Henry Phillip O'Donnell
Henry Phillip O'Donnell is an Irish open water swimmer who was a relative latecomer to open water swimming. Following a neck accident in 1992, he continued swimming even though he was told he would never walk again.
Open Water Swimming Career
- O'Donnell was the first swimmer to swim from Irish mainland to Tory Island.
- He was the first swimmer to swim from Tory Island to Arawmor Island.
- He was selected as the 1993 Donegal Swimmer and Sports Star of the Year.
- He was nominated as an Open Water Honor Swimmer in the International Swimming Hall of Fame by Sinead P. Keller in 2000
- He was the Expedition Leader of the Round Ireland Swim, a staged relay around the island of Ireland from July to August 2006 covering 1,310 km. The Round Ireland Swim was completed in 56 days, including a total of 35 swim days. The five swimmers were Anne Marie Ward, Ryan Ward, Tom Watters, Ian Claxton and Nuala Moore.
The Round Ireland Swim Plan
The daily plan was to swim 20-26 miles in water as deep as 200m off the west coast and up to 20 miles off shore where as we were close to shore on the east coast and in shallow water. Some miles were 20 minutes on the East Coast to 50 minutes off the South Coast. Not all miles are equal in the open ocean.
Round Ireland Swim Memories from Nuala Moore
"It is still quite surreal living here on the South West coast to realise that we actually did swim around the country. It's really hard to put into a page what the Round Ireland Swim was or is-so I'll do my best to bring you into the journey. it would be wrong to just say we swam the journey in 35 swim days-without trying to explain what it was like to swim in the conditions we did with the challenges we had. We trained to swim 4-6 miles a day but there was nothing we could have done to prepare for the challenges when our bodies just had nothing else to give."
Excerpt from Nuala Moore's Diary on Round Ireland Swim
On Day 45 on the west coast after struggling without success for a week to get past Slyne Head, off Co Galway:
“Standing saturated at the back of an open rib-rain and wind pummelling us as we sped to the next location. Sandwiches long since abandoned to the seagulls, water rushes along the floor of the boat ensuring forever wet cold feet, staring into the sea avoiding eye contact with the crew as we try to deafen to the words “you’re in next”.
The long sigh as we dig inside for the strength to peel off the immersion suit when the body is freezing, not having a chance to recover from the previous swims, days or even weeks. Sliding over the side and allowing the dark sea swallow us up as we take off for another swim-nothing seemed to matter anymore, emotions and feelings were irrelevant and we had risen above them. How I would love a mountain top to aim for instead of these endless waves of ocean.
There was nothing left yet we had enough each day to keep moving. I dread tomorrow yet it excites about it, climbing back up the ladder, forsaking drying my body as the rain teemed down, I just pull on my wet immersion suit to cover my wet body, drank down a cup of tea with a bar of chocolate as we sped off to the next Waypoint.
Reasons for taking on this expedition were miles away from our reasons for finishing our swim around Ireland. We were 45 days into this swim and nothing mattered-whether we ate or not, whether we slept or not, the pain as we lifted our arms-we were three weeks climbing up this west coast-I crave the moment when I can swim to stand up, when the sand will fill our feet at Carrigfinn.”
Round Ireland Swim Crews
The Expedition had 4 marine rescue units-fully trained crew from the local Sheephaven Sub Aqua Club, teams of divers who worked with the swimmers for the 18 months beforehand to get familiar with the rescue techniques and OW swimming.
Team Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta rotated each weekend during the 2 months to keep the crews fresh. The Command Boat "Sea Breeze" owned and skippered by Brendan Proctor was in situ for the 8 weeks as was the "Abhainn Rí", a rib owned and skippered by Derek Flannagan, Kathleen King at Diveology. We also had a full Land Operations Unit.
There were 3 Ribs-The Dive Áine, The Rachael Marie and The Abhainn Rí-5 main swimmers-2 swimmers rotated each in The Dive Aine and The Rachael Marie with Anne Marie being permanent swimmer on the Abhainn Ri with Derek –allowing Derek free to float through the flotilla. It is challenging to maintain the same speed as the swimmer and as the weather changed having amazing boat handling and motivated crew was integral.
We swam clockwise around the coasts to go with prevailing winds and currents-taking on the North Coast first when our bodies were fresh was also important. The water temperatures were averaging 12-14 degrees C. The weather was calm and despite the cold we were incredibly lucky to get passed head lands like Malin Head-The first week we had difficulty balancing recovery between swims-it was a rude awakening after ea swim to sit in an open boat, without cover-rain and wind blowing, feet sitting in cold water for the day. There was no recovery. There was no nutritional plan. We chased tides and ate once we got into shore. The Immersion suits were hung up at nights in rooms from curtain rails and put back on wet in the morning as we did not have any drying facilities.
We were never individual swimmers. The day was the sum of the parts.
The swim went clockwise because of the prevailing winds and currents. The swim took a major toll on the body and the mind. When you are caught in a wind shadow without any movement of water and a mile takes an hour the thoughts of having to swim for five more hours would mean we would be at sea for 15 hours. Most of our eating was done at evenings and morning so there was starvation during the day just propping up with sugar. Sea swimmers tend to build fat around the body as the metabolic rate drops in the cold and the fat protects the organs. We all put on an average of 1-2 stone during the swim.
The most memorable was swimming past the Fastnet rock! It freaked me out and I had to keep staring at its magnetic appearance. Enough time has now lapsed to see the achievement and the toll that was required to get that much from our body and mind.
The scariest moment was swimming through the Blasket sound, I was hit by a wave coming towards me and I was propelled out of the water up to my waist. The guys on the boat and Tom were standing on the tubing of the Rib in readiness. It was the weirdest moment in the water.
The hardest thing was hearing that after swimming for an hour that I had covered a half a mile and I had 4 more miles to swim.. I cried into my goggles until I realised that it took more energy to have a tantrum than it did to swim.
The effort was heroic from all. To have swum in every bay and sound in Ireland and to have witnessed the outside of the country is itself a privilege but to have shared this journey with the people I did is the true honour and a forever bond.