Former tunnel tiger sets off on charity odyssey around Ireland

24 December 2021

An 80-year-old former ‘tunnel tiger’ is driving around the coast of Ireland on a two-month charity mission which will see him swim at as many of the country’s piers as possible, despite icy, wintry seas.

Now well into his quest, Paddy Conaghan set off from his home on Arainn Mhor (Arranmore), an island off the coast of Donegal, on Sunday 5 December to raise funds for a mental health charity called Gemma's Legacy of Hope, a counselling service in Donegal, NW Ireland.

Big-hearted Conaghan was quoted as saying that he is undertaking the trip because he wants to ‘do something for someone’ before he ‘kicks the bucket’. Totally self-funded, he is refusing cash donations from well-wishers along the way, asking them instead to make online donations to his GoFundMe page ‘Ducking and Driving for Gemma’s Legacy of Hope’.

To train, the octogenarian has swum regularly since the start of 2021, even having to re-learn the strokes as he had not swum since February 1962. Asked why he undertook the journey in winter and not summer, Conaghan said he wanted a real challenge and did not want people to think he was enjoying himself on a summer holiday. Despite his age, he said he would be happy to swim three or four piers every day.

Conaghan has kitted out his vehicle – a van which he describes as an “old banger” – with a mattress, generator, heater, hot plate and other comforts to ensure the journey is as comfortable as possible. It also doubles as a mobile gym.

For much of his life, the former tunnel tiger worked underground on projects in England and Scotland. The tigers, most of whom were from North-West Donegal, Ireland, were an elite group of construction professionals who earned big money doing hard, dangerous work, driving tunnels mostly by drill and blast through mountains and under rivers. They worked mainly on Scottish hydro-electric projects in the Highlands and at Pitlochry, near Perth.

Conaghan expects to complete his quest in February, and so will be on the road both for Christmas and for his birthday. But such hardships are being richly recompensed given the on-going success of his adventure. His initial fundraising target was €1,000 (US$1,135). As of 24 December, he has raised €42,590 (US$48,315) – and rising.