Ray Murnane can’t walk after a road accident some years back, but he can swim, and he lives for his regular dips off Snave Pier, Ballylickey. Prompted by the local residents association, the county council has now upgraded the slipway which makes the experience for Ray, and his hardy group, far more enjoyable.
A WEST Cork man who was paralysed after a road accident in 2015 said getting into the sea brings him back to himself and helps him appreciate what he has.
Ray Murnane swims with a group off Snave Pier, Ballylickey where, he said, getting into the water on a steep gradient and without a handrail was ‘on a wing and a prayer.’
But now thanks to a €40,000 investment by the County Council, the difference, he said, ‘is like night and day.’
Ray and his wife Dee, together with Jenny Downey and Mary Lawton, are part of a much larger group of people who use Snave Pier for their daily dip.
The €40,000 investment by Cork County Council – following the persistent urgings of the Ballylickey Residents Association – resulted in the completion, last November, of an improved slipway and new handrail.
The improved amenities not only allows Ray – and the two other swimmers who use wheelchairs – easier access, it also benefits leisure craft activity.
Anne Condon, the chairperson of the Ballylickey Residents Association, told The Southern Star: ‘We have some very brave people who swim here every week – rain, hail or snow.’
In fact, one of the association’s members, Peggy Healy, described wild swimming as: ‘The most fabulous thing to do.’
She said: ‘You just get in there, with your heart doing 90, but within two seconds you are off, out there, swimming, and it sets you up for the day.’
The new pier extends down six meters, which enables wheelchair users to swim off the pier. There are also protection barriers for cars on the pier, and new side steps, plus another handrail, that the 80-year-old ladies who swim at Snave find particularly useful.
Ray explained how the improvements has made it much easier for him to get in and out of the water. He said: ‘The difference is like the difference between night and day. Before, it was like getting in on a wing and a prayer. There were no handrails and the gradient was way steeper.’
Ray – who was one of eight people to feature in a remarkable documentary Vitamin Sea that was televised last April – outlines the benefits of wild swimming saying: ‘For me, it is a place where I go to let everything unwind.
‘This is what I do. It is part of my ritual. It is how I maintain myself. It is one of those things, when you sit down all the time, everything is from a different perspective.
‘When I go into the water all that changes, physically and mentally, I get to stretch out. I feel the weightlessness. All of my body moves in a way it doesn’t normally get to move. It is relaxed and floating.’
Ray had a road traffic accident in September 2015: he was on a motorbike and he had a head-on collision with a truck.
A spinal cord injury means he can’t walk, but he does have a little bit of movement in his left leg and some function in the right leg.
‘When I get into the water,’ said Ray, ‘it brings me back to myself. It helps me to appreciate what I have. There is a lot of stuff I don’t have, but getting into the water allows me to let everything go. It takes the strain off your body, your mind, your head, and it clears everything out.’
‘Swimming has always been part of me, and I am really grateful that it still is. I can’t walk but I can swim.’
Ray said their Friday swim at 9.30am, in particular, means a lot to him. ‘We have all been friends for a long time,’ he said. ‘The common dominator, at the start, was that all our kids went to the gaelscoil. Now, for me, it is a place where I can go and be myself.'
Ray, who is doing a masters in social work, talks to people for a living. There is his professional self, and there is ‘myself’ at Snave.
On the day The Southern Star visits, the sea looks rough, but Ray shrugs it off saying: ‘This is why we do it. Sometimes going out of your comfort zone is what living is all about.'
‘Even at that,’ he added, pointing to the breakers not six feet away, ‘it is not that uncomfortable because you grow into things. You grow into new experiences, and facing new challenges.
‘The benefits far outweigh the discomforts any day of the week, and afterwards we go and have a good chinwag for an hour in Manning’s or De Barra’s in town, so there is a huge social element. This is how I live, and these are my friends.’
Jenny Downey, a long-time friend of Ray and his wife Dee, has been swimming here for years. Summer or winter, she said: ‘It is such a good feeling afterwards, I never regret going in for a swim.'
‘In the summer,’ she adds, ‘there could be up to one hundred people here, mostly local people and, in the evenings, you would have the local GAA club, all the young people after training.
‘Even when the tide is half-way down they can still jump in. They have great fun. They’d be here all evening until it gets dark.
‘Another hugely popular feature is the saltwater baths,’ said Jenny in reference to Owen Boyden’s hugely popular Wild Atlantic Seaweed Baths.
Echoing Ruth Fitzmaurice’s brilliant book I Found My Tribe, Dee Murnane also spoke about how this little collective has been hugely supportive throughout Ray’s recovery.
But for Ray, it’s all rather simple: ‘This is not about being a word champion. We come here for a dip. We doodle around and then it is like the comedy club when we have tea afterwards.
‘We do not want to be super heroes – we just want to glide along through.’