Páraic Casey, aged 45, lost his life after suffering a suspected heart attack during his attempt to cross the 34km stretch of water, dubbed the Mount Everest of open-water swimming.
The challenge is considered one of the most dangerous open-water swims in the world, as those attempting it battle cold waters, strong currents that prevent straight-line swims, six-hourly tide changes, and extremely busy shipping lanes for at least 13 hours.
Páraic was undertaking the gruelling challenge to help raise funds for Marymount Hospice and the Society of St Vincent de Paul.
The Douglas man, who is married to fellow swimmer Riana Casey, set off at 9.13am on Saturday from Dover in Britain to Calais in France and was just 1km away from the finish line when tragedy struck at 1.30am yesterday. Riana was aboard Páraic’s support vessel during his swim.
Last night, his widow released a statement: “Páraic was an amazing, healthy, tough, loving husband, friend, brother, uncle, son, nephew, and cousin, whose recent passion for swimming brought him to great places.
“I would like to thank everyone for their love and support. We ask that our privacy is respected during this difficult time.”
Páraic’s training partner and fellow English Channel swimmer Jennifer Lane was only told of the loss after reaching French shores just after 2pm.
Her father, Cork City GP Dr Cyril Lane, told the Irish Examiner that his 32-year-old daughter learned of the news in passing while boarding her support vessel. He said: “Can you imagine the best achievement of your life and then taking one step back on the boat and being told that, before even getting a hug from your mother?”
The death of Fota Island worker Páraic — whose late father, Páraic Sr, owned the Rob Roy pub in Cork City for a number of decades — was greeted with shock by friends.
Sandycove Island Swim Club chairman Ned Denison said Páraic, who has one brother and two sisters, excelled as a swimmer and a person.
He said his colleague’s death was all the more tragic as it came a week after fellow Cork open-water swimmer, Ballydehob’s Steve Redmond, made history by becoming the first person to complete the Oceans Seven swims.
A celebration in honour of Mr Redmond was taking place on Saturday night as the English Channel tragedy was unfolding.
“To go from that high to this, it’s absolutely devastating,” said Mr Denison.
Family friend Mary Moynihan, who worked with Páraic at the Rob Roy during her 26 years at the pub, said the UCC graduate was a wonderful man who was always “cool, calm, and collected”.
“He’d get on with everyone, everyone loved him. I know we all did,” she said.