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Former Army Ranger Henry O'Donnell Completes First Solo Finswim Around Ireland

8th May 2022
Henry O'Donnell who has become first man to finswim solo around Ireland
Henry O'Donnell who has become first man to finswim solo around Ireland Credit: Rory O'Donnell

Donegal-born former Army Ranger, lifeguard, diver and swim instructor Henry O’Donnell has become the first man to finswim around Ireland.

The solo swimmer completed 1,569 kilometres, equivalent to 847 nautical miles, when he landed at Carrickfin beach in the Donegal Gaeltacht on Saturday.

“We had to go for it with the weather and the sea - and when you get an opportunity you have to seize it,”he said, describing the final push over the past week.

“ I’m pretty tired, as are my expedition teams who were phenomenal and worked very hard,” O’Donnell said.

Up to 20 sea swimmers joined him for the last 400 metres into Carrickfin, where he was met by members of his family and many supporters.

Water Safety Ireland deputy chief executive Roger Sweeney and Ena Barrett of the Irish Cancer Society greeted him, along with representatives of the RNLI, Gardai and Donegal County Council.

“I see myself as a player on a very big team, and part of that were the coastal communities that gave such support,” O’Donnell said afterwards.

The father and grandfather has trekked and climbed to some of the highest and lowest points on four of the globe’s continents and led the first successful relay swim around Ireland in 2006.

He set out in September 2020 from Carrickfin - where he first learned to swim - with the aim of completing the first solo fin swim around Ireland in aid of Water Safety Ireland and the Irish Cancer Society.

He had to take a pause last year due to Covid, but he and his team are back in the water and on the last long leg up the west coast. To date, he has raised over 46,000 euro

O’Donnell noted that there was Mediterranean weather on September 17th 2020 when he first set out from north Donegal, and there were similar conditions on Saturday for his finish.

“In between, we had some very challenging conditions,”he said.

“Over the past week, I put in a few significantly long swims, with safety as number one priority,”he said.

“We had a fantastic expedition vessel along the west coast, named Macbel, which allowed us to take us straighter lines and swim further offshore,”he said.

Navigating Tory sound, Malin Head, and rounding Rathlin sound off the Antrim coast were key stages, he said, along with passing Baily lighthouse off Howth and negotiating shipping lanes in Dublin Bay.

Rounding Carnsore point off the south-east and the Fastnet rock off the south-west were also psychological highlights, he said.

“This was as challenging my most difficult expeditions, and the longest by far,”he said.

“However, hearing about loss experienced by families, and illness of young children would help you to keep going,”he said.

“ We did a tribute off the Arranmore lighthouse for all the fishermen and women lost off the Donegal coast and all others lost at sea, and we remembered the Rescue 116 helicopter crew when were off Mayo,”he said.

“We had paid similar tributes to those lost at sea when we were in Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford and on the Fastnet rock off west Cork,”he said.

“A lot changed, even after we resumed the swim – the price of fuel went up for instance, due to the Ukraine crisis,”he said.

“We didn’t see any Russian submarines, but we were protecting the coast as best we could,”he said.

Once he got a glimpse of Errigal mountain from Owey island, he said he knew he was on the home stretch, he said.

Published in Sea Swim
Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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