Competitive swimming really began in Galway with the formation of two swimming clubs, Blackrock SC and Galway SC. Both were formed in 1930.
Among those involved in founding Blackrock SC were Richard Copeland, Justice Cahill, Stanley Lowe, Joe Costelloe, Frank McCabe, and the Conroy family. They held their meetings in the Chamber of Commerce Rooms in Eglinton Street. In later years it was the dynamism of Maisie and Christy Dooley and Bobby Molloy that kept the club going.
Galway SC was founded at a meeting in the old Empire Theatre and among those present were Canon Davis, Henry St John Blake, Joe and Jim Geraghty, Joe O’Neill, Wally Anderson, Josie Owens, Des Bailey, Mick Lydon, Fr Gaffney, Jack Bailey, and Jimmy Cranny.
The two clubs were in competition and this helped raise standards but the conditions in which they swam were primitive as all of the swimming activities were held in the open sea — training sessions, swimming galas, water safety competitions, etc. Galas were held at Blackrock. A log would be placed in the water 50 metres west of the tower and in a 100 metre race, you swam to the log, and hopefully your feet connected with it as you turned, otherwise you had to play catch-up on your opponents. The opening of Leisureland in 1971 meant that local competitors could swim in decent conditions at last.
It was Blackrock SC which instituted the ‘Prom Swim’, that annual endurance test. There were men’s races, women’s races, club races, and open races, usually from Blackrock to Palmer’s Rock, later from Blackrock to Seapoint and occasionally from the reef at the golf club to Palmer’s Rock. Handicaps were the order of the day. The earliest of the present day trophies was the Toft Cup, presented by Abby Toft for amateur swimmers in 1933. Eamonn Hartmann won the first race and Jimmy Cranny won it in 1936.
Jimmy made a huge contribution to the sport. He was known as ‘Mr Swimming’ and his contribution to the quality of life in Galway was immense. He voluntarily taught thousands of youngsters to swim. His shouts of encouragement as he stood on the shore while one was freezing in a few inches of water marked the beginning of many a lifetime’s pleasure swimming. You had to make sure to be “fla hout” and “keep your chin on the waher” with Jimmy.
Our photograph today shows a group of swimmers at Blackrock in 1949 including ‘Nace’ Brennan, Brendan Hennessy, Barney Geraghty, Jimmy Heaslip, Seamus ‘Bunchy’ Geraghty, Gus Sarsfield, Michael Cahill, Billy Cahill, Barney Keating, Edmund Kirby, Garry Walsh, Danny Griffin, and Christy Dooley.
A number of these men were also involved in an informal group of model airplane enthusiasts under the leadership of Benny Smith. They used to fly their planes in the Nuns Field and also in the ‘Boggers’, where the stadium is today.