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Lapping it up in Lough Hyne

August 1st, 2017 7:10 AM

By Southern Star Team

A group of ‘lappers' in Ballyalla, near Lough Hyne for a recent swim. Inset: The group's ‘Chief Entertainments Officer' Declan Newman.

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What started out as an open-water swimmers' group has developed into a great social outlet with members notching

up some remarkable achievements writes Aisling Meath

THE spectacular Lough Hyne near Skibbereen is where many local swimming enthusiasts regularly take the plunge, and not just in summer. They enjoy the experience all year round, no matter what the weather.

‘The Lough Hyne Lappers' meet on an ad hoc basis by way of a ‘WhatsApp' group message, and those who join in find both the swimming and camaraderie so enjoyable that it has become a regular pastime for many of them.

The swimmers are people of all ages, occupations and swimming experience. Among their ranks are those who are competitive swimmers, fitness enthusiasts, those daring to set themselves a challenge, and those who simply enjoy the magic they uncover while swimming in such a beautiful place.

One of the regular ‘lappers' is Noel Browne from Castlehaven. He enjoys long distance open water swimming, having recently swum the Gibraltar Straits, a major open water swim that he completed in five hours and forty minutes. 

He is currently backing the campaign ‘Respect the Water' being promoted by the RNLI in conjunction with the GAA.

‘If you accidently fall into the water the best course of action is to try and float. It can go against everything your body wants to do, but resisting the urge to fight against the water and to just float can save your life.' He says.

Swimming with the ‘lappers' is a great way for less advanced swimmers to enjoy the open water experience,' he continued. ‘We all watch out for each other.' 

Those who make swimming a regular pastime confirm the benefits are both physical and mental. Noel again: ‘You hear a lot about mindfulness these days and swimming is my way of achieving this. You just switch off and concentrate on “the moment” when you are in the water. It's as good as meditation.'

Baltimore-based artist Paula Marten is also a regular lapper, and takes her underwater camera along to record the magical swims that inspire her art. Her blog ‘Sea Spell Swimming' beautifully documents her experiences.  ‘Swimming has given me a new perspective and seeing the landscape surrounded by water gives me such a buzz.' she says. ‘When I first started swimming at Lough Hyne three years ago, I used to be much more nervous, I was even afraid of seaweed then. Now I'm constantly surprising myself by doing longer organised swims like Baltimore to Sherkin. Swimming with others, and especially my pal Ann-Marie, is great at keeping me motivated. It's very exhilarating. We all get something different out of swimming.'

Paula's friend Anne-Marie Greene is one of the group of women known among the ‘Lough Hyne Lappers' as the ‘Base Camp Babes', because along with Niamh O'Donovan and her mother Denise, Marian Nealon, and Maria O'Regan she climbed to Base Camp Mount Everest last Easter. The women regularly swim at Lough Hyne, and it formed part of their overall exercise regime, which they began in June 2016 prior to their trip. ‘All of my family are into fitness,' said Niamh O'Donovan. ‘We recently swam out together past “The Gap” to the middle of Lough Hyne and sang happy birthday to my dad Joe, who just turned 69! I was always fascinated with stories about Everest when I was growing up; it was one of my ambitions to climb it. I was really proud to have my mother climbing it with me. The relief of getting there was my first reaction, and then when we realised we had done it – the feeling was out of this world. We were all on a “high” – literally!' she laughs. ‘After 12 days trekking, getting to Base Camp was really very life affirming,' she said.

Lapper Sonia Taylor is an assistant swimming teacher and a lifeguard, and takes part in many charity events. ‘I'm new to open water swimming, having previously been used to pools, and feel really lucky to have people like Noel Browne, Nathan Timmins and Steve Redmond, Oceans 7 champion, sharing their tips.' she said. ‘Afterwards we have our “cake by the lake”, and tea on the picnic tables.

‘Declan Newman is known as the “CEO” – Chief Entertainments Officer,' laughs Sonia. ‘He's the one who organises the mobile sauna on the pier to warm us up on cold days after our winter swims.'

Declan recalls a message left on their Facebook Page from another Sonia. ‘Sonia O'Sullivan read about us on Facebook, and travelled down to experience it for herself. She was very taken with the social aspect of the group.'

For those looking for something less taxing and who might be more into ‘dipping' then ‘lapping', there's also the ‘Lough Hyne Dippers.

• For more details contact:

Facebook Lough Hyne Lappers: Community

RNLI: #RespectTheWater on Twitter

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