• Morgan Fagg

River Legend

Updated: Jan 14, 2019

Athlone man Patrick McDonnell completes 245km charity swim becoming the first Irishman to ever do so.

Spend any time around water and you are sure to hear some strange stories, fishermen’s tales of sea creatures, mermaids and the one that got away.

Athlone is divided by one of Europe’s largest rivers which has seen its fair share of mystery and magic, history and incredible stories.

From Vikings and Brian Boru and early monastic monasteries to sieges in Athlone and Limerick to the Children of Lir, the Lough Ree Monster and Saint Patrick’s forgotten serpent, Cata which was last rumoured to have been seen on the Shannon in 1922.

Even by the town bridge, pints of blood have been spilt in the Siege of Athlone and drops drank in Ireland´s oldest pub in which the innkeeper Luain is believed to have given his name to Átha Luain.

There are as many legends living on the Shannon as in any Scottish fisherman´s tale.

Unlike the Loch Ness Monster, Patrick McDonnell did not come from a Scottish loch but is very much homegrown, born a stone’s throw from both Lough Ree and the River Shannon.

Unlike Nessy´s Irish cousin, Patrick McDonnell is very real and for 14 days, sightings of him have been seen and reported around our rivers and lakes.

Some stories will tell of a Celtic princess drowning trying to drink water from a well of wisdom and that the very word Shannon comes from Lir´s granddaughter Sionann.

Sionann is not a mermaid but drowned trying to attain wisdom like Fionn McCool received when he tasted the Salmon of Knowledge. Few now know Sionann as well as Patrick McDonnell who despite a shoulder injury on the third day, continued his epic adventure in aid of Pieta House, Irish Cancer Society and two local charities in Cloughan where he now lives.

A little luckier than most fishermen, Patrick tells stories of catching as many as 38 fish in a day and once catching one with his bare hands. Patrick made sure that this challenge didn’t get away from him and after 14 days swimming the entirety of the River Shannon, it should be common knowledge by now of the successful swim undertaking by Athlone man, Patrick McDonnell who swam the Shannon in aid of Pieta House, Irish Cancer Society, Cloghan Hall and Riverside AFC.

Born a stone's throw from Lough Ree Yacht Club where the River Shannon meets Lough Ree, Patrick McDonnell has become the second man to swim the Shannon and first Irishman to do so. For two long weeks, strange sightings have been seen on the river and lakes as Patrick made his way from Cavan to Limerick. The Shannon is three times the length of the River Liffey and at 245km long, the swim is further in distance than going from Dublin to Galway.


The Shannon is the largest river in the British Isles and was first swum by an American cancer survivor, Dean Hall. Taking the plunge this year, Patrick followed Dean Hall´s attempt closely but refused to take part in the swim as he was getting married around that time.

Behind every great man is a great woman and Patrick was joined by his wife Ailbhe and their families who helped with the vital logistics and support needed to achieve the swim.


Patrick McDonnell is a lifeguard and instructor with Birr Leisure centre and a former lifeguard at Athlone Regional Sports Centre which meant his solo swim was supervised at all times by a canoeist and various sub aqua clubs along the way. Spotting Patrick was not difficult thanks to a red and yellow swimming hat given to him by Irish Water Safety.


He has made history as the first Irishman to swim the Shannon completely and is only the second man to ever do so. His journey was long but fortunate as conditions were much better than Dean Hall´s swim. Patrick was able to complete the swim in 14 days despite a shoulder injury, making him the fastest man to ever swim the Shannon. What an unbelievable legend?


GOGGLE MAPS: Pat points to his home place on the map.

#pietahouse

#irishcancersociety

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© 2018 by Morgan Fagg.