Wednesday 25 April 2018

Bridie set for cross channel adventure

Bridie training hard for the challenge.
Bridie training hard for the challenge.

Mary Fogarty

BRIDIE Power, born to a farming family in Donegal, has lived in Enniskerry for 27 years, is completely deaf and will join a deaf relay team in swimming the English Channel next month.

Bridie Power, born to a farming family in Donegal, has lived in Enniskerry for 27 years, is completely deaf and will join a deaf relay team in swimming the English Channel next month.

The civil servant has been in training for two years and will make her way from Dover in England to Calais in France on July 3.

There are seven people on the team, all from different parts of the country including Kerry, Meath and Dublin. They range in age from 21 to mid-50s.

Bridie explained that one of the ladies is from County Kerry. She and her deaf father were very strong sea swimmers and he suggested she try the channel.

After his death she decided to give it a go and she started asking people she knew to be good swimmers to get involved.

While Bridie would have been no stranger to a dip in the 40 foot, this type of swimming has been a completely new experience for her.

'We had a small but time consuming farm,' said Bridie, whose daughter Dorothy was acting as her interpreter. She was always on at her parents to bring her swimming ot the sea but that was often put aside because of farming.

Bridie was born without hearing and her family ultimately sent her to the deaf school in Cabra. She said that the community comes with a great social life and friendships and close-knit circles.

The children and other relatives also play a huge part and are known as 'Coda' or 'Children of Deaf Adults.'

Dorothy said that she was very friendly with the youngest swim team member throughout her childhood.

The group began training in November 2012. During the relay they will be followed by boat as they do an hour each in the water.

Even when aboard the boat it will be tough going. The whole event is, of course, weather permitting, and will be postponed if conditions are treacherous.

The call to swim could come at night, and the route could even be changed. It all depends on currents and tides.

They will keep going for an expected 14 to 16 hours and then get the boat back from Calais.

'We are very well prepared,' said Bridie when asked about the forthcoming challenge. They recently did a 22km version of the swim in the Donegal area, just 11km shy of their final target.

'Lots of Donegal deaf people came to watch,' said Bridie, adding that members of her own family from there were also along.

The aim overall is to raise €10,000 for the Irish Deaf Women's Group. the organisation aims to provide information, events, workshops and services facilitated by interpreters of Irish Sign Language (ISL) to all deaf women all over Ireland.

They are looking for formal recognition of ISL as a language, something they say will reduce barriers and social exclusion.

The Channel Swimmers have organised a fundraising event every month since they fully decided to embark on their adventure.

They have included a dog show, deaf subtitled movie, food tasting, competitions and more.

They have also done sea swim nominations. The trend has gone global, having started here, and they came up with the idea following the less savoury 'neknomination' trend last year. The last event will be a fair in Portmarnock on June 22 which will be a final farewell to the swimmers and a gathering afterwards.

For their training, the team began meeting every Wednesday at a pool at Deaf Village Ireland. They started off aiming for 100 lengths each. They all joined local clubs, with Bridie currently sponsored by Shoreline Bray, and also meet up for sea swims.

Bridie manages to work her morning and evening swims with a full time job. Last Christmas they felt they needed a coach to push them to the next level and they hired Martin McCann.

'He's been excellent,' said Bridie, who said the training was very difficult but what they needed.

The mum of three adult children said that she is very grateful her parents sent her to the deaf school in Cabra. 'Without that I would have been very alone,' she said.

Her husband Edward is also deaf and they met at the 'Deaf Club'.

In terms of family life, there are no difficulties to speak of other than Bridie not realising if the TV or music are being played too loud. Communication by ISL is as natural to the Powers as breathing.

Technology has been a great help for work and so on, with texting and email overtaking the 'minicom' phone device.

Some of the things the Irish Deaf Women's Group hope to achieve with official language status would include access to services such as interpreters automatically available in hospitals, and sign language taught in primary schools would be ideal.

Dorothy and Bridie both remember being away in America and encountering people in shops who would be able to sign.

While it's a different language in America, they could still make themselves understood.

Edward Powers is the Chairman of the Wicklow Deaf Society which meets monthly with about 25 regular members of the lively and active organisation.

To make a donation to Bridie and Co. find Irish Deaf Channel Swimmers on

Wicklow People