Meeting Máire:

Some time back I wrote in the Hand in Hand ‘Events’ section about the upcoming Dip in the Nip:

“You can register now if you wish to take part in this year’s event, scheduled for the 1st of June.  The event attracts good sports from right across the spectrum.  Yes, all human life is here and you’ll meet and become friendly with all manner of naked dippers, from those who wish to contribute something to an enormously worthy cause all thDip Postere way through to others who are actually undergoing cancer treatment at the time.”

I mentioned then that Máire Garvey was both originator and organizer but at that time I hadn’t actually met the lady in question.  Happily, that was rectified yesterday (Wednesday) when I tagged along to Castlebar with Hand in Hand’s Development Manager Jennifer Carpenter, who was catching up with Máire.

[An ulterior motive on my part was that I had wanted to try out the charity’s new mini-bus, donated to us a fortnight ago by Nicky Carvin and the volunteers of the Annual Across Ireland Motorcycle Run; but I’ll have a post on this tomorrow.]

Truth to tell, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  In her own writings Máire has been blisteringly honest on the demons that have plagued her down through the years.  Devastatingly honest; I’m not sure that I could write with as much truth as she does.

After a break with her family she was ‘jobless and homeless’ as well as undergoing a harrowing and extended battle with alcoholismsligo dip 2012 005, which came to some sort of end when she was 34 and—having attempted suicide—gave it up. Of course, the words ‘gave up the drink’ undoubtedly can never convey what a person goes through on the road to recovery; but Máire will soon have been dry for 21 years, and to that you can only offer sincere congratulations.

Having dealt with that, whatever blind forces govern the universe then saw fit to hit her with clinical depression, something that had probably always been there anyway and with which she is also successfully dealing.  In fact, afterwards Jennifer told me that “She looks 100% better than the last time I saw her”.


Original of the Species

Well, I can’t comment on that; all I can say is that I wasn’t quite ready for the very able, focused and extremely organized lady sitting in front of me. It also became quickly obvious that she has a keen sense of the absurd.  It seems that her idea for the annual Dip in the Nip has been of as much benefit to her as it has been to so many others.

And make no mistake: Máire is the original of the species.  She is the one who came up with the concept of a nude bathing event that would be used for the express purpose of raising money for charities.  There is an old and true cliché that maintains that ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’; and in that case Máire must feel very flattered indeed– because the event has certainly gone on to be imitated!

I ask her how things have changed over the years since that first dip in 2009.

“Well, obviously the novelty value has worn off; and the shock value has gone.  People’s big fear these days isn’t so much going naked as worrying about the temperature in the Atlantic! So it’s gotten harder to get the media interested in reporting on it, which is a shame.  And yes, I do go in myself, every time.  You can hardly ask others to do it and then stand back and just watch.  I’ll be doing a dip every Sunday in June in different counties.” (I’m thinking to myself here that I don’t mind writing about it, but I’ve no intention of joining in. For selfless reasons, naturally:  these days, if I was to dive in the ocean the headline you’d be waking up to would be: Tsunami Hits Irish West Coast.)

“The bigger it gets, the more it costs to run it.  The thing is that in the first year, everything was sponsored. Now it just gets harder and harder.  Companies simply can’t afford it the way that they could.  Money is tight for everyone, after all.  And people assume that these things run for nothing!  They forget about insurance, the printing of fliers, posters and a hundred other things that are involved.”

Can you believe there’s a ‘best-dressed naked competition’?  Yeah, I thought that she was pulling my leg as well:  “You’d be amazed.  People try unusual hats, body paint…”

Another idea that appeals to my sense of humour is that there are different kinds of dippers, most of the names being self-explanatory:  there’s Veteran Dippers, Virgin Dippers, Chief Dippers and even Chicken Dippers.  (“Ah, they’re the one who go in up to their knees and then run out again!”)

Having mentioned Chief Dippers, Máire then reflected on one who had become a personal friend in the years since the first event.

“Tara Sheridan of Cork was at the very first dip. She then, in her forties, in 2012 and 2013 was the Chief Dipper.  Tara died in January after five return bouts of cancer; but eighteen years ago she had been given only one year to live.”

And that pulls me up and reminds me that remarkable people like Marie Garvey, Tara Sheridan and the countless volunteers who make events such as the Dip in the Nip possible are working hard, often unnoticed, all of the time.  People like Máire, Dip 1who didn’t give in to the fact that Life had handed her a tough hand of cards are beavering away there, behind the scenes, regularly unthanked and too often of late eclipsed by the greed of those who have been making the headlines in these past months. 

Meeting people like Máire remind me that whilst she will never be as talked about as the others I’m thinking of, the extraordinary good that she is doing for so many will live long after those headlines are forgotten.