Friday 19 July 2019

John Daly: 'Ageless joy of 'going round the bend''

 

A view of the River Lee in Cork
A view of the River Lee in Cork

John Daly

Two friends are currently entertaining a form of madness I secretly envy. While much of the country is galloping off to every available beach and cove for summer dips, this pair are twerking their abs and quads for a point-to-point swimming race through the centre of Cork city.

Dating back to the 1900s, the Lee Swim is an annual event for "all competent swimmers" and up to 600 are set to take the plunge on July 13.

The 2km dip is one of the country's biggest open-water swims, passing under 10 bridges as participants butterfly, breaststroke and freestyle for a view of the Rebel capital as unique as it is challenging.

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During the 1930s and 40s, the event became a focal point of the Cork calendar, with crowds thronging the city quays - old photos resembling an All-Ireland final day, complete with a sea of ubiquitous flat caps and cigarettes dangling from 1,000 lips.

Given the traditional rivalry between Cork and Dublin, the Lee Swim was surely inspired by the Liffey Swim, of which the painting by Jack Butler Yeats won the first Olympic medal for the Irish Free State in 1924, during that brief period when artistic categories were included in the Games.

With young men - it being male-dominated in those early days - flexing their aquatic muscles, wagers followed as spectators placed serious bets on distance, times and style. In more recent times, the route was rejigged to thrash the length of the Lee before finishing after a U-turn to City Hall - a dog-leg addition local wags christened 'going round the bend'.

As curator of the trophy for many years, Donal Barry of the Dolphin Swimming Club vividly recalled the excitement of the swim in the 1950s.

"It would always remind you of the Oxford and Cambridge boat race. Swimming was a cheap form of entertainment and had broad appeal."

During hard times, plunging into water became a distraction open to all, regardless of social status: "There were no great concerns about pollution then, mainly because Cork wasn't as busy a city. River swimming was a national pastime - all you needed was a pair of togs."

So cool in our shades

I'VE got a dozen pairs of sunglasses - and counting. But it's an addiction I'm entirely happy with and the arrival of sunshine is just an excuse to add another level to my wardrobe in a cavalcade of designs, colours and statements. Indeed, blue skies and blinding glare aren't even necessary - I've been known to look at the world through tinted lenses even on Christmas Day.

The fact is, shades give us an alternative personality.

"With my sunglasses on, I'm Jack Nicholson. Without them, I'm fat and 70." Ditto that, Jack.

Dr Vanessa Brown, of Nottingham University, penned a book on the subject, 'Cool Shades', saying: "Sunglasses connote coolness. By shading the eyes, we can appear detached from the chaos, either frankly unbothered by, or utterly on top of, the frantic pace of technology and fashion."

Think this is a new fad? Nero watched gladiators fight through protective lenses made of polished jewels and 12th-century Chinese judges wore dark glasses of smoky quartz to hide their expressions. So next time you see me doing a Bono at midnight, don't judge - OK?

Summer's easy living

"And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer." - F Scott Fitzgerald, 'The Great Gatsby'

Irish Independent

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