Páraic Casey, 45, lost his life after suffering a heart attack during his attempt to cross the 34km stretch of water, considered the “Mount Everest” of open water swimming.
He was undertaking the gruelling challenge to help raise funds for Marymount Hospice and the Society of St Vincent de Paul, whose spokesperson was “shocked and saddened” after learning the news.
Mr Casey — who was from Douglas but moved to Passage West after marrying fellow swimmer Riana, from Spiddal in Co Galway — set off at 9.13am on Saturday from Dover in Britain en route to Calais in France.
The accomplished long- distance swimmer was just 1km away from finishing his maiden English Channel swim when he got into difficulties at 1.30am on Sunday.
Attempts were made by the Corkman’s support vessel crew, the Pace Arrow, to revive him. An emergency helicopter was rushed from Le Touquet, France, alongside a rescue speedboat from Calais.
However, rescue attempts proved unsuccessful.
While Mr Casey’s swim was a solo-crossing, he was part of a staggered four-person group from Kinsale’s Sandycove Island Swim Club who were attempting to complete the challenge.
One swimmer, Jennifer Lane, was only told of the loss of her swim partner after reaching French shores just after 2pm yesterday.
Her father, Cork City GP Dr Cyril Lane, said the 32-year-old was due to swim with Mr Casey, but had to delay her attempt for 24 hours because of problems with her boat.
A media blackout about her training partner’s death was in place at the request of the swim organisers until Ms Lane finished.
However, Dr Lane said she still learned of the tragic news in passing while boarding her support vessel.
Her father 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.”
In a statement last night, Mr Casey’s heartbroken widow Riana said: “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.”
The death of the popular Fota Island worker — whose late father, Páraic senior, owned the Rob Roy bar in Cork City for a number of decades — was greeted with shock by friends.
Sandycove Island Swim Club chairman Ned Denison told the Irish Examiner that Mr Casey — who has one brother and two sisters — excelled as a swimmer and a person.
He said Mr Casey swam two million metres this year while preparing for the gruelling swim, and that “confidence was high”.
He said Mr Casey “caught the open water bug” four years ago “and loved it”. Among his most impressive journeys was a 28km relay swim of Lake Zurich with his wife in 2010 and a 16km Cork to Cobh swim.
Mr Denison said the 45-year-old’s death was all the more tragic as it happened a week after fellow Cork open water swimmer Steve Redmond, from Ballydehob, 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. That swim is particular dangerous, it’s considered the Mount Everest of open water swimming,” said Mr Denison.
Family friend Mary Moynihan, who worked with Mr Casey at the Rob Roy during her 26 years at the bar, said the swimmer and University College Cork 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.
Last night, Bishop of Cork and Ross John Buckley described Mr Casey’s death as a terrible tragedy.
“He was a wonderful man whose charitable efforts made a huge impact and he will be particularly missed by the patients and staff at the Marymount Hospice.”