CHANCES are if you grew up in the Belcoo area over the last 40 years and you’re a competent swimmer you know her. Kathleen Richey has been involved in the Blacklion Water Safety Club for 43 years and in that time has helped thousands of children learn everything from basic swimming through to life saving.
Kathleen and her late husband, Canon Robin Richey, were among the instigators of the water safety programme held on Lough Macnean in the first two weeks of July each year and have watched it develop into a vital part of community life.
A former teacher at Jones Memorial Primary School, Kathleen explained how it all started: “Irish Water Safety started in 1971, it was a big scheme and my husband and I were both involved in a lot of community groups so they asked us to go to this first meeting to see if Cavan could get a water safety committee going and we did.”
That year the group held one week’s of instruction for 30-40 people with a single instructor. From that point on it has grown exponentially, serving a 10 mile radius of neighbouring community.
Now the Blacklion Water Safety Club has 12 instructors taking in huge numbers from Belcoo, Glenfarne and Blacklion.
“We have three sessions in the day and now at any session we can have up to 300 people enjoying classes. On Thursday we were within 20 of 800 for the three sessions.
“We are cross-community, cross-border and cross denomination and have been here right through the Troubles and have steadily grown bigger and bigger.
“Now we have people who come and stay with relations just for the two weeks. We have a New York family who come every year because the mother was from Glenfarne.”
The club teach everything from beginners right through to Instructor level and for swimming there is no age limit.
Kathleen believes the skills learnt by those on the Lough over the past 43 years are as relevant now as they were then.
“There’s no excuse for anyone living around here not being able to swim because many of the parents learnt to swim here too. It is a vital life saving skill and in weather like this it is especially important. It’s not the swimming pool people go to in the warm weather it’s the lake. The skills they learn here allow them to go and enjoy the water with confidence.”
Parents may hold some fear in letting their children swim in fresh water rather than a swimming pool, but as Kathleen explains an exemplary safety record and meticulous standards ensure there are few safer places to be.
“We’re blessed in that the whole area round the boat quay and to the right of the boat quay towards the golf course never gets deep.
“There is deep water by the barrels, but it is clearly marked and people know where it is safe.
“Thankfully we have had no problems over the years. A long time ago a fella on a sharp stone cut his foot and he had to go into the Erne at the time and get a few stitches, but that was it and thankfully we haven’t had anything since.”
While her own role has changed since 1971,with more people involved sharing the work load, Kathleen remains a key fixture at Lough Macnean and even in her 43rd year shows no sign of slowing down.
“I think everybody wants it to keep going, I don’t know whether I’ll be involved, but I will keep going as long as I’m able. Nothing gives me more satisfaction.
“At the end of this maybe 400 children will gain certificates and it is wonderful seeing the progress of these swimmers and their development each year.”
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