SLIDESHOW: Limerick swimmers take the plunge for Ice Mile 2019

 Fergal Somerville


Fergal Somerville


The International Ice Mile was introduced by Ram Barkai of the International Ice Swimming Association in 2009 and is targeted for inclusion further winter Olympics. The water must be 5C (or less) and swimmers may wear only standard hat, togs and goggles.

It is an extreme sport and one that requires substantial training and preparation over the winter. Participants must also undergo medical tests including ECG, declare themselves fit and healthy on the day

Now in its 7th year the event brings 16-20 swimmers each year to Lough Dan in County Wicklow to attempt the ice mile. On Friday, February 1, the Lough Dan venue was ruled inaccessible, however and the event was miraculously moved lock, stock and barrel to Clontarf Baths (recently refurbished by Bobby Nolan of Clontarf Swim and Polo Club fame).

A weight was lifted – to reveal a new challenge of using a location never before tested for ice swimming; at least not at this level. The event maintained the same timescale set in the event management plan and under the guidance of Bobby Nolan took over Clontarf Baths from 10:00am onwards. 

Like clockwork the swim was ready to start. Three separate swims used the pool in consecutive waves. Of 13 who started, 10 completed the mile. This marks 57 ice miles for Eastern Bay – the leading club / event of all ice miles. Judging by the reaction of swimmers and assistants this event will continue on into the future and it is likely that 100 ice miles will not be in the too distant future. But only, according to Fergal Somerville, if the swimmers are up to and our guardians on poolside deem the swimmers to be up to it.

This swim is known worldwide and swimmer turn up to Dublin from the US and all over Europe to attend. The swim is unique in that it is run on a cost neutral basis. This morning over €150.00 was raised for the RNLI – a charity close to all swimmers hearts. I feel, even with the disruption to the schedule, there may just be more to come when the accounts are completed. Congratulations to all who helped and to the very brave 13 swimmers. See you next February in Clontarf or Wicklow.

Limerick Swimmer Profiles

John Ryan

3rd Eastern Bay Ice Mile. John, an accomplished swimmer in several disciplines, has led the team in training for a number of years and brought new blood in over the winter. He has several records for ice swimming and has represented Ireland in European and World Championships. His next outing is with fellow Limerick swimmer, Mark Dempsey at the World Ice Swimming Championships in Murmansk, Russia (inside the Arctic Circle) on St. Patrick’s Weekend – surprisingly the water will not be as cold in Murmansk as it was last Saturday when John raced to a 29:45 finish.

Mark Hannigan

2nd Eastern Bay Ice Mile. Mark, one of Limerick’s best-known Ironman athletes, had a tortuous introduction to the ice mile in Lough Dan in 2018. With the water at 4.6 C, a gale blowing down the valley at 25kph and resulting windchill of -3.3C the swim was threatened with cancellation; it was as Mark describes ‘colder than a Galtymore goat’s ass’. Going upwind kayakers fought to keep pace with swimmers. Downwind they struggled to avoid running colliding into swimmers. That swim – the warmest qualifying swim in the Eastern Bay Ice Miles history was by far the hardest. On Saturday he blitzed through the mile in a time of 33:29. After the swim Mark declared ‘I better slow up on next year’s one or I’ll meet myself coming back’.

Pearse Ryan

Pearse beamed brighter than the beautiful sunshine which kissed Dublin Bay last Saturday. On his third attempt he completed the Eastern Bay ice mile. You could easily say that none were happier than Pearse on the day, but the assembled crowd of medics, club members and helpers that turn up every year were delighted for his success and are hoping he will repeat it again. In previous attempts Pearse pulled up short of the mile. His vast experience told him on two previous occasions that another day beckoned. Saturday was different. Another year of winter swimming with his Limerick Narwall colleagues helped prepare him. However, nobody was prepared for or had swam in 2.4C before. In typical Limerick fashion Pearse declared ‘Today is my day and I will stay in all the way’. He did exactly that under the watchful eyes of over 100 in attendance. He started off well, got stronger throughout and completed in 35:25

Mark Dempsey

Mark is as well-known in Limerick sporting circles as any other athlete. For years he has represented the county in several sports and, like Mark, is an Ironman triathlete. He knew, however, that the ½ hour of an ice mile is completely different to the 12 or so hours of an ironman. Nonetheless it is a stern test of mental and physical endurance. Mark’s finished in 29:09 and proudly dedicates his ice mile triumph to his father’s memory.

Brian Dillon

Brian took on his first ice mile swim on Saturday. Similar to the others he struggled with the cold water of 2.4C. ‘Our coldest water temperature this year was just under 5C – not a great preparation for 2½C. This was intimidating, but we were inspired by our county, our families and ourselves and we prepared for the event’. ‘Even during the swim I felt the darkness of defeat overhanging my efforts. I struggled through length after length. When I felt I wasn’t able to complete two Dubs, John Daly and Tony Mullins (both of Eastern Bay Swim Team) cheered me on and I rallied. I am delighted to have completed it in 35:09’

Donal Morrissey

Donal hails from Charleville in Cork and joins with the lads on their regular training swims in Castelconnell, and O’Brien’s Bridge. In his first year training for the ice mile Donal has successful completed several distances. On Saturday the mile eluded his best efforts and the event’s adjudicators called him out of the water after completing over 1200m in a time of 30:44.

Limerick Lineage

Hardly surprising that this bunch of Limerick swimmers were so well prepared. John’s father, Jerry Ryan and Mark’s father, John Dempsey are remembered as giants of the Limerick and Munster swimming fraternity. Both Jerry and John devoted themselves to instilling a passion for the sport of swimming and imparted their encyclopaedic knowledge to many willing students. Their efforts brought countless successes to numerous swimmers over many years. Jerry passed away some years ago and John passed away very recently. Their legacy lives on.