Taking the plunge has a depth of benefits

Taking the plunge has a depth of benefits
Musician, swimmer and sailor Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich from Baile na bPoc, about 15 km west of Dingle . Picture: Domnick Walsh © Eye Focus LTD

Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich will not let a day pass without his ritual dip in the sea, which he describes as the best anti-depressant ever, says Lorna Siggins.

Musician Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich was down in Kerry’s Brandon Creek one cold day when two couples with English accents engaged him in chat.

“Is the water cold,” they asked him, as Ó Beaglaoich emerged from his daily sea swim. “I said that it was cold, but I didn’t mind as I do it every day,” Ó Beaglaoich remembers.

“Oh we heard about you in a fish tackle shop in Cornwall — this bald man who swims in Brandon Creek all year round,” they responded.

Ó Beaglaoich chuckles as he tells the story, for his head was shaved at the time. He may or may not have been wearing swimming trunks. Cuas an Bhodaigh, as his favourite creek is known, can be a quiet spot. Ó Beaglaoich would not pass a day without his daily ritual, which he describes as the “best natural anti-depressant”.

“I started about 20 years ago when my two youngest children were at school,” he recalls.

At first, it was going to be a sea swim every day in August, then I extended it through September and then beyond.

“Of course, I found out then that the water temperature is at its warmest in September, and at its coldest in April/May when the land is heating up. But I never stay in long enough to worry too much. And it really is better than 10 cups of coffee...”

Far better, in fact, as a British Medical Journal case study reported in September 2018. The paper’s authors recorded the progress of a 24-year-old woman who had been taking anti-depressants for seven years. The young woman wanted to give up medication after the birth of her daughter. In consultation with her doctors, she began a planned schedule of sea swimming in water temperatures of about 15C once a week.

The paper reported that her moodimproved, and so she gradually worked her way off anti-depressant medication. After one year, she was “medication free”.

As far as Ó Beaglaoich is concerned, sea swimming has saved his life on several levels. There is the positive impact on his sense of wellbeing, and he says it boosts his immune system.

“I rarely, if ever, need antibiotics foranything, and I notice I don’t get flu half as much as I used to,”he says.

Two years ago, he had a very traumatic experience on the Minho river on the Spanish-Portuguese border, when he lost his close friend, the experienced seafarer, writer and poet Danny Sheehy.

Taking the plunge has a depth of benefits

Ó Beaglaoich had been recruited by Sheehy for the ‘Camino na Sáile’ or ‘Camino by Sea’, a three-summer voyage in a Kerry naomhóg from Ireland to northern Spain, successfully completed in late June 2016.

Some of the crew then decided to continue to navigate the Galician and Portuguese coasts during the summer of 2017, but the naomhóg capsized in the river Minho estuary on the Spanish-Portuguese border in early June 2017.

All four crew, who were wearing lifejackets, stayed with the upturned craft, which washed them ashore. However, Sheehy was taken ill afterwards, and did not survive, to the heartbreak of his wife, Máíre and family and his crew.

“I had been in the water swimming just two hours before, “Ó Beaglaoich says.

It’s well known that cold water shock — on initial impact with any sea, lake or river environment — can have a very debilitating effect as the body works to sustain a core temperature. So it would have affected us all, but perhaps my body was a bit more resistant because of the amount I normally do.

He misses Sheehy greatly, but he and Sheehy’s wife and family recently returned to northern Spain where a project is underway to restore the naomhóg for exhibition.

Ó Beaglaoich has followed the activities of the Iceman, the Dutch swimmer Wim Hof who set a Guinness World Record in March 2000, when he swam under an ice lake in Finland with only swimming trunks and a pair of goggles. His record has since been broken by a Danish swimmer in 2010.

“Hof talks about the health benefits, and when researchers put electrodes on him they found his body was heating itself in the water,” Ó Beaglaoich says.

The musician is not out to break records himself, but he did take a dip in -11F (-23C) in North America’s Lake Erie.

“I told this Jamaican doctor, and heoffered to go with me,” Ó Beaglaoich says. ”He helped me get dressed because it was so cold that my togs froze. That was the coldest ever...”

Ó Beaglaoich says he won’t take weather risks and will have a cold shower instead at home on a stormy day. He also wears a lifejacket if he is on his own, and will hold onto a rope off the pier if there is a swell. He never stays in too long.

“That way, I don’t talk myself out of going in,” he says.

He firmly believes that if sea swimming was classified as a drug, there would be “such a run on the pharmacies that they would be sold out in a day...”

In at deep end

When more than 130 swimmers take to the water tomorrow to swim 13k from Clare north across Galway Bay to Salthill, 53-year-old Noel Carrick will be among them with his son and daughter.

Families are among dozens of relay teams entered for the challenging transit from Aughinish, Co Clare to Blackrock diving tower in Salthill.

Among the 69 solo swimmers is a 61-year-old ho has entered for the first time in the Frances Thornton memorial swim. Now in its 14th year, the swim raised over €100,000 for Cancer Care West last year.

The charity receives no State funding for providing support to people and their families who are with, or are recovering from, cancer, and so it hopes to exceed that sum this year.

www.galwaybayswim.com/ www.facebook.com/galwaybayswim

Heart on sleeve

A biomedical engineer’s personal experience inspired his project to develop a reliable wrist-worn device to monitor the heart. NUI Galway researcher Oisín McGrath suffered heart arrhythmia for 13 years before it was diagnosed. The standard 24-48 heart monitor given to patients had failed to capture it, as his symptoms were often spaced out by a week or more. McGrath has now been awarded €500,000 from Enterprise Ireland to further develop his project, known as Galenband to a commercial level.

The project aims to monitor the heart activity of people with atrial fibrillation, which occurs when the electrical impulses that co-ordinate heartbeats don’t work properly causing an irregular heartbeat.

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