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Paddy rolls with the waves in Spanish Point


Former lifeguard Paddy Casey revisits Spanish Point Beach, where he was involved in many rescues.  Photograph John Kelly
FROM his neat, pink house in Legard South, Paddy Casey can hear the waves thundering towards the shore in Spanish Point. As a young man, there wasn’t an inch of the beach that he didn’t know and for 16 years he utilised that knowledge to save at least 10 lives between 1944 and 1962.

“I’m on the run in to 90,” he replied, when the question of his current year count was broached.
About 10 years before Paddy became a lifeguard in Spanish Point, a local committee set about collecting money, with a view to buying basic lifesaving equipment.

Paddy has, in his possession, a document put together by Jane Hurley, who details the tragedy which led to the establishment of a lifeguard station on the scenic West Clare beach.

“The Indian summer of 1934 tempted many bathers into the calm waters of Spanish Point. Saturday, September 15 was a particularly pleasant day. A sister from the local Convent of Mercy, Spanish Point got into difficulties while swimming. Another sister and two teenage boarders went to her assistance. The undercurrent proved immense and soon all four lives were in danger. Two strong swimmers from the locality swam out and brought all four ashore. Tragically, one of the sisters did not respond to attempts at resuscitation efforts and was pronounced dead by a local doctor,” the document written by Jane Hurley read.

Shortly afterwards, a group of concerned locals took action. A fundraising committee was formed to raise funds to purchase lifesaving equipment. PJ Hurley, a local newsagent, approached the Daily Sketch newspaper in England, seeking help in the sourcing and delivery of the equipment. He also drew up a list of approximately 200 names of locals and regular visitors to the area, who were asked to contribute to the fund. By late October 1935, three lifelines, inclusive of a harness, a float and a portable reel with a rope were purchased. Concrete beds and shelters were erected. The total cost of the equipment was £39 and 8 shillings.

Local swimmers volunteered for lifesaving duty during the summer season in 1936 and 1937. It wasn’t until 1937 that safe-guarding of beaches was introduced in a structured way, when a branch of the Irish Lifesaving Society was set up.

“There was a time in the locality when there was a surplus of lads capable of taking up lifeguard duty anywhere. As a result, Miltown supplied the lifeguards to several of the beaches in Clare. They also won several lifesaving competitions at galas,” Paddy revealed.

He was too young to be involved in all of that but once he learned how to swim, his love of the water and Spanish Point beach intensified.
He remembers that his brother, John, and Paddy Carroll promised him that they would teach him to swim. That didn’t happen though and it was an early lesson in life for young Paddy.

“They never taught me to swim. They said that they stayed out too long and they were cold but that they would teach me the next evening. I used to hear my mother say ‘if you have something to do and you can do it yourself, do it and don’t mind depending on a neighbour or a friend’,” he said.

So Paddy taught himself and when his brother, John, and Peter Downes were lifeguards in Spanish Point, Paddy’s swimming was on a par with theirs.
In 1943, John emigrated to England and Paddy set about replacing him as a lifeguard. Twelve potential lifesavers turned up for the practical exam.

“The test was to see if you could take the line out through the waves. The other lads were in from the towns and had no experience of the sea. Some of them couldn’t pass the second wave, whereas when I went out, they were calling me back. I was ignoring them and kept going. I was on duty the following day. I spent 16 years there,” Paddy said proudly, adding that he was 20 years of age in 1943.

He worked as a casual labourer and a rescue he performed in 1944 helped to secure plentiful employment for Paddy.
“I was in luck with that because the first rescue I had was a woman, who was staying in the Marina Hotel. The proprietor was her brother-in-law, with whom I was very friendly,” Paddy said.

He was patrolling the strand that day on his own, when he noticed a man in distress in the water.
“The first thing I saw was a man in plus fours gone out quite a distance in the water. I knew straight away that there was something wrong. It transpired that his wife was in difficulty so I went out and I took her in. Ever after that, until the day Captain Fitzmaurice died, he never forgot that for me. Any little job that came up, down around the hotel, I got it. In the winter time I’m convinced that he gave me work that wasn’t necessary to do,” Paddy believes.

Mrs Fitzmaurice, who was the woman rescued, regularly visited Paddy’s mother. “She used to come up every second day to my mother, thanking her for the brave son that saved her life. Then one day she came, as they were going back to Carlow in a couple of days. ‘I wonder,’ she said ‘would Paddy like to come to Carlow and live with us?’”

However, Paddy didn’t want to leave Spanish Point. So he stayed and remained on as a lifeguard. “You could say myself and Peter [Downes] had a rescue for every year of our 16 years lifeguarding. And then I had two rescues after leaving. In 1959, I got a job in the local power station. That’s why I left the lifeguard job,” he explained.

Five years after his first rescue, three people got into difficulty off Spanish Point on August 14, 1949. Peter swam to their assistance, while Paddy also rushed to help. After fighting his way through 5ft waves, he brought one of the female swimmers to safety and returned to retrieve a male swimmer. He then went in search of Peter and the third swimmer. They had drifted seawards. Both lifeguards took the female swimmer to safety and performed CPR, which aided her recovery.

One of the rescues Paddy performed, while not a full-time lifeguard, was in 1962. He was about to thin his vegetable garden near the cliff but couldn’t because the ground was wet.

“I turned to go home but just as I did so, I heard a cry for help. A young woman had got into difficulty and her husband was a non-swimmer. I swam to her and brought her safely ashore. It was pure chance that I happened to be on the cliff at that time,” he said.
Last November, Paddy was one of the recipients of the Irish Water Safety Just in Time Award.

His great friend, Peter Downes (RIP), was honoured with a posthumous award at the ceremony. Ironically, Paddy should have received recognition for his lifesaving work many decades ago but a local dispute impeded his chance of being presented with an award.
Years ago Paddy was an able golfer and he was a member of Spanish Point and Lahinch golf clubs. However, what he describes as “difference of opinion” led to him leaving Spanish Point Golf Club and playing all of his golf in Lahinch.

“I met my wife through the fact that I had left Spanish Point Golf Club,” Paddy said.
He regularly golfed in Spanish Point on Sundays and for that reason didn’t often socialise on Saturday nights. Now playing his golf in Lahinch, however, he could go out on Saturdays.

“Around 1977, I rambled into the Central Hotel in Miltown and I met this woman, Myra Stars, from Glasgow. We fell in love and I married her. If the difference of opinion hadn’t arisen in the golf club in Spanish Point, I wouldn’t have met her. She loved it here. We were married 17 years and then she developed cancer. I lost her,” he said sadly.

Another hugely influential woman in Paddy’s life was his mother. “My mother was as cool as breeze. If one of us got cut or anything, instead of getting excited, t’was the way she’d calm down. My father, his cap would be off and he’d be shouting, ‘Christ, he’ll die, he’ll die,” Paddy laughed.
He must have inherited some of his mother’s relaxed genes because while he’s not far off 90, the sea air and a laid-back approach to life have helped Paddy to retain a youthful, fit complexion.

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