Dublin man becomes oldest to complete the North Channel Swim

Fergal Somerville spent over 12 hours in open water while raising money for the Irish Cancer Society last weekend.

In Portpatrick. Credit: Fergal Somerville

HE MAY BE a couple of months short of his 50th birthday, but that hasn’t stopped Fergal Somerville from becoming the 14th person to succeed in swimming the North Channel.

A gruelling 20 miles (32 kms) from Donaghadee County Down to Portpatrick in the South West of Scotland, Somerville took on the challenge last weekend a year after being forced to cut an attempt short due to bad weather.

The Dubliner, who has raised over €30,000 for charities such as Cystic Fibrosis Research Adolescent Addiction and the Irish Lifeboats during previous open water swims, spent 12 hours 21 minutes in temperatures as cold as 9 degrees celius – all the time being encouraged and fed bananas, chocolate and liquids by his wife Margaret and crew made up of experienced swimmers Tom Healy, John Daly, Martin Cullen and the boat’s captain Quinton Nelson.

Speaking to, he said of the remarkable achievement: “I had the tide for the first three-and-a-half hours. You don’t go in a straight line as you have to work the tides into it. You go north east first and then south east to Scotland. The tide was against us for the rest of the swim.

“The last 9 hours was desperately hard to make progress. I was fighting against it but you just dig in. It’s the nature of the sport that you’ve got to keep at it.”

“The swimmer gets the kudos but the crew are an essential component and they have to know that they are doing. I had a fantastic experience.

“Seeing Margaret there was a huge boost for me. She doesn’t like boats but came anyway and it was great to be able to look across and she was there watching.”

Fergal's route.

So much of long distance swimming is about psychological strength and determination. Somerville, the oldest person to ever complete the channel, got some advice from fellow Irish open water swimmer Steve Redmond.

"I was in touch with Steve a couple of days before I left. I remember reading reports that he had a mantra of saying his kids' names. When I was getting ready at home, I put the initials of my two sons' names on each palm - Eoin and Conor. So I was doing it à la Redmond."

Fergal's spirits were also raised by incoming text messages from friends watching his progress via an online tracker.

There is a crowd of marathon swimmers in Cork we know. When I was told that they had got in contact all I was thinking about was the support and the people I knew so it helped my pass the time.

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"I swim with Eastern Bay and I head a lot of them were standing around with their smart phones checking out how I was getting on after their swim."

"They say it’s 90% mental. For me, it's just about getting into 'Duracell bunny' mode, where your arms are flying. I told myself I was going to try enjoy it - well as much as you can enjoy 12 hours of torture."

Upon reaching the shore, Fergul was greeted by Maggie Kidd - a Scot who was the youngest ever swimmer to complete it when she attempted 25 years ago.

Somerville, who funds the swims himself,  has raised much-needed money for the Irish Cancer Society but you can still donate by logging onto his blog or

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Ben Blake

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