When Miltown woman June Curtin lost her husband John to suicide in August 2013, her whole world was turned upside down.
The couple had two young children at the time and the years that followed were difficult. A realisation began to dawn on her that the time was coming where she could sink or swim, and so Snamhaí Sasta was born.
Her first venture to the sea came just under two months ago when June decided she needed something to try and ease her mind from the struggles of the last few years. By her own admission, life was tough and the battle to keep the show on the road was taking its toll.
“I was suffering from stress and anxiety and I needed to find something to clear my head and something for me, that I could do for 15 or 20 minutes every day. I lost my husband to suicide six years ago and life has been pretty hard. The journey of grief and loss is difficult and my journey is complicated. I started the sea-swimming on June 21 and I was trying to find something that would help me and if it worked, it might help others too” she said.
June was raised on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in Spanish Point along with her brother John and sister Pamela, while her parents Johnny and Claire Burke worked to develop their business at the Armada. The siblings were drafted in to help, particularly in the busy summer season, which meant time for extra-curricular activities were limited. It meant June had one potential barrier to beginning her daily routine. She could not swim.
“We never really got to the beach because we were working from a very young age. We only really went to the sea when we went out to pick periwinkles that we could sell in the bar to the customers who came to hear the Bannermen play” she laughed.
She continued: “The fact that I could not swim was not going to put me off. I went for a dip one morning and I felt incredible after it. Whatever your mood is, a swim helps to lift it. If you are feeling low, you will feel brighter and if you are feeling good, you will feel even better. I knew that morning I wanted more people to experience the pure joy that I felt after swimming. I put it on Facebook to say that I was going for a swim at 9am the next morning if anyone wanted to join me. On day two, I had four people and this Sunday we had over 300. I really felt after that first morning that I could take on the world but I knew if I didn’t put it out there, I would not keep it up on my own. I like people and I like being around people but I also wanted others to experience what I had felt. When people get into the sea, they leave their troubles on the shoreline. Sometimes all you need is good company and a listening ear to lift your mood. I think the swim is bringing people together in laughter, fun, friendship and love, and there is that old saying that love lightens the heaviest load. I am an ordinary person who has been through very hard times and I don’t claim to say anything is easy. At times it felt too hard but by putting one foot in front of the other I keep going. I have always practiced gratitude because I feel there is always something to be grateful for”.
Young and old alike have been travelling to Spanish Point beach to become part of what June describes as their happy tribe, and the success of the Snamhai Sasta swims has even coaxed her mother Claire back into the ocean after an absence of 35 years. It is not just people local to West Clare who have been getting involved either, with families travelling from as far away as Galway and Tipperary to take part. June also is making sure that those who may not spend the longest time in the water are still entertained, with a playlist of country music echoing around the beach.
“One of our swimmers came up to me last week and said just so you know, I am here for the swim and not your choice of music” she laughed.
It is a venture that June says she wants to maintain for the next 12 months and she has signed up for swimming classes to ensure she can enjoy it to the fullest. She is confident people will continue to flock to Snamhai Sasta.
“It is great to see people doing something together as a family because spending quality time together like that is really important. At the end of the day, family really is everything. It is so important that we look after our mental health and that we look out for each other. The community of swimmers are out there in the water and they are smiling and happy and that is where the name for our group came from. Snamhi Sasta means Happy Swimmers and there isn’t a negative vibe in the tribe” she smiled.
While her brother John recently went into the history books as the first Clare man to reach the Earth’s highest point, June feels her own journey to the summit of happiness from the depths of despair is well on course.
“I have come from a dark place but I am making my way through. It is a different mountain for me but I have certainly climbed my own Everest” she said.
Snamhai Sasta continues daily at 9am on Spanish Point beach with a special dawn swim planned on August 17 at 5.30am.