Spideal pier to Straw Island (Aran Islands)
Swimmers: Magella Scanlan, Mary Hurley, Bernagh Hynes, Oonagh Morrissy
Crew: Annette Cullen, Bridget Wing
Pilot: Dave Oliver
8th of September, 2023


‘I was talking to Annette. We’ve come up with an idea…’

Always an ominous sentence to hear. What follows could be a suggestion to meet for a coffee, or a commitment that will see you wave goodbye to all our Saturday mornings as you tick off more laps of the prom, watching the walkers and visualising how good that post swim pastry will be.

True to form, Bernagh had set her target as a relay swim from Aran to Spideal, loosely aimed for the start of September, with a preliminary line up of Bernagh Hynes, Mary Hurley, and I as swimmers, and Annette Cullen as commander in chief. The seed was fully planted in our first team meeting, tide graphs drawn out, training plans drafted, and a very thorough demonstration of swim relay changeovers complete with dive off a kitchen chair. The van was decidedly quieter on the drive home, as we clutched our dodgy looking sandwich bags filled with maltrodextrin and protein powder.  

‘So I guess we’re doing it then.’ Nerves and excitement feel the same if you don’t think about it too hard.

Our training plan consisted of steady midweek swims, and practice runs of 1 hour in, 1 hour out, 1 hour in over the weekend days to emulate how it would feel to do this on the day. I can confirm that I did exactly zero of these sessions, but was incredibly impressed by both Mary and Bernaghs’ commitment.

As time drew closer, our pilot confirmed and the logistics slowly falling into place, we agreed that we would be much happier as a team of four, and there was really only one option on whom we should ask. Magella Scanlan needs no introduction as one of the prominent members of Atlantic Masters, and she had been very disappointed to miss the previous ‘Swim for Sorcha’ relay from Aran to Blackrock in 2020. It was a no-brainer that we would try to get her on board. Coming back to swimming after a challenging year, Magella epitomises grit and determination, and with some gentle encouragement from Annette, the team was complete.

After some deliberation, we decided that we would use our swim as an opportunity to raise some much needed funds for the Breast Cancer Research Institute, a charity that was very close to our hearts.
We had some stiff criteria for the swim. It was only going to be a runner if the weather conditions were favourable, we were not willing to embark on a day of huge waves and battle the winds for a full 20+km. This was to be a celebratory swim, though with the weather that Summer of 2023 unleashed, our blue skies seemed like a pipe dream.  With this in mind, we were cautious to not start our fundraising efforts too early.

Miraculously, after two rescheduled dates, on the last available window for our fantastic pilot, a reshuffle of crew to welcome Bridget Wing, a reroute to go from Spideal to Aran and make the most of the favourable winds, the stars aligned.

Fundraising link sent out, WhatsApp group set up for tracking and updated, bags packed, and repacked. Waterproofs, slip on shoes, mouth wash, antihistamines, anti seasickness tablets, ginger ale, ginger tea, ginger biscuits, 4 pairs of togs, sudocreme, SPF, jellybabies, energy gels…the list went on. Alarms were set for 3am so that we could meet and pack the boat then motor out of the docks and aim to start by 7am at Spideal pier.

Watching dawn break behind us as we neared Spideal was really special. We took a few photos in the t-shirts and hats given to us by the Breast Cancer Research Institute to send to our group and before we knew it, we had pulled up close to the pier and I was under instructions to climb fully out of the water and wait for the call to start. 

3,2,1, off we go.

The swim itself could not have been better. The water measured the warmest day of the year the day before and we had blue, nearly cloudless skies throughout. Under the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association rules, swimmers were not allowed to wear any watches or distance trackers, so every hour in the water I focused on trying to swim as hard as I could, picturing my usual route of swimming Blackrock to the Aquarium and trying to imagine where I was in that space. ‘Kick harder, you’re at ladies beach’, ‘Pull, you’re at the big beach’. A Summer of High Tide Friday Olympics seemed to have lit a competitive flame I never had, so I was racing my own enemies back to the ladder, all the while waiting to see if any movement on deck indicated my stint was nearing an end. Once the swimmer was out of the water, our buddy system kicked in and we were seconded to get changed and refuelled as quickly as possible. Straight into new togs, sipping on electrolytes, full reapplication of SPF, and some rest before getting ready for the next rotation. We moved like clockwork and eased into the rhythm of the day.

We had estimated that it would take approximately 11-12 hours for the swim, and as Magella entered the water for her third hour, we wondered if Straw Island ahead was merely a mirage and would we need an additional rotation. She glided alongside us as we slowed to where the boat would wait, nodded and then kicked on to shore, as cheers erupted on deck. We took a few moments to gather ourselves, then made the final leap to join her. The water in that last 250m was crystal clear and perfectly still. It was a kin to an episode of blue planet, as the seals swam under us. These seals were our witnesses, bobbing around close to the four of us as we scrambled across the slippery rocks and hugged. We had done it! 12 hours and 7 minutes, 22km, and an incredible €11,000 raised.


I have so many highlights of the swim. My amazing sister Aoife appearing at the docks with some daft inflatables, chasing us to the end of the harbour wall waving, and then reappearing like an apparition shouting my name over the wall before I stepped into the water in Spideal. Every time I saw Bernagh put on her hat to signal my hour was nearly up. The dolphins. Finally being able to pee. Awful charcoal crackers. My blue zinc mask. The reem of supportive texts we received throughout the day. The constant watch of Annette and Bridgit. Mary’s wave pool from the ferry. Our ‘awards’ ceremony on the way home.  My friend Amanda and her family waiting at the docks. My work friends wearing t-shirts with my face on it for the day in support. Helen and Michelle unpacking the boat while we were nearly trancelike in exhaustion. Eimear, Anna, Philip, all of the Splash Sistas and supporters who were there to welcome us back.


None of this would have happened if we hadn’t had our crew. At all times, there were at least two people watching the swimmer in the water, with calls of ‘eyes on swimmer’ before anyone went to the bathroom, turned to get snacks or even just felt a sneeze coming on. There are no words to begin to describe how much gratitude we have for Annette and Bridget, they took all of the logistics of the day completely out of our hands, ensured that we stayed on track, fed, rested, and safe. It could be an exceptionally long day to sit at the side of a boat watching the monotonous slapping of a swimmer, and we are completely indebted that they both gave up their time so willingly.
Our pilot Dave had the patience of a saint. He kept us as straight as a die, we didn’t swim a single extra stroke. There was no doubt at all that he knew every inch of that bay and we were in the safest hands possible. There is no doubt that the swims success was on account of the team around us.


Prior to April 2023, I hadn’t swam more than a kilometre since 2021 and I did that only once. In 2020 I thought I was going to have a panic attack swimming out to the red marker in Renville. Not only had I not swam to Foudra, I wouldn’t swim the Heskin loop because I was too nervous to be far from shore in case of jellyfish. Being asked to join this team brought me back to my senses, got me back in the water and back to myself. I am beyond delighted to have the honour of calling these amazing women my friends. What next?!