AN 81-year-old Donegal man endeared himself to swimmers throughout West Cork at the start of the week, as part of a fundraiser for a mental health charity.
Paddy Conaghan included many popular West Cork bathing spots on his Ducking and Driving tour of Ireland.
Elaine Grady, a family friend, said Paddy’s initial plan was to do a Christmas swim and raise some money for the counselling service called Gemma’s Legacy of Hope.
He came up with the idea of driving around all the beaches in Donegal, but no sooner was the van kitted out, than Paddy decided to go nationwide.
His first, modest fundraising target of €1,000 was met in jig time. Then it made 10 times that amount.
Now, he is on €60,000 and is only halfway through a journey that is due to be completed in mid to late February.
‘It is unbelievable how much people are getting behind him,’ said Elaine.
Paddy had intended sleeping in his van but people won’t let him. The offers of support – and the donations – are pouring in.
Elaine said Paddy was always a very strong and fit man, having worked in tunnelling all his life. He used to do a lot of hill climbing and cycling, but had to switch to swimming. Not having had a proper swim in nearly 60 years, he had to retrain himself to dive and swim.
Elaine said the money raised will make a massive difference to a small local charity that has three counsellors working with everyone, including children as young as five, four days a week.
Cllr Paul Hayes who joined the dippers at Broadstrand on Monday morning described Paddy as ‘the most youthful and fit 81-year-old I’ve ever met.’
‘Paddy’s initiative has certainly brought a cheerfulness and warmth to a usually dull and dark month,’ he said.