Ninety years ago, on August 2, 1931, the world famous long-distance swimmer, Miss Mercedes Gleitz, attempted to swim from the Aran Islands to Salthill. She did in fact manage to swim from Inis Meán to Spiddal in 18 hours 43 minutes, a distance of 18 miles as the crow flies, but it was estimated that with currents, etc, she covered a distance of nearly 30 miles. Two days later she gave a swimming demonstration in Salthill and presented a cup to the Chamber of Commerce to be presented to the school in the county which presented the greatest number of swimmers in relation to its student numbers. She stimulated a lot of interest in the sport, which had received a terrific boost just a few months before with the formation of two clubs, Blackrock Swimming Club and Galway Swimming Club. This guaranteed competition between the clubs and quickly helped raise standards.
GSC was formed in October 1930, the inaugural meeting was held in the old Empire Theatre. Among those present were Wally Anderson, Harry Blake, Michael Lydon, John Joe Geraghty, Canon Davis, Mrs Watson, Mrs Ward, the Kineen sisters, Jack Curran, the Rev Galley, a Presbyterian minister, Kevin Larkin, Jim Geraghty, and Jimmy Cranny. Joe O’Brien was elected first captain, Eamonn Hartmann the junior captain, and Eddie Diffley the junior vice-captain. The secretary did not use a minute book so unfortunately, there are no early records of the club proceedings.
Among the early good club swimmers were Norman Binns, Paddy Bell, Des Fitzpatrick, Michael Molloy, Harry Sheridan, the first Connacht swimmer to win a National Championship medal, a bronze, Johnny Kennedy, Jimmy and Barry Ward, and Kevin Larkin. Among the women, Neasa and Catherine O’Cleary were excellent, and Rose Lee was a famous diver. The men had good divers too in the shapes of Des McNally, Tommy Lynskey, Danny Quinlan, and Des Lynch.
In 1955, Pat Broderick gave the sport a massive boost in the west when he won the Liffey Swim. A few years later, Brendan Watson was just pipped for a gold medal in the nationals. It must be remembered that there were no pools to train in at the time so western swimmers could only practice in the summer months and were always at a disadvantage in competitions.
One of those who shouted the loudest for an indoor pool in Galway was Jimmy Cranny. He was the dominant figure in GSC for about 50 years, during which time he taught generations of Galwegians to swim, often in the most miserable conditions. Many will remember standing knee high in the water at the shore in Blackrock, shivering with the cold, while Jimmy demonstrated the arm movement and told us to stay ‘flah hout’ in the water. He was a tough taskmaster but he took the fear of the water away and got thousands of youngsters swimming. He made an enormous contribution to improving the quality of life in Galway and it was entirely fitting that the pool in Leisureland should be named after him.
One of the earliest competitive events GSC organised was an annual Prom Swim, a handicap race from Blackrock to Palmer’s Rock. It was first run in 1933 and was won by Eamonn Hartmann. It has been taking place at the end of August ever since with just one break of a few years during World War II. The men race for the Claude Toft Cup, the women have been competing since 1951 for the Jimmy Cranny Cup, the boys’ race was first held in 1966 and the girls’ in 1976.
Our photograph was taken outside the Forster Park Hotel after the 1955 event and probably after several mugs of Bovril and shows, front row from left, Jimmy Cranny; Joe Hegarty, the winner with the cup; Billy Fitzgerald; Peter Greene, Mayor of Galway; Brendan Watson; Pat Broderick; and Claude Toft. In the background are Jack Cheevers, Jack Browne, Henry Blake, and Joe Fahy.