The Annagh Lake Dippers form an arch for a special guest in their midst.

WordSmith: One lake, an ocean of hearts and minds

The lake makes you see the good in every day; you can tell the lake your worries and it will sort them for you, or at least clear your head enough to see. So Gerard Smith found out when he visit Annagh Lake and he tells us all about it in his latest WordSmith column...

here was no delineation between sky and lake, they merged to create a cobalt grey canvas. I must say, my mood was under the weather. Then, the Annagh Lake Dippers began to arrive, their swim caps and good cheer bringing colour to a mizzly monotone morning.

These wonderful people swim in Annagh lake – every day. That’s every day of the year. And last Sunday the dippers were extra energised; for a remarkable man was on his way to dive into their wellness-waters, with them.

The atmosphere was charged with anticipation. Every time a car arrived a group of children rushed forward shouting, “Is this him?” When it wasn’t, they shrugged and returned to playing games in the real world.

I milled around in the mizzle, literally soaking up the atmosphere. The relaxed camaraderie amongst the swimmers generated a warmth that would be welcome in the water. A trestle table arrived and was soon festooned with: sandwiches, cakes, tea, and coffee. The mizzle stopped, and a slow sizzle released a Sunday-fry-fragrance into the Annagh air as sausages hit a hotplate – the man would receive all the warmth of an Annagh Dippers welcome.

Snippets about the man sizzled along with the sausages, “He sleeps in his car,” said one. “And cooks in it, too,” added another. Whatever they had to say about the man, it was said with reverence.

My interest in the man piqued. I wandered down to the lake where I googled him. Much has been reported about him, and while reading of his achievements my own sense of anticipation began to build.

A collective, “Whoop,” rang out – the man had arrived. When Paddy Conaghan emerged from the car, I felt the surge of his humanity, humbled in his presence. The man from Arranmore made his way to the Annagh shore, wherein the dippers created an arch of honour for his dive into the lake; the Cavan lap of his ‘Ducking & Driving’ around Ireland’s lakes for the charity: IMNDA. Watching Paddy leap and plunge under Annagh lake’s surface; his 83-years plunged away and all I saw was his prowess. Paddy is a man at home in a lake; water is his place.

Afterwards, as Paddy and company enjoyed sausage sustenance, I asked a lady, “Are you the founder of the Annagh Lake Dippers?” She replied, “There is no founder, no committee, no hierarchy…” Later, she messaged me more, “Annagh Lake Dippers were borne from a bond of H2O. When Covid hit, Annagh lake offered solace. We swam, facing away from each other, yet still together; companionship in solitude. Then, as the crisis lifted, we celebrated the freedom. We swam, we hung out after in towels and jackets, drinking coffee and celebrating every meeting as if it were a victory. The lake makes you see the good in every day; you can tell the lake your worries and it will sort them for you, or at least clear your head enough to see. Every person that appears at the lake is welcomed for who they are and the gift within them; it’s an empathic and authentic group.”

Personally, I’ve always found solace in places. Often as a child, when I felt troubled, I’d take to Cavan’s woodlands wherein I’d find calm. The dipper’s story resonates with me. And more so, when in their presence and place I feel the reassuring well-being that I had as a child in Cavan’s landscapes.

Last Sunday morning, the sky remained leaden, but my mood began to lift. When a dipper strummed a ukulele and others sprang into spontaneous song, my mood soared. Watching Paddy exercise his age-positivity in the company of the Annagh Lake Dippers was an exhilarating experience – my mood rose above the weather.

In our county of 365 lakes, it’s heartening to see people’s life-affirming relationship with one of them; and hear how our landscape can mind us, when we let it.

I’ll leave you with a quote that is beautifully buoyant, “Annagh Lake is our sea, anchoring our souls with its gentle embrace as the water laps against the shore; filling our spirit with contentment in its rhythm, its gentle pulse. If anyone asks for a definition of community, or of hope, we would say: Annagh Lake Dippers.”


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