P.J. Costello, Tralee, celebrating his 60th Christmas day swim at Fenit last year, helped by Pat and Stephen Costello, Brendan and Daire Kennelly, Tralee.
P.J. Costello, Tralee, celebrating his 60th Christmas day swim at Fenit last year, helped by Pat and Stephen Costello, Brendan and Daire Kennelly, Tralee.

Billy Ryle

I love Christmas Day and enthusiastically embrace all it offers, starting with midnight Mass at 9pm on Christmas Eve, gathering at home afterwards for sandwiches and drinks, opening the presents on Christmas morning. But one of my favourite traditions is the dip in freezing water at Fenit.

A huge crowd of swimmers and "hurlers on the ditch" will gather this year for the 62nd annual Christmas dip at Locke's Beach.

The car park will be decorated with festive bunting and seasonal music will rent the air. The wonderful volunteers from RNLI Fenit Lifeboat Station will have a gazebo in place from early morning to distribute refreshments and hot drinks.

Chief Marshall, Santa Claus, aka John Paul Collins and Mrs Santa Claus, aka Josephine Cahill, will regale, rally and cajole the swelling numbers of swimmers and spectators, ring their gathering bells and encourage one and all to don a Santa hat.

Santa and his lady in red will shepherd the swimmers onto the beach at 11.55am and lead the multitude in a suspect rendition of "Jingle Bells."

The atmosphere will be electric as the countdown starts at ten seconds to midday. The charge to the water at noon will be magnificent as the swimmers plunge into the icy sea.

Experience has taught me to prepare for the dip. Christmas Day will be overcast with temperature at about 8C, but feeling colder due to a wind chill.

The first blast of winter during the past week has reduced sea temperature to about 6C.

Retain as much body heat as possible before lining up for the charge into the sea. Put on your bathing togs under your clothes before you leave home. Wear a number of light layers of clothing under a jacket rather than too many heavy garments. Gradually remove the layers of clothing as noon approaches. Keep your clothes warm and dry in a sports bag during the swim.

Dry off thoroughly and change into warm clothing immediately after the swim.

Avail of the delicious hot soup, tea, coffee, mulled wine and hot whiskey which will be available in plentiful supply.

Because it's the season of goodwill, the hospitality extends to spectators as well as famished swimmers. If you still feel cold after returning home hop into a warm shower or bath.

The gallant volunteers from RNLI Fenit Lifeboat Station, which has lifeboat crews on call 24/7/52, as the yanks say, are hoping that the prevailing "joie de vivre" will encourage people to part with their dosh.

The RNLI collection is always generously supported at the Christmas dip and the more silent your contribution the better the collectors like it!

There's always a warm welcome for the perennial Christmas Day swimmers, who love to boast about the number of Christmas dips, usually exaggerated, they have notched up. Returning exiles, whether from Melbourne, Montreal, Manchester or Mallow are guaranteed a warm welcome.

First time swimmers soon realise that they have been inaugurated into an irresistible tradition. The Christmas morning swim is a very exhilarating experience and really whets the appetite for the dinner.

So I'm really looking forward to a special dip in Fenit on Christmas Day.

Billy Ryle is an occasional writer in The Kerryman and a regular Christmas Day swimmer


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