'Sea swimming... it’s my therapy, my sanity and my joy,' says Cork mum who lost son in blowhole accident

Four years ago, Maura Duffy bought togs and met a swimming group - she’s hardly missed a day in the sea since. She talks to CHRIS DUNNE about how sea swimming helps her heal following the loss of her son
'Sea swimming... it’s my therapy, my sanity and my joy,' says Cork mum who lost son in blowhole accident

IN THE SEA: Maura Duffy. Picture: Siobhán Russell

DOUGLAS woman Maura Duffy really likes nothing better than being beside the seaside.

She has embraced open sea swimming for the health benefits, the sociability, and for the solace that the ocean can offer.

Maura tragically lost her son, Conor King, aged 22, last year when he suffered a fatal fall through a blowhole at Garretstown.

“Conor was a competitive swimmer,” says Maura.

“My daughter, Ainé, is a beach guard.”

Conor and Ainé were water babies.

“Both kids were competitive swimmers and I used to get up at 5.15am to have them at the pool training with the Sundays Well swim club at 5.40am before school,” says Maura.

“I miss Conor terribly. Your children are your life.”

Maura Duffy and her dog Bobby. Picture: Siobhán Russell
Maura Duffy and her dog Bobby. Picture: Siobhán Russell

So when did her own sea swimming journey begin?

“Four years ago, I started swimming out of boredom. The kids grew up, went to college and started driving themselves.”

Maura took to the ocean.

“I started swimming in Myrtleville,” she says.

“Four years ago I bought the togs in October and I met a swimming group in Myrtleville who went swimming in the sea every morning. I’ve hardly missed a day since.”

Maura found her sea legs among a friendly group who had sea swimming in common.

“I wasn’t a strong swimmer, I never contemplated the way I swim now,” she says.

“I didn’t realise that people who went into the sea did that kind of swimming for an hour, swimming up to 2km.”

Maura found her tribe.

“The exhilaration, the excitement, and the adrenaline was brilliant

“As soon as I was in the car to go to the beach my mind was cleansed of thoughts.”

Maura meant business.

“I focused on my swim technique and I travelled to Spain to take part in a Total Immersion Camp. I learned a smooth way of swimming. 

"I learned a different way of swimming, I knew I wasn’t a triathlete! But in just a week you learn how you need to change your technique. Every day since, I practice when I’m swimming.”

Maura found a shared interest in enjoying the sea safely, taking a quick dip or going the distance.

There were other benefits for her as well as the exhilaration, the excitement, and the adrenaline that sea swimming offers.

“I never minded the cold,” says Maura. “In fact, the cold water helped me during the change when I was getting hot flushes! The cold water made me laugh. You had freezing cold water and internal heat.”

Maura looked forward to getting immersed in the ocean every day.

“Douglas to Myrtleville is 20 minutes in the car. As you get your stuff ready, your togs, water bottle, etc, you are getting mentally ready to go into the sea.”

Myrtleville Swimmer Maura Duffy and all her swimming friends. Picture: Siobhán Russell
Myrtleville Swimmer Maura Duffy and all her swimming friends. Picture: Siobhán Russell

All around the country, swimming groups can be seen gathering to take the plunge.

“It has become extremely popular, with a huge explosion of swimmers everywhere,” says Maura.

“During Covid, I had time on my hands and sea-swimming relieved the boredom. Once you realise how good it is for you, you re-organise your life around the swim.”

Maura went the distance.

“I changed my work hours so I could swim before work!”

She was hooked on sea-swimming - hook, line and sinker.

“I got really hooked!” says Maura.

What advice would she give for others who are slow to take the plunge?

“Another swimmer advised me ‘just keep going’,” says Maura.

“I am lucky I have the car and I can go swimming when I like. Comparatively speaking, the water was warm this year.”

What does she love about the sea?

“The sea is constant, it is always there,” says Maura.

“It is therapy and it is healing. The sea has a calming effect. Being out in nature, swimming or walking helps me through days and gives me a reason to get up and out. After my swim I do a walk to warm up.

“Even though my heart might be heavy, I still feel the exhilaration of the ocean. It always gives me that sense of exhilaration. The sea is there every day.”

The camaraderie is great within the swimming community.

“I’ve made great friends,” says Maura.

“We share tips and we welcome new swimmers and we show them what we do. We all look out for each other in the water.”

Sea swimming is part of Maura’s life... and some.

“It is more than part of my life,” she says. 

“It is therapy, it is sanity; it is joy.”

It is sociable too.

“Sea swimming is a great pastime for meeting people. I get the feel of connecting with my son. The sea is so calming,” says Maura.

Maura Duffy and her daughter Aine. Picture: 
Maura Duffy and her daughter Aine. Picture: 

“The big huge ocean is greater than you and greater than your troubles. I realise I am only a small thing in my place on the planet.

“When something so important is taken from you, you feel powerless and realise how small you actually are.”

Sea-swimming changed Maura’s life.

“Before taking it up, I was always rushing a lot and shopping a lot.”

She was a beach bum.

“I’d just be on the beach. People thought I lived at the beach!”

She was comfortable there.

“I’d often get my robe and my towel and have a sleep on the beach at lunch-time,” says Maura.

“I’d have a nap - a beautiful sleep on the sand. I’d be in tune with nature. I always was. The sea gives you solace and release.

“The ocean is so mighty, everything else is small in comparison. The sea is so simple and yet so big.”

Maura’s sisters understand her connection with the sea.

“They gave me a card that read; ‘into the sea I go to lose my mind and find my soul.’ That’s it.”

Maura likes promoting the many benefits of sea-swimming. “It is fantastic and it is free,” she says. “We are so lucky to live in Cork and have so many places to swim, and there is a great choice of swimming groups to join. It’s you on your own but other swimmers look out for you. It is a great community.

“I think Covid made people re-evaluate and many people took up sea swimming. I realised I don’t need to participate in the rat race, but to simply have fun and feel good.”

Maura’s pal Bobby is not in favour of sea swimming.

“My dog, Bobby, hates swimming,” says Maura laughing.

“When I head down to the water he stays and minds my stuff.

This time of year I swim under 1km and stay in the water for about 30 minutes. In the summer I swim up to 4km from Myrtleville to Fountainstown. I do that big swim once a week.”

Maura is thrilled to have embraced sea-swimming.

“It is another way of experiencing the ocean and we do it for free!”

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