Harry Huffaker's Memories Of Ballycaste, Circa 1964

Harry Huffaker’s Memories Of Ballycaste, Circa 1964

Bryan In Ballycaste, Harry Huffaker’s Memories Of 1964

Courtesy of Harry Huffaker, Ballycastle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

Bryan Finlay is the epitome of generosity, humility and helpfulness in the sport of open water swimming,” recalls Steven Munatones about the recent International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame honoree from Canada. “Any question, any issue, any problem-solving, any mentorship, Bryan has provided it for decades.

Finlay was elected as an Honor Administrator in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame‘s Class of 2020 and will be recognized with his fellow Class of 2020 honorees at the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame induction ceremony in New York City on May 2nd 2020.

. Harry Huffaker spoke fondly recalled in a personal note to Finlay. Sometimes, when open water swims are not held as scheduled, the interaction among open water swimmers eventually evolves into something which those present long treasure. Huffaker talks about his memories in Ballycastle, a small seaside town in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It is on the north-easternmost coastal tip of Ireland, in the Antrim Coast and Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. “I thought this unanticipated night might be enjoyed by other adventurous types who subscribe the road less travelled.

There has been much water under the bridge and over the dam since Bryan and I first met each other in Ballycastle, Ireland. His upcoming induction into International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame is well deserved and long overdue.

One of the most memorable events of my then young life at 24 years of age included a most memorable cast of characters who had gathered in Ballycastle for a race in 1964. The group included Kendall Mellor, Michael Jennings, Cdr. Gerald Forsberg, a tall upstart nearly 7-feet tall whose last name started with G, my father, and Kendall Mellor’s sponsor Tommy Holmes who owned a junkyard and transported us to the event in a beautiful red Jaguar sedan, and others.

After arriving in Ireland, the first order of business was to establish what time the pubs close. In England, closing times vary according to county, days, etc.

We flagged down a bobby [policeman] who was pedaling a bicycle along the rural road that we were on. His answer to our query was, ‘I don’t know for certain, but I reckon sometime about the middle of October.’ We laughed and that set the tone for the next two days.

Local residents graciously provided comfortable lodging and for entrants and their entourages in their private homes. By the time dawn arrived the following morning, the town had doubled in size from 2,000 to 4,000 people along with a parade and modest marching band. The event was sponsored by Rothman’ cigarettes and people began to place bets on which swimmer they thought might win. Around noon, the race was cancelled after the temperature at the water’s edge was recorded at 49°F (9.4°C). The swimmers wasted no time getting back into their street clothes and heading to a nearby waterfront hotel for lunch and libation in an underground setting.

The afternoon wore on hour after hour without any discussion about or indication that it would ever end. At one point, I asked the person next to me if he thought we should be concerned about a police raid. His reply was, ‘No worries mate, there both in here with us.’

When we finally emerged from the smoke-laden environment to head back to our room, a clock on the wall indicated that it was 4A am and the second hand was still moving which I took it to mean that the clock was not broken. In retrospect, my main takeaway from the day – in addition to my gratitude for the race being cancelled – was that most everyone in Ireland has a friendly nature and a beautiful singing voice.

Nearly 60 years following that experience, I returned to BallyCastle following the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame reunion in Cork to revisit the scene in 2014 after the Global Open Water Swimming Conference. It has been said and written that one can never return home. BallyCastle is a noticeable exception with very little change in evidence and the large seaside hotel is still there. I bellied up to the bar for a pint before heading off to our next venue which was the Bushmills distillery. Samples of their product fit nicely into the boot of the VW

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Steven Munatones