IT was while she was doing the Leaving Certificate that Niamh Grimmer came up with the idea that she wanted to spend her summer doing something ‘fun.’
So there was a certain synchronicity that she arrived back in Schull on Tuesday, August 16th – after completing a solo kayak around Ireland – in time to collect her Leaving Certificate results.
‘The results were good ... considering,’ said Niamh, an 18-year old who says she’s not that interested in study, but lists her four big hobbies as sport, music, physics and military technology.
Niamh’s accent is different. Given the connection with kayaking you’d be forgiven for thinking she’s Canadian. ‘No,’ she says, ‘It’s just been butchered by TV and travel.
‘I did travel in Canada, but I was only three,’ said Niamh, who has also travelled in Venezuela, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and a tonne of European countries.
‘I travel with my dad, Stephen Grimmer, who is a geologist and gets to go to a whole load of crazy places.
‘My trip around Ireland was my first solo run,’ said Niamh, who rather cheekily points out that at the age of 18, she is no longer bound by other people’s rules.
Her parents, Stephen and Gabriel Murphy, did fret about her, but Niamh was dogged in her determination to circumnavigate the country in her kayak, which she named Dullahan.
From Celtic lore, Dullahan guides souls to the afterlife. ‘You could call it gallows humour,’ she said, ‘because I did think at one stage, “This is going to be the death of me”.’
Niamh finished her Leaving Certificate on Thursday, June 23rd and by 2pm on Saturday, June 25th she had Dullahan loaded with enough provisions for two weeks, a sleeping bag, and dry clothes.
‘There was no GPS, no personal locator beacon, no tent. There was no dry suit. And no cooking equipment. This was minimalist. That’s how I like it. If you are kayaking between 10 and 12 hours a day, there is no time to erect a tent and cook.’
Although every day was different, Niamh said she wasn’t averse to just paddling to shore, changing into dry clothes, and simply setting up for the night beside the kayak.
‘I ate astronaut food,’ she added. ‘Lots of dried stuff. It wasn’t very exciting. Protein bars. Dried fruit. Things you don’t have to worry about expiring, or getting wet.’
Was she lonely? ‘No. I wasn’t lonely. But sometimes I was bored. So bored in fact that when the Sea Area Forecast would come on, every three hours, I would get excited. Entertainment!’
The most sophisticated pieces of equipment in her kit were her VHF radio and her mobile phone, which she used to contact the Coast Guard on a daily basis.
‘That was a concession to my parents,’ she said. ‘It also meant there was a detailed record of my progress around the coast. The Coast Guards guys were great. Very helpful. And encouraging.’
Niamh does not describe her 53-day odyssey as life-changing. Nor does she mention the fact that she has set a record to become the youngest person to kayak solo around the country. What she does say is: ‘It was something to do. I’m one of those people who can’t sit in one place for long. I just want to be off doing something interesting.’