea Horse of Lough Hyne’, which he had composed acknowledging Steve’s achievements.
Celebrations and music continued into the early hours and it took the rain to eventually cause the crowd to be homeward bound.
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