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'legend' Friends pay tribute to Cork swimming club founder who died at lake

Declan Newman suffered suspected heart attack while swimming with club


Declan Newman

Declan Newman

Declan Newman

A man who founded a swimming club, where he was described as being “a father to everyone”, died from a suspected heart attack as members of his club fought in vain to save him.

Declan Newman, who was aged in his 50s, set up the Lough Hyne Lappers swimming club around 15 years ago, as a social club for those interested in swimming.

Tragically, at around 12.30pm on Saturday and only moments after the father-of-two was heard singing, Mr Newman suffered a suspected cardiac arrest in the water, near the last pier in Lough Hyne, near Skibbereen, Co Cork.

Mr Newman’s club had just returned from a 2km swim.

Emergency services, including the Irish Coast Guard, were contacted but it was the group, who “battled for an hour-and-a-half to try to save him”, a grieving friend revealed.

It is understood that Mr Newman’s son Cillian, a teacher in his mid-20s, was swimming with the club at the time. Mr Newman is also survived by his daughter, Laoise, who is also in her mid-20s.

“People were bawling, crying,” the friend said, when local people heard later that Mr Newman had passed away.

“Declan was a legend, an absolute legend,” he added. “The swimmers realised he was in trouble and they worked so hard to save his life.”

A defibrillator Mr Newman had fundraised for and placed at the pier, was utilised by the club to try to save his life but all attempts failed.

Around 30 members had been out swimming at the time and all had been trained in CPR. “They gave him every chance they could,” the friend said.

“Lough Hyne was home to Declan and the Lappers were a second home to him,” the friend said.

“It’s just so, so sad. He was singing just before he passed away. Declan would be singing all day long. He was a fantastic songwriter.

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“The only small mercy there is, is Declan died in the place he loved, doing the thing he loved.

“Declan was a legend in Skibbereen. No matter who you were, or where you were from, he welcomed everyone to Lough Hyne. He welcomed everyone to the club. He encouraged people to swim. He’d always be there, offering people a cup of tea and a bit of craic. It’s hard to comprehend all he’s done for swimming and for people, in West Cork.

“Declan was like a father to everyone that came down to Lough Hyne.

“You could not meet such a gentle giant,” the friend said.

In 2017, Olympic gold medallist Sonia O’Sullivan visited the Lappers, after reading about the group on Facebook. The runner was said to have been impressed by all the group were doing for swimming combined with the social aspect.

The club had also been a vital social outlet during the pandemic for members.

Gardaí, members of Skibbereen Fire Service, the Coast Guard and the Irish Air Community Ambulance all attended the scene.

Paramedics also carried out CPR but Mr Newman was pronounced dead a short time later.

Mr Newman was a sign writer and worked all over west Cork. He was very well known across the region.

His body was removed to Cork University Hospital, where a post-mortem will be carried out and a file prepared by gardaí for the Coroner's Court.

Valentia Coast Guard said they received an emergency call at 12.40pm and it tasked a local Coast Guard unit with attending the scene. “The HSE sent their Helimed down there instead,” the Coast Guard said.

“I believe the gentleman in question was out for a swim with a swimming club when he got into difficulty, just coming to the end of the swim.

“He was taken from the water, attempts were made to rescue him but sadly these failed.”

Another friend described Mr Newman as “larger than life” and “very popular”.

One friend said Mr Newman was organising a swim before he passed away.

Another friend said he had reminded them to visit, as he hadn’t seen them for a number of weeks.

Mr Newman was described as always being busy in community events.

“I was devastated when I heard, he was such a lovely guy,” another friend said.

“Declan was also involved with a local soccer club. He helped get soccer pitches put up. He was a member of the Leeds United fan club in Skibbereen.

“Everyone rallied together to try to help save Declan. Lough Hyne was his home, his second family.

“He was a gentle giant, who helped everyone. Declan was at the last pier, as all the swimmers came in, you could hear him singing. He’d sing all day long.”

The swimming club boasts around 150 members and was formed around 15 years ago.

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