CHILDREN and teenagers in Kilrush, this week and last, are following in a long tradition of coming to Cappa for swimming lessons.
During the last week in July and first week of August, everyone in Kilrush is aware of the lessons. Shoppers and shopkeepers meet and greet locals and returned sons and daughters who are “to-ing and fro-ing” with the new crop of swimmers to Cappa pier and beach, just one mile outside Kilrush.
On the pier, the atmosphere is electric, where under the tutelage of organising committee member, Margaret Talty and Clare Water Safety, generations of families return annually to improve their swimming and water safety skills.
Margaret Talty has been participating in and helping to run these lessons for over 40 years. Margaret, or Mags as she is known to everyone, has carved out a reputation for excellence in swimming and water safety training. She qualified as a safety instructor at 17 and went on to progress through the ranks to become an examiner.
The Kilrush diaspora return in numbers. Every year, parents structure their family holidays around the lessons, simply because they want their children to have the same life-enhancing, character-building experience they had in Cappa. These positive childhood memories and friendships formed are a major attraction for all, and numbers are growing each year.
And so begins the annual cycle. Shawna Johnson stared swimming all because of Mags Talty. Aged four, she was brought to Cappa on Mags’ bike as she was lifeguarding in Cappa and at the Rock. As soon as she could, Shawna began to take lessons, from beginners’ level right up to Rescue 4. When her own daughter, Tara Naughton, moved from Dublin in 2004, she started Swim 5 and went on to qualify as an instructor in 2012. Tara is now qualified as a pool and beach lifeguard, swim teacher and water safety instructor and taught in Kilrush last year and again this year.
Other local and qualified instructors on duty this week are Leah Brew and Ruth O’Dea. The up-coming crop of assistant teachers are Ray Glynn, Hanna Brew, Anna O’Dea, Ornaith Crowley, Eoghan O’Shea, Caoimhe Daly, Edel Bolton and Susie and Mary Williams.
Every day, during the courses, each group learns their swim times from the sign posted on the lifeguard hut. Lifeguards, John Daly and Orla Bredin welcome a new band of safety instructors, who will qualify this week and go on to join their ranks.
Throughout the town, you will hear much talk about the lessons in Cappa. The tide dictates lesson times and family life, in turn, is structure around lesson time. Many just come to Cappa for a look and a swim themselves.
At the lessons, groups of disciplined children are put through the technical aspects very thoroughly. Teenagers take instruction, practice until they have grasped the lesson and proceed to the next point of instruction and land drill. What are most interesting, however, are the instructors – former students are their peers, with only one or two years between some in the more advanced rescue groups.
Many of Mags Talty’s students have gone on to teach swimming for a living or become lifeguards. One at least, Fionnuala Walsh, swam the English Channel and other major endurance races off California and New York.
The level of respect and admiration for Mags is obvious. Her reputation for excellence in swim and safety training goes far beyond Clare. She also teaches in Ennis and also began in Shannon.
Her legacy is that she has inspired generations of children from West Clare to use the water happily, safely and without fear, instilling courage and confidence in them.
The Irish Water Safety Association (IWSA) runs similar lessons around the county. It is the holding body that oversees the curriculum and certification of all Irish Water Safety courses.