Carnlough New Year swimmers brave freezing sea for charity

Blaze Lambert strikes a pose for the cameras as she takes the plunge at Carnlough
Blaze Lambert strikes a pose for the cameras as she takes the plunge at Carnlough

The cobwebs were quite literally blown off hardy swimmers in north Antrim on Thursday when they braved the icy waters of the Irish Sea at Carnlough.

Around 70 swimmers, aged from around five to their late 60s, took the plunge for the 43rd consecutive year to raise funds for Spina Bifida.

Swim organiser Billy McIlroy, 70, said 78 people took part in the event and the 600 spectators who travelled to Carnlough “was the biggest crowd of onlookers ever”.

Mr McIlroy, a retired manager at Michelin, said they hope to raise around £6,000 for the charity.

“The general public are very generous,” he said. “Over the years we have raised tens of thousands of pounds through the New Year’s Day swim.”

He said he would like to thank the St John’s Ambulance Brigade from Larne who attend the event every year.

“A lot of the swimmers taking part are accredited life savers,” he added. “But if the weather was really, really bad we wouldn’t let them into the water.

“We don’t take any chances. The cold does not bother them as much as the tide. It is 10 or 11 degrees in Carnlough today but the water is icy. After the swim those involved are presented with a certificate and a medal.”

Among the group was 67-year-old Arthur Chapfield from Glasgow who said he had seen pictures of the event last year “and thought I would like to give it a go”.

He said he and his wife were coming to Carnlough anyway to see family.

“But I was one of those stupid enough to do it,” the former police officer joked.

“I went in wearing shorts and a T-shirt. I jumped off the pier twice. When I jumped in it was freezing but I quite enjoyed it. I jumped in off the highest point and when you come out you feel invigorated.”

Angela McClements, 54, from Ballymena who also took part in the swim said she has been doing it for 25 years.

“I love it and it is the highlight of my year,” said the swimming instructor. “Everyone is there and there is all the excitement.

“I do this for the charity because I don’t think enough is done for Spina Bifida. The water was very cold but you don’t mind doing it.

“If I didn’t enjoy it I wouldn’t do it. Everyone should try it at least once.”

Meanwhile, veteran Carnlough New Year’s Day swimmer Geoff Bell, 58, who this year took the plunge for the 43rd time, said: “Every year when you jump into the water it is different. This year it was very cold. A few years ago it was cold outside but the water was warmer.” And Bert Kernohan, 55, who has been taking part in the charity swim since 1978, said: “I would not miss this for the world. It is a good start to the new year.”