The Lough Gill Hospice Swim is an annual event held every August in memory of Neill McGarry, who passed away in the care of The North West Hospice.
Over the last 12 years, the event has raised €365,000 for The North West Hospice, with swimmers raising sponsorship to complete the marathon 10km swim from Parkes Castle to the Back Avenue in Doorly Park.
For the past few years, swimmers have also competed in a 2km swim and a relay event located in the Back Avenue. In 2020 and 2021 the committee also organised the #lockdownloughgill virtual swim which raised over €100,000. These various events gave swimmers more opportunities to be involved within the Lough Gill Swim and also helped increase the funds raised for the hospice.
The event was the brainchild of Paul McGarry and Kieran Fitzgerald. In 2009, they both swam the length of Lough Gill in October 2009. It was cold and they swam over rocks, got tangled up in weeds and became very disorientated. Despite being covered in cuts and bruises and only have the assistance of one kayaker, they managed to finish. This was the beginning of the Lough Gill Swim. It started with two swimmers all those years ago.
The swim is in memoriam of Pauls's late nephew Neil McGarry, who passed away in 2009 under the care of the North West (NW) Hospice. The care Neill received at the NW Hospice inspired Paul to organise a fundraiser for the hospice, which evolved into the Lough Gill Hospice Swim. The primary purpose of the swim is to raise much-needed funds for NW Hospice, Sligo.
The committee extends their thanks to Neill's parents Dessie & wife Phil who have generously sponsored a beautiful perpetual trophy handcrafted from a 600-year-old piece of Irish bog oak. It takes the shape of a swimmer and will be cherished for many years. This trophy is in memory of Neil's courageous & brave fight which he sadly lost in October 2010. Neil's strength has been the inspiration behind this event.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, there were very many restrictions surrounding large events taking place. As a result, the Lough Gill Hospice Swim could not run as an in-person event or Family Fun Day in August 2020. Despite this, the committee was determined that some type of swim would take place. It was essential that some form of the event was organised as the North West Hospice was in dire need of funding due to the pandemic. In order to include as many swimmers as possible this year a virtual event was organised. The virtual event was a brilliant success raising over €70,000 for the Hospice - a record-breaking fundraising total.
In order to keep Neill’s memory alive and to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the event in 2020, the committee nominated legendary swimmer Lynsey Dunne to swim the annual 10km swim on August 15th. Lynsey is the only swimmer to take part in the 10k swim for the previous 9 consecutive years and is herself one of the founding members of the Lough Gill Hospice Swim Committee. Lynsey started the Lough Gill journey and the committee feel that it is only fitting that Lynsey would mark the 10th anniversary.
In 2021, due to the ongoing restrictions, the virtual swim was reinstated. The committee encouraged participants to take part in a 'swim bubble'. Each individual decided the number of swimmers in their bubble and what distance they would like to cover. They had the ability to create their own mini swim event. Over the last 2 years, the #lockdownloughgill Virtual Swim has raised over €100,000 for the Hospice and its services.
In order to inspire swimmers to participate in the virtual swim, members of the committee formally launched the event by staging a special 10k night swim in Lough Gill under the full 'Buck Moon'. The ethos of the Lough Gill Swim is that ‘nothing great is easy!’ and on Neill’s headstone there is a quote from a song he wrote that says, "Follow your last star". Hence why the event was called the ‘Follow your last star’ swim.
On August 14th, the Swim committee and the McGarry family commemorated the event and remembered Neill McGarry by swimming the official Lough Gill 10km in a closed 'bubble'. This bubble consisted of Paul McGarry, Kieran Fitzgerald, Lynsey Dunne and Barry Cosgrove.