New E10,000 hoist gives very special swimming club a priceless lift

Jeddy Walsh

Jeddy Walsh

‘A long and coveted ambition’ realised is how South Tipperary Dolphin Swimming Club describe the acquisition of their brand new state-of-the-art poolside hoist at the Ferryhouse Sports Complex in Clonmel.

The club, now in its 31st year, finally achieved their fundraising goal of E10,000 towards the end of last year when the pool hoist was formally unveiled by the Acting Mayor of Clonmel, Cllr. Teresa Ryan.

It was the result of a fundraising campaign throughout their 30th anniversary year and now the club look forward to enjoying the benefits of this precious piece of equipment for many years in to the future.

According to hard-working chairperson, Berna Dempsey, the club made a very determined effort last year to finally procure a hoist which they had been operating without for decades. Berna described how getting some of the wheelchair swimmers in and out of the pool was becoming increasingly difficult and also the fact that health and safety plus insurance concerns were foremost in their minds.

Thankfully now, with the purchase of the hoist along with a customised poolside wheelchair (costing E1,000 alone) immobile members can be brought from the dressingrooms, lowered safely into the water, lifted out at the end of their exercise and wheeled back to the dressingrooms with minimum effort. The benefits and advantages of this mean so much to the swimmers in particular but also to the volunteers. Thankfully no longer the days of an over-reliance on manual lifting and lowering.

Reflecting on their fundraising efforts of last year the club says - “To begin with we ran a feature in ‘The Nationalist’ newspaper. The response to this was amazing and hence our journey began.”

“Bernie Mac (Emigrants Rest) got our campaign off to a wonderful start when she chose the Dolphin Swimming Club to be recipients of funds raised (over E4,000) from a sponsored walk that she organises every May Bank Holiday in memory of her daughter Hayley. Following on from this other local organisations, companies and members of the public organised fundraising events and gave donations.”

Indeed the South Tipperary Dolphin Swimming Club are an amazing bunch, not alone for the core work that they do in providing swimming lessons 38 weeks a year for the disabled, but also for their sheer commitment with self-financing the club.

Week in, week out, for over three decades now, volunteers have committed to the weekly Friday night session at Ferryhouse. “They come from all over a wide catchment area, Clonmel, Carrick-on-Suir, Cashel, Ardfinnan, Newcastle,” says Berna.

Besides a rota of 30-40 volunteers to call on the club is blessed with and forever thankful to so many for their help. The Rosminians at Ferryhouse have been best friends since the launch back in 1982 but there are so many others, including Clonmel Lions Club who provide a weekly bus service to the lessons as indeed do the Red Cross for the wheelchair-bound swimmers, Carrick-on-Suir Lions Club, Carrick ICA, Carrick Operatic Society and Carrick Wheelers, plus many more.

Hard to credit also that the club receives not one brass farthing or red cent in grant aid, not from the Government agencies, not from the Lotto, zilch! They totally rely on their own fundraising which adds to an already heavy workload for officers and volunteers.

Berna praises the assistance she receives from everyone in running the club, including secretary Sinead Kearns and treasurer Margaret O’Leary

She also singles out for special mention Phyllis Whelan for her never-ending fundraising. “Philly never stops,” she said, “and when she puts her mind to it she gets it, regardless, at the end of the day.”

Others doing vital work on a never-ending basis for the Dolphins are water coaches Johnny Prendergast and Michelle Meagher. “Without these two in the water the weekly session could not go ahead. Their encouragement and enthusiasm is way beyond their call of duty,” Berna adds.

In the water itself the club uses a technique known as the Halliwick Concept whereby the instructors teach those with disabilities how to swim. From being almost totally dependent on their instructor initially the learner/instructor work together, at their own pace, to the point where the learner eventually becomes totally independent in water. The club’s youngest swimmer is just two years-old and the oldest members can keep swimming up in to their 80s as has been the case. A lot of members are in the 7 to 12 age group.

The benefits of the weekly swim are not just physical, participants gain in terms of confidence and in their personal development and social skills. For many swimmers a milestone is the point where they become ‘water-free,’ a term used to describe an ability to walk across the pool unaided and without fear. The joy gained from getting to this stage of independence in water is remarkable, a huge achievement for all the swimmers.

For the outsider it is uplifting to see how the South Tipperary Dolphin Swimming Club operates and goes about its business. They are a remarable bunch of dedicated people. They are tremendously proud of their achievements, rightly so, over thirty years and in particular last year when in the face of a great challenge their determination won through in the end and they achieved a long coveted goal.

In everyday news stories we hear on a daily basis of the mind-boggling figures of footballers’ wages, politicians pensions, bankers’ bonuses, greed personified, all grotesque figures that often seem totally undeserved, huge sums that bring little joy in real terms. And then you come across a ‘good’ news story like the ordinary everyday citizens of a South Tipperary club helping the disabled to swim and lead more fulfilling lives, people who have to go to such extremes to raise a seemingly small sum of E10,000. But was there ever E10,000 harder earned that gave such priceless joy in return? I doubt it.