Well, the odyssey is complete and Arranmore’s most famous son arrived home to a hero’s welcome on Saturday 12th of February.
After 10 weeks of driving around the coast of Ireland, diving into the sea on average 5 times each day Paddy has become a celebrity, famous on facebook and possibly the most photographed man in Ireland!
During this final week of his journey, as he returned to his home county Donegal, the February weather was not kind to him turning nasty and lashing him with wind, rain, hail and wild seas. Inishowen was not going to let him romp home in an easy fashion. With water temperatures at their lowest and the wind lifting surf and spray almost everywhere, Paddy’s tenacity to continue this pilgrimage was put to the test. But this man is not one to let mere climate put him off his stride!
At Ireland’s most northerly beach, Kitter’s not far from Banba’s Crown, Malin Head, Paddy was met by fellow swimmer and Galway lady Bernie Rogers. Bernie met Paddy first in the West, Galway where they formed a plan for her to meet up with him again in the South, East and North.
But this most northerly beach was out of the question with a storm raging. Other beaches close by were also ill-advised. The wind-swept coastline, jagged with rocks like teeth rising from the shore would rip a person to shreds, Malin Head Harbour was the only option.
In the shelter of the harbour pier, Bernie Rogers; “The water’s just beautiful!”
Moving through the peninsula several beaches had been ravaged by the recent storms, on some the sand was replaced with pebbles. On another the bank of sand shoved up against the dunes changed the pitch of the shore creating immensely strong undertows. The safety rope was hauled out of the van on many a beach as the waves crashed down.
But even this didn’t stop followers and well-wishers from joining Paddy. An air of crazy adventure as; “When would you get to do this?” spurred folk on to cast off their dry-robes (other brands are available) and brave the violent seas.
What is it about this venture that has been so powerful, gained such a following? It’s not purely that Paddy is 81, the man is as fit as a fiddle and would put most in their 20’s to shame. He has also become an inspiration. His motivation to get up each day and repeatedly dive into the cold sea has given us all a kick, we think what is important to us and perhaps a gain that little extra confidence to just get up and do whatever it is we’d like to do.
“Paddy has tapped into something really special. People have taken him into their hearts.” Mary Rodgers, Burtonport.
And those who cannot get out and do such a physical challenge still feel part of the story as they avidly follow the daily FB and Instagram posts. Living through his adventure.
It might seem that Paddy just got up one day and decided to leave on this epic road trip. That is not the case, a huge amount of planning and preparation went into Ducking and Driving. Paddy spent a full year physically preparing for the cold water. Diving head-first into temperatures below 15C can trigger the cold shock response – gasping, panic, increased HR and blood pressure. But all this is significantly reduced by regular training, which he committed to long before his foot hit the accelerator and the Ducking and Driving trip began.
It’s impressive that anyone would attempt such a journey, least of all someone at 81 with two hip replacements! But Paddy has “an incredible work ethic” according to one of the many Arranmore men who at one time or another have worked alongside him.
“When Paddy starts a job you know he will finish it.” There was never any doubt in Paddy’s mind, once he started it was just a matter of time, driving and dips till he finished.
The phenomenal response Paddy has received on his travels shows how much this means to so many people. The fact that he hasn’t got a team with him it’s just one man doing his thing. Meeting locals at their beach or pier. There is a simplicity to the whole journey that touches the core.
Back on home turf and the last few swims in the Burtonport and Rosses were the most emotional for Paddy and John who set up Gemma’s Legacy of Hope. Places where the family had spent so many happy times, places Gemma herself loved and where the children had learned to swim. Friends and neighbours were out in their droves and the evening was capped with a cavalcade of over 30 vehicles led by the Garda and a Fire Engine. With lights flashing and horns blaring folks stood out to wave Paddy welcome home through the Rosses.
Saturday, Paddy got the mid-day ferry back onto Arranmore, the lifeboat cutting an impressive jib as they escorted the ferry in. Crowds gathered at the slip and the pipe band struck up as the blue van crossed the ramp onto Arranmore. Paddy was home.
More than 311 swims in 71 days and having raised well over €100,000 for Gemma’s Legacy of Hope Paddy has far surpassed even his expectations.