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  Cape Clear Adventure 1993

I tread water silently in the starlit waters of the natural Harbour.  Suddenly the rusty roar of a much abused car engine shatters the silence, as it accelerates up the steep road towards the centre of the island.  The sound recedes and serenity is restored once more.  I am alone, floating in the midnight waters of Cape Clear’s South Harbour.  The year is 1993 and for the third summer I am the warden of Cuas an Uisce, the small campsite located on the shore of the scenically stunning Cuan Theas.  The campsite is comprised of several levels, each lower than the one before it, as you move down towards the water.  The final and lowest level is out of sight of all the others, and you can clamber down further still onto the rocks at the waters edge.  It is here that I remove my clothing and tread carefully into the cool waters for my nocturnal swims.  The electrifying rush of water on naked flesh, the hauntingly beautiful atmosphere of the silent bay, draw me back night after night.

Years before, my childhood instructor despaired of ever teaching me to swim properly.  While the children all around me in the pool grew more confident as they dived into the deep end,  I never managed more a few strokes at a time before having to support myself on my feet.  By my teenage years I had accepted that I was never going to learn to swim properly.  And then, as a university student, I got the job of campsite warden on Oiléan Chléire or Cape Clear off the coast of West Cork, where I met  a beautiful young trainee teacher working as a cinnire in the island’s Coláiste Samhraidh.  Among her many talents she was a trained lifeguard who thought it a great shame that I was unable to fully appreciate the island’s bathing spots.  With great persistence and skill, she helped me to overcome whatever mental block had stopped me in childhood from learning to swim, and in no time at all I was happily treading water and doing the breaststroke out of my own depth.  The fact that I was strongly attracted to my instructor made spending time with her on the beach no great hardship at all, and we went on to have a summer romance which I still remember with fondness.

On another summer visit to Cape Clear, after my time as campsite warden, I realized to my dismay that I had forgotten to bring my swimming togs.  It was a beautiful sunny day and  I was not going to forgo the pleasure of my favorite swimming spot, so I slipped into the waters at Cuas an Uisce in my underpants.  As I swam out into the South Harbour I noticed a floating buoy some distance out and decided in my mind to make it my destination.  When I reached the buoy I still felt quite energetic and noticed another buoy further out, so I decided to make for it.  Upon reaching the second buoy I realized I was now halfway out into the harbour, and sure, twas just as easy to swim on to the other side, as it was to return the way I had come.  And so on I went, continuing what for me was a swim of epic proportions, a feat I had never achieved before.  As I pulled myself out of the water on the far side of the harbour, I felt a tremendous sense of well being and achievement until the reality of my situation set in.  I was now far too exhausted to swim safely back across the harbour, and the only way to get to my clothes was a fifteen minute walk along a stony public road in my bare feet and wearing only my y-fronts.  There was no other option but to brazen it out.  With a fixed smile on my face and what I hoped was an air of  insouciance, I greeted the startled walkers and drivers I encountered on my painful and painfully embarrassing trek around the harbour.

The spectacle passes and I remember once more my naked nighttime swims in the South Harbour.   Even imagining myself there now helps to bring a sense of calm and contentment.   As I look up at the stars above me I am very aware that I am alone in a small bay, on the south side of an island, off the south west coast of another island, on the edge of a continent, on a small planet floating on a starlit sea.  Ahhh…. Now where did I leave my clothes?


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