Some might say a freezing cold dip into Galway Bay is enough of a physical challenge for Christmas morning, but Roscam-native Diarmuid Lynch took the annual COPE Galway Christmas Swim and made it his own by starting off with a half-marathon from Rinville to Salthill.
When he reached Salthill 21.1km later, it was straight in for a swim from Blackrock Tower. As an added incentive for his online fundraisers, Diarmuid even shaved off his trademark beard after completing the challenge.
“It has definitely been a tough year for us all, but I’m hoping to raise money and awareness for the people who need it,” Diarmuid said of his Christmas 2020 fundraiser, which raised a total of €1,800. The half-marathon, swim, and fundraiser were a celebration of sorts of the more than five stone he lost since doing the Christmas swim in 2019.
Diarmuid spent much of his twenties living in Canada, but Christmas visits home to Galway always included a Christmas Day visit to Blackrock.
“Coming back after six years, I wasn’t in the best place mentally,” Diarmuid said. For a period of 2019, he said, “I had a sense of rock bottom, a really empty feeling. And it was from being so down on myself I decided there’s no time like the present to just change everything about my life.”
Those changes included attending University College Cork to study to become a secondary school teacher, working out more, and promising himself to ask for help when he needed it. When he participated in the Christmas swim in 2019, he said, “There really is a sense of that Blackrock swim and how it stirs the home hearth fires seeing everyone chatting and meeting, back when we could do that obviously.”
The following year, of course, brought Covid-19, Diarmuid said he was determined to set his life straight. “I wasn’t going to let even a pandemic get in the way of that. I’m still firing on all cylinders,” he said, and in fact when Diarmuid sat down for this virtual interview in March 2021, he was fresh from a half-marathon-length run.
Diarmuid also emphasised that while he was able to make the most of the circumstances, he wouldn’t want to put too positive a spin on a year that was full of so much suffering and hardship.
Raising the remarkable sum of €1,800 on social media, Diarmuid drew support from friends and family near and far. “It felt a bit strange asking people for money during the pandemic but because everyone had been watching my journey the past year, I was hearing from friends and family in Vancouver, my family here, people all over the world.
Every tiny bit people gave all helped and added to it, and it was fantastic the way people reached out, even people I wouldn’t have talked to in years.”He kept people involved on social media with frequent updates and even a “tribute video” to his beard set to a Sarah McLachlan song. “Shaving the beard came as kind of an incentive to raise more money towards the end of the fundraiser for COPE Galway.
Diarmuid said it was especially important to him to raise money for COPE Galway during what was for many the most challenging year on record. “I had realised how important my hometown was to me, and how it’s always been there for me. The city and the people who grew up in it need to be taken care of, so it was about giving back in that little way,” he said, adding that witnessing the homelessness problem in Vancouver made him want to do what he could upon returning home.
Running the half-marathon on Christmas Day from Rinville to Salthill, Diarmuid’s route was filled with memories and loved ones. His father cycled alongside him on a bicycle strung with green tinsel and a big Irish flag, and even Diarmuid’s beard was decked out in baubles. “He was my own little parade and the whole way in people were waving and beeping,” Diarmuid said. He ran through Oranmore where he went to school, past his home house in Roscam, into Corrib Park where his grandmother lives.
“It was my mum’s week looking after my grandmother and the highlight of the whole run was going past her window and giving them a wave,” Diarmuid said, adding that when his grandmother recently received her first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine it was the ‘happiest day of his life.’
After that it was a straight shot into Salthill, where he kicked the wall at the end of the Prom. “Then I did my big dip, came home, and then shaved the beard,” he said, adding that the last bit of money was raised that day when people saw the video of him shaving his beard.
Diarmuid said that even the quieter, socially distanced swim in 2020 was a reminder of community spirit and Christmases past.
“People [at COPE Galway] work tirelessly for people coming from domestic abuse, and people who experience homelessness in Galway,” he said when asked why he fundraises for COPE Galway.
“If there’s a small silver lining to take from Covid-19 it’s that people are more aware of needing to check on people, and take care of each other now more than ever. People are checking on neighbours, people are walking within their 5K.