As most of us settle in for breakfast in our pyjamas in a warm house on Christmas morning, one group of hardy souls are braving the icy cold waters at Inchydoney, Co Cork for the annual charity swim.
With 19 swims under their belts, the charity fundraiser has seen a massive €266,688 donated to the day unit at Cork University Hospital.
The Christmas Day swim is the brainchild of West Cork women Kathleen O’Farrell and Eileen Lyons.
Both of their late husbands were patients in the day ward, now renamed the Dunmanway Day Unit after their hometown.
“We started back in 1999 with 11 swimmers at Inchydoney. I had been talking about organising it for a couple of years and my son told me that I should stop talking about it and get working. So between myself and Eileen and our families, we got all together that first year for the swim. It has snowballed since then, with so many more people joining in. We now have an average of over 100 people taking part, travelling from all over West Cork and Kerry,” explained Kathleen.
Kathleen herself has been a patient of the day unit for over 30 years.
“I have been in and out of the ward every week for 30 years and I could see the amazing work that was being done by the staff there. I have problems with my platelets and have had thousands of blood transfusions. I was surrounded by cancer patients and I was determined to raise money for the ward to help make them more comfortable" she said.
Then 12 years ago, her husband René, a garda sergeant, was diagnosed with cancer.
“We ended up sitting side by side in the day ward,” she recalled. Tragically, René died the following year.
Eileen’s husband Raymond, a secondary school teacher, died two years later of a heart attack having he battled the odds to survive colon cancer.
“I could see the importance of the money that we were raising. We have bought new comfortable chairs and televisions for them to watch while they are being treated.”
She paid tribute to the staff on the ward.
“I couldn’t praise them enough. It truly is a vocation. The kindness they show to all the patients is just out of this world. And I couldn’t not mention the tea ladies either, who keep us fed and watered while we are there. It a tough place to be but they make it so much more bearable,” said Kathleen.
Joan O’Neill, CNM2 from the Dunmanway Day Unit, said the fundraiser makes a massive difference.
“We are thrilled with the work and dedication that Kathleen and Eileen put into the swim each year and it is so important that we are able to rely on that money coming in each year to improve patient comfort,” she said.
“I meet with Kathleen regularly and we chat about how best to spend the funds each year. It really makes a difference that we can give our input into what is needed, and that friends and family, as well as the patients themselves, can see the benefits first hand.”
The hard work that goes into organising the swim has been going on well before December landed.
Kathleen and Eileen have been trying to encourage new swimmers to join in the Christmas morning tradition.
“A lot of people now have young families and can’t get away for the swim so we are looking for some new blood. We would love to see a new generation of swimmers join in. It really is a great way to start your Christmas,” said Kathleen.
The swim starts at 11am sharp and swimmers will be quickly warmed up with a hot mug of soup and a mulled wine.