Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

All for charity... hundreds face the freezing cold for dip in sea

Tracy Gilpin
Nigel Tilson
Maria Jones

New Year's Day began with a splash for hundreds of hardy souls who braved our chilly waters around the coastline to take an exhilarating dip.

Scores of swimmers entered the water to celebrate the start of 2012 on Ballycastle Beach, while in Portrush an inaugural New Year Swim took place to raise funds for CLIC Sargent, the children's cancer charity.

Despite the good cause, most didn't stay in for too long, even though the temperatures were much higher than at the same time last year.

One extroverted paddler even sported a Borat-style lime green mankini, but thankfully wore some more modest trunks underneath it.

At Carnlough Harbour a record 93 people were led into the water by fitness instructor Geoff Bell, who was taking part in his 40th New Year swim.

The 55-year-old described the swim as the "best cure for a hangover" and added it's the "maddest thing I do each year".

The annual event in the picturesque Co Antrim coastal village raises funds for the Ballymena branch of the Northern Ireland Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus.

Branch chairman, Billy McIlroy, explained to the Belfast Telegraph that over the past four decades the New Year's Day swim has raised thousands of pounds for the charity.

He wants to encourage more people to come down next year to support the swimmers or take part themselves.

The great thing about the harbour location is the swimmers have the choice of getting in quickly by jumping or diving in, or if you are even more of a masochist and want to prolong the agony, you can wade out until you reach swimming depth.

"At midday everyone dives in and the crowd loves it," Mr McIlroy said.

He explained the weather yesterday was positively balmy compared to last year's record low temperatures.

"Fortunately in all these years we have never had to cancel the swim," he added.

"I thought we were going to have to cancel last year because it was so cold, but it turned out ok.

"It takes a lot to deter our swimmers from coming out."

Billy said he loves to help organise the annual event, but added that he is one person you will not see in the water every January 1.

"I can't swim a stroke, so that's my excuse!" Billy laughed.

One can't help but admire the bravery and motivation of all the swimmers who take part to raise money for those less fortunate.

It's giving me goosebumps just thinking about it.

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