28 Swimmers Brave Eastern Bay Ice Mile Swim

The world’s biggest international ice mile swim, hosted by Eastern Bay Swim Team goes from strength to strength. What is it that brings so many ice mile hopefuls from all over Ireland, Europe, and the US to this prestigious event year after year?

The event is held annually on the 1st Saturday in February in the finest outdoor swimming pool in Ireland – the Clontarf Outdoor Pool. It is organised by the Dublin Cold Water Swims 2022/2023 team of Kevin Cooper (Templeogue), John Daly (Eastern Bay), Allen Evans (Dublin Swimming Club), Barry O’Connor (Dublin Swimming Club), and Fergal Somerville (Eastern Bay); all seasoned distance and cold water swimmers.

In its 11th year the event attracts seasoned open water swimmers to take on the challenge of swimming one mile (1600m), in water of less than 5C, wearing only hat, togs, and goggles. This is the blue ribbon of cold water swimming. Participation is by invitation and only swimmers with substantial experience are invited. This year over 40 swimmers requested an invitation to take on the challenge.

On the day there was six swims and 28 swimmers; each attempting to complete 40 lengths of the 40 metre pool in less than 45 minutes. This is an extreme challenge – it is not a race. Each swimmer must complete a rigorous training programme, undergo medical testing and be fully fit and healthy. They are managed by ‘seconds’ and overseen by adjudicators and experienced swimmers and all under the care of doctors, medics and two ambulances and crew.

This year’s event was populated by quality outdoor and winter swimmers, several with a number of international ice miles to their names, quite a few channel swimmers and channel relay swimmers. Worldwide the sport has grown in popularity in recent years. Ireland boxes above its weight in open water and cold water swimming. Ireland has more than 120 English Channel Swimmers. In 2012 Cork’s Stephen Redmond reached the pinnacle of open water swimming by becoming the first swimmer to conquer the channels of all ‘Seven Oceans’. In the Eastern Bay Ice Mile in 2023 two swimmers stand out. Both Sian Clement and Fergal Somerville are recent ‘Original Triple Crown of Channel Swims’ recipients. Both have swam the English Channel, North Channel and Bristol Channel Swims. Amazingly, having swam just over 65 miles (on all three swims) only six minutes (or six seconds per mile) separate the pair on the cumulative time, with Sian holding the advantage. Both have recently been awarded Guinness World Records for their Original Triple Crown Swims. Sian holds the records for fastest female and fastest aggregate time (on all three channels) and Fergal holds the records for fastest male and oldest male. Like so many of their counterparts in Clontarf they have raised substantial amounts for charities. (Fergal is taller).

Eastern Bay Swim Team is a very proud Masters Swim team based on the northside of Dublin. The club invites swimmers with an October clarion call. This is a prime event on the international cold water swimming calendar and one that is regularly over-subscribed. It is run on a cost neutral basis and the fee can only be described as ‘nominal’. The event covers costs and provides prizes arising from the generosity of supporters. Any surplus on the event is donated to charities and this year the Eastern Bay Ice Mile contributed €600.00 to the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association and ABACAS Kilbarrack (an evidence-based school for autistic children and young adults).

Saturday, 04 February produced a warm day; with no wind rain or frost. The water temperature was a brisk 8.2C – too warm for an official international ice mile swim. This did not deter the organisers. John Daly, Eastern Bay’s first English Channel swimmer and an ice miler tells ‘the event is the culmination of 4 months of cold water swimming for individuals who have trained hard – swimming one mile every week over the winter and acclimatising to the falling water temperature. We offer the event and all swimmers enjoy it regardless of the temperature’.

All involved in delivering the event had been at the venue since 8:00am and worked to ensure swimmers were registered and ready for their heats (or cools if you prefer). Barry O’Connor, Dublin Swimming Club, took charge of the swims. Each swimmer has an individual timer to measure split times on each lap. If split times deteriorate swimmers are called ashore. The swim has strict time limits which must be met by 400m, 800m and 1200m – not meeting these time limits will result in a call to shore. Allen Evans, a Dublin Swimming Club colleague, explains ‘split times monitoring, and time limits are based on overall time limit of 45 minutes and prevent a swimmer who will not complete the mile from enduring distance in cold water’. And so, at 9:00, VIP Guest Mary Haughney, President of Swim Ireland, called the first group for starters orders, wished them well and gave the ‘GO’.

All swimmers in the first ‘cool’ completed their mile on time. All swimmers completed the mile within time limits and, testimony to their rigorous training schedule, were more than capable of the challenge. Asked if the event was disappointing for the ‘warm water’ Sian Clement, a two time Guinness World Record holder for the Original Triple Crown of Channel Swims (English, North and Bristol) said ‘No, not at all. The organisation and professionalism of the organisers is fantastic’. Even though the mile is not a race Sian was the fastest woman on the day. Galway’s Kevin McHugh was the fastest man. Thirteen swimmers completed the swim in under 30 minutes. The average time was under 31:30 – phenomenal when you consider that the average age was 47. Jen Laffan, a Scot, whose parents came from Galway, was youngest at 26. Seasoned ice miler, Kevin Cooper, brought up the average by being the oldest at a sprightly 64. Kevin has also been an organiser on this event for many years and marshals a group of open water swimmers around Forty Foot, Seapoint and Killiney on weekends throughout the winter.

Mary Haughney took on many jobs over the day, culminating in presenting prizes to swimmers. Councillor Donna Cooney, representing Dublin City’s Lord Mayor, had the pleasure to present Sian Clement and Kevin McHugh with the now famous ‘Red Eastern Bay Ice Mile Jackets’ for being the fastest swimmers. In recognition of their contribution to the event over several years Robbie Clarke (Eastern Bay), Allen Evans (Dublin), Ger Moore (Roscommon Comans), and Mark Rush (NAC Masters) were also presented with the jackets.

What is so special about Eastern Bay Ice Mile jackets? The first man and first woman home receive the jacket (but only if they have not previously received one). They cannot be bought. If you do get one, you cannot get a second one. They are a bit like the US Open Green Jacket – except Tiger has a wardrobe full of them, but he has yet to receive a Red Eastern Bay Ice Mile Jacket. (John Ryan, Limerick Narwhal, has four times been the fastest man in the Eastern Bay Ice Mile). John says ‘I love the whole concept, the event is special and the community spirit is not matched anywhere else. It is the first date in my swim calendar every year. I look forward to it and even if I ever get to be fastest again I won’t get another jacket’.

Mary Haughney also had the very enjoyable duty to present the ten lady swimmers with Peter Mark vouchers and hair/body care products. Mary and Donna presented Karl Murray (Clontarf) with the annual subscription to ‘Outdoor Swimmer’ – the world’s most popular swimming magazine. Each swimmer also received the most recent print copy.

The organisers have the support of great sponsors who are proud to be associated with the world’s biggest ice mile event; ‘Swim Ireland’, Dublin City Council, Clontarf Outdoor Pool, Aqualine, Green Tiger, Peter Mark and quite a few more.

Mary Haughney, after working hard all day, congratulated the swimmers and thanked the organisers and pool management. She complimented the event and the venue and is looking forward to returning. It is likely that the clamour for invitations will start again as soon as it is announced next October. Open Cold Water Swimmers ‘On your marks’. February 3rd 2024 looms and it will be the day for the 12th Eastern Bay Invitational International Ice Mile Swim.