Paddy Conaghan, an 81 years young man from Arranmore Island Donegal, started his epic journey on the 4th of December 2021. His plan; to raise funds for the charity Gemma’s Legacy of Hope by driving around Donegal and Mayo “ducking” and diving into the sea at as many beaches or piers as he could each day.
Shortly after beginning this quest he thought; ” I could go further. Why not the whole way around Ireland?” So Ducking and Driving was born.
Starting out in his small silver van kitted out with a camp bed, a small camp stove, a great bag of towels, another of books and a couple of hand weights – so that he might keep fit on the road – Paddy began this odyssey.
Each day he starts early, often with an 8am bowl of porridge, then off to the nearest beach or pier. He doesnt waste time, with a plan to do 6 or more ducks each day Paddy has perfected his technique; enter the water fast and at thigh deep he launches himself in a dive then breast stroke underwater 8 – 10 strokes before surfacing and returning to shore.
“I like to swim underwater for about 10 strokes to show the people donating they are getting their money’s worth.”
This journey, which started out as one man’s pilgrimage, has piqued the interest of the nation. The posting on facebook of short videos of each of his ducks began to draw the attention of the swimming community around Ireland and as he continues more folks are queuing up to welcome Paddy as he travels around the coast. He no longer needs to sleep in his cold van as offers of meals and accommodation flood in. The combined trials of his repeated daily “ducks” into the water (his current record is 11 in one day!) and driving himself from each beach to the next have lifted the hearts of many.
The silver van unfortunately “gave up the ghost” in Kerry after Christmas but to the rescue came Arranmore Blue Ferry providing a new blue van. Paddy’s fame is now such that when the blue Ducking and Driving van comes into view cries of “He’s here!” ring out and robed and smiling swimmers swarm to greet this humble man. A far cry from the quiet start when Paddy would set his phone on a block of wood, protected from the elements with a plastic Polyfilla tub, to self-record each dip.
When wildswim.ie first met Paddy (video part 1/ pix part 2) on Christmas eve, for many of the swims he was alone only a few people were beginning to watch out for him and came out in support. By new years the momentum was rising and as he turned the corner of Cork to head eastwards, word had spread.
We met up again in Wexford, at the mouth of the River Barrow looking across the water with Hook Light house blinking to our left and the lights of Crooke on our right. Paddy had just returned from a full days ducking and driving and was being well looked after by an Arranmore neighbour who now lives on the south coast.
As congratulations pour in, along with donations, larger groups gather to meet Paddy, swim with him and guide him to the next local spot. Selfies galore, group photos and any amount of video footage is taken.
Lengthy discussions are had on which swimsuits to wear; bikinis being “More sexy and they dry so much more quickly!”
A Kilmore Kipper was caught fixing her lippy in the blue vans mirror before the third “duck” of the day!
A message left by Annie to swimmers in the sand – LOVE IT! LIVE IT!
With groups at each beach getting bigger, by the time Paddy reached the Little Beach at Kilmore Quay there was a huge crowd and a carnival atmosphere waiting. MCG Kayaks of Waterford welcomed and joined Paddy for several of the dips – they have generously donated to the cause.
Turning the next ‘corner’ to travel northward the long strands of Curracloe and Ballinesker brought another happy crowd and new ways to re-warm after a cold dip…
Dora at Curracloe, Wexford: “Hungarian Pear Schnapps. You don’t need anything else to warm you, no towel, no robe, just this!”
Flying up the east coast and swim receptions were getting more elaborate – the RNLI waited to meet the legend that is Paddy at the wonderfully named Travelahawk Beach in Wicklow.
DUBLIN – Forty Foot – Portmarnock
In Dublin many friends and family from Arranmore had planned a get together at Portmarnocks Velvet Strand and so to stop Paddy flying through the city too fast he was treated to two tours, Guinness Storehouse and Teelings Whiskey. But it’s hard to slow this man down and he was itching to hit the sea again.
SKERRIES – The Captains
By the final week of January, Paddy crossed the boarder into Northern Ireland. The water and air temperatures are dropping but not the warmth of the welcomes.
DOWN – Rostrevor
Paddy & Kathleen Heenan @ Newcastle – The Queen of Newcastle Sea Swimming – these two octogenarians showing us all how it’s done!
Ballyhornan – Guns Island
DONAGHADEE CHUNKY DUNKERS gave Paddy the honour of handing over their cheque of funds raised for the NI Air Ambulance –
Martin Strain greets Paddy
ANTRIM – Lough Shore Jordanstown
Paddy’s journey is not only raising funds for Gemma’s Legacy of Hope, but also raising awareness of mental health issues and the struggles that many people suffer. Outdoor swimming and dipping has been a tonic for many and the camaraderie found near the water has helped many through difficult times.
Paddy’s philosophy; “Some people aren’t well enough to do this but I am so why would I sit about? I can, so I get up and I do it. I keep moving.” A life-time of physical work, mining, tunnelling and construction has honed his innate capacity for dealing with challenges and despite two hip replacements he shows no sign of slowing down.
Keep following Paddy on Ducking and Driving around Ireland – each evening he posts up on fb the next days swims, so keep a weather eye out!
Gemma’s Legacy of Hope is a charity which provides counselling services to all in the Rosses area and islands of Donegal, much needed in these times and uniquely they provide this service to children, young people and adults.