Guest Blog: Polar Plunge for Special Olympics – Andy Cahill

Before the Plunge

Before the Plunge

Freezing for a reason eh? Teena Gates had mentioned this Special Olympics Polar Plunge event and on impulse I signed up. We are talking about actually jumping into the cold Irish Sea during winter with little more than a pair of shorts and a distant memory of what being warm feels like. Madness! but all to raise funds for Special Olympics. I have to admit I’m used to dealing with cold water. I’m a kayaker and in Ireland that normally means wearing plenty of warm gear. So I have heaps of protection before hitting the river or sea. Porridge, coffee, layers of thermals, fleece, drysuit, good pair of boots, foam filled buoyancy, swim cap, snug helmet; all very toasty and insulates me nicely from the cold water and winds.

But not today. Here I am standing at Bull island / Dollymount wearing just shorts, a thin rash vest and pool shoes on my feet, facing into a bitterly cold wind and looking down at the wild choppy sea….and to make things worse I am the only one here doing it!

Originally I was supposed to be with a big crowd on the Saturday all doing the same thing. I had thought hey it’s not so bad there will be lots of others. Plenty of rescue cover, lots of spectators full of cheer and support. Heaps of hot tea and stuff afterwards. Sounds ok.

But this was not to be. Recently we had lost a good friend from the paddling community. A gent called Niall O Broin who had passed away due to a sudden illness. He was literally a legend in his own lifetime and beyond. He had been in the middle of doing what he loved best. Venturing out into the wilds with some with some good mates. This trip was Nepal, paddling rivers, trekking and seeing some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, high up in the Himalayas. Plenty of eating, drinking, very likely chatting and solving all the world’s problems with a great sense of humour into the early hours of the morning.

On the official day of the Polar Plunge, I was not jumping into cold water with a large crowd around me. Instead we were with Niall giving him a proper send off; family, friends and many paddlers acting as a guard of honour. Holding our blades high in memory of this great character who will be missed. Of course as with many things that involved Niall some drinking, eating and attempted solving of the world’s problems ensued afterwards. He will be terribly missed but the one thing you can say about him, he certainly lived his life to the full!

Niall in Nepal

Niall in Nepal

So back to Dublin Bay and here I was, Sunday morning, tired, hung over and bleary eyed and I still had the polar plunge to do. This time on my own, no big crowds, just a support team of the lovely Aileen, a bemused well wrapped passerby and a well furred dog as onlookers.

It was a lovely sunny morning, great visibility with lovely views of the city and hills off in the distance. But don’t let that fool you, it was still freezing cold with a bitter wind blowing. Reluctantly I removed most of my layers of warmth and headed down the steps to the sea. Any remaining heat left in my body was quickly taken by the wind.
The waves were choppy so I had to watch my step as I entered the sea eventually standing up to my waist getting ready for the plunge. Within a very short time my legs started to go numb, so I had to go for it. Diving head first and submerging into the icy water was a serious shock to the system and almost instantly resulted in an ice-cream headache. I rose to the surface, swam and grabbed a handrail; and as quickly as I could, got out and dashed for the sanctuary of a towel and warm clothes.

Crazy stuff, but even though it took an hour or two for warmth to return to my arms and legs, I also felt invigorated and full of life. I was happy that I had made the effort for Special Olympics and was especially grateful to all those who sponsored and helped, much appreciated! And hey if you too want to contribute it’s not too late and you can do it here…

So… as you are reading this you may be warm and comfortable. But do consider on occasion leaving that warmth and comfort of what is normal. Venture out into the wilds and discover what’s out there. See what you can do in your own way, even if it’s only a small way, to help solve the world’s problems….and find and always treasure the good mates you will surely meet along the way.

Video of the plunge:


  • Communicorp
  • Danone
  • Irish Farmers’ Journal
  • Dublin Airport Authority
  • WeightWatchers, Ireland
  • Limerick City & County Enterprise Board
  • ‘Foot In The Door’ Media Trainer for Independent Commercial Radio, Ireland
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  • Adrian Hendroff ‘From High Places’
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