FOR THE past seven years, the hardy Tara Vale Swimmers in Ballymoney have raised €70,000 for good causes through the annual New Year's Day Swim.
Kicking off at 12 noon, the event generally attracts more than 60 swimmers to Ballymoney beach each New Year's Day. 'It started off as a bit of a mess,' said one of the organising committee Eamonn O'Connor. 'We were swimming for no reason for a number of years, and somebody then said we could actually collect some money. So in the pub one evening, we raised €1,000 and sent it to Bothar.'
The pub in question was The Tara Vale in Kildermot, near Ballymoney, and the name of the swimming group stuck. 'After that, we set up a committee and said if we make some effort, we could make some money. I then approached St. Aidan's Services in Gorey and asked them if they would be interested in us supporting them, and they were delighted, as were Bothar.'
Since 2006, the money raised each year has been divided equally between St. Aidan's and Bothar. There's a change this year, and the Jack and Jill Foundation and St. Aidan's will be the beneficiaries.
Eamonn said there are generally a few sore heads on New Year's morning, and the swim is a great way of starting off the New Year. 'It's a good family occasion,' he said. ' There could be 200 people on the beach watching. It's always been cold and dry. The snow two years ago was challenging, but people got there. I think they wanted to get out after being cooped up for so long, and they wanted to see people going in with snow on the beach.'
Entertainment is laid on in The Tara Vale afterwards, with soup, sandwiches and music.
Participants bring their own hot drinks to the beach as well, and nurses Mary Lynch, Eileen O'Donovan and Catherine Kinsella are on standby with defibrillators and first aid should they be required. Courtown RNLI also provides cover in the water
'It's cold but it's not particularly cold,' said Eamonn. 'It's the air temperature afterwards that makes you cold. We do have blankets available.'
To take part in the Ballymoney Swim, contact Eamon on 087 2342226 for a sponsorship card or turn up on the day.