Tom McCarthy’s swim from Minane Bridge to Roberts Cove
Part 1 Minane Bridge (The Bridge) to The Dam (Non Tidal). Distance: 3 Km.
The river (or stream) flowing through Minane Bridge reaches the sea between the sand flats of Fountainstown and the woods of Ringabella. The distance from the Bridge to Ringabella is approximately 5 kilometres and from Ringabella to Roberts Cove another 5 kilometers being a total of roughly 10K. The Minane River valley is low lying and this river used to flood all the way up to Ballyfeard, wreaking havoc on the local farming. In the 1950’s a dam was built across the valley to prevent this deluge. This flooding would occur when Spring tides were accompanied with South East gales. The exact same conditions that create the serious flooding in Cork City centre.
A few days beforehand, I went down to check out the river by walking the adjoining fields but this proved almost impossible to have a proper reconnaissance. The reason for this is that, in addition to the Dam, the levees, or embankments, were built up to a height of about 10 feet. These are completely overgrown and it is almost impossible to get a glimpse of the river. The next evening I decided to do my reconnaissance by canoe. When collecting from my friend, Peter O’Mahony, he said he was free to join me, a decision I’m sure he was soon to regret. But, with a safety boat, why not do the reconnaissance and swim at the same time?
Tues 19th August 1900hrs…Church car park, Minane Bridge.
We get the Kayak into the water and I change into togs, swim cap, goggles and swim shoes…VITAL! I also take my dog, ‘Sailor’ with me”. Sailor is an expert ratter whose scent might keep our furry friends (water rats and otters) at bay. Initially the water is about waist high and difficult to swim because of the weed. The dog is making very heavy weather of it, so, instead of him helping me I’m helping him…….not part of the deal. I decide to go back with him after only a short distance.
In the car park a woman is walking her Rottweiler, off the lead, and the next thing she sees is “Biggles” and a dog climbing up the river bank. Of course both big powerful dogs immediately challenge each other. Fortunately it develops only into a Mexican-standoff. Completely forgetting my unusual attire I ask her if her dog is “alright?” but, – judging by the expression on her face – maybe she wants to ask me if I am ‘alright’. She seems to have lost her voice, so I get Sailor back in the van and scramble back into the river. In my last glimpse of her she is scurrying away towards the church in Minane, no doubt to light a candle for her sanity or, more appropriately, MINE!
Back in the river I join up with Peter and the kayak but the going is difficult. The river weed is thick in places and fallen trees block our journey. The overgrowth is so dense in places the Kayaker doesn’t have the room to paddle so I hold on to the back and kick through, just like a propeller at the stern of a boat. Peter’s face and arms are getting scratched and bloody from the dense overgrowth. The river is getting deeper and bending like a snake but as soon as I think it’s getting swimmable, it shallows and when I try standing it’s like being in muddy quicksands. The kayak has to tow me, again by holding onto the stern. This happens a number of times. The flies are also becoming a problem. On coming up for air I find that instead of getting oxygen I get a mouthful of gnats. Half Man …..Half Walrus…..no ….Half Man ..Half Trout!
All we are short are some Crocodiles and Piranha and we could be on a tributary of the Amazon. No sooner did this thought occur when I heard some fellows hunting with dogs. Part of this valley is wooded, but I cannot see them due to the high embankments. Maybe it’s an Irish Deliverance”….and “we don’t want no Townies coming down our river….Eek like a pig!!!” That line…”Eek like a pig” keeps going through my head.
Eventually, after about an hour, the river widens and deepens, the embankments are gone and the swim is enjoyable. Accompanying me for the for the final lap are two swans and a solitary cygnet; predators have taken the rest of the brood. These birds will attack a human if their nest or young are threatened. They say they can break a man’s arm with a lash of their wings. They turn around occasionally and hiss but keep their distance.
Peter, my kayaker, and I haven’t spoken much but finally when things are going swimmingly he says, “Macker, you’re some Loony”. All I can say is “Mahony…birds of a feather…” To be fair to him he had no idea what he was letting himself in for and maybe if I had told him he may not have come. Come to think of it I won’t be surprised if he declines to answer my call in the foreseeable future!
The water quality in this river is good. I should know as I swallowed enough of it. There was definitely no pollution or sewage. I did get some mild stomach cramps but a shot of neat Brandy killed all the greeblies. That and gargling with antiseptic mouthwash, before and after, and I was fine the following day. After 1 hour and 20 mins we arrived at the Dam. We then had to walk about 1 kilometre through brambles in shorts to the nearest tarred road, carrying the canoe. We hid that in the bushes and another hour’s walk to the van. return for the boat and it was well after dark when we finished.
Boy did a pint of Stout taste good that night!!
In hindsight I should have checked out the adventure better but then doing it cold can often be a better buzz. What we used to say at sea….the 6 P’s: Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.
Health and Safety Warning: Don’t try this at home!