June Curtin, 49, a mum of two from Spanish Point, Co. Clare swims 365 days a year and she says that it never ceases to amaze her how good it makes her feel. Being in the sea allows June to forget her worries for a while and focus on the present as “you can’t think of anything, only the waves that are coming at you in that very moment.” Swimming changed June’s life as she found it at a time when she most needed it.
June tragically lost her husband to suicide in 2013 and says she was “struggling a bit with stress and anxiety and the pressures of home life. We were all struggling with the aftermath of my husband’s death, and I had tried all kinds of things like going to the gym and yoga, mindfulness. I had tried loads of different things, but nothing seemed to work for me.”
Having given up her job in the Armada Hotel, her family business, to focus on her children, June knew she needed to prioritise self-care. She says that “they always say you can’t serve from an empty vessel, so I decided then that I would start looking after myself because if I wasn’t then I couldn’t look after my children.”
She had exhausted all potential forms of self-care before deciding to try going for a swim one morning. She says that she lived beside the sea her entire life but “never got into the water,” but when she did, she says she felt “like the weight of the world lifted from my shoulders.”
June was keen to share this amazing feeling with others. The day after her first swim, she posted an open invitation on Facebook so that locals would feel free to join her. She says that she knew, if she didn’t, she probably wouldn’t commit to going on her own every day. The next day a local woman joined her, and every day after that, more and more people came to swim with them.
From there, Snámhaí Sásta was born. June created Snámhaí Sásta in 2019 – a community that swims, laughs, and drinks tea together on the beach every morning. They are a support to one another on good days and bad, and “there isn’t a day without laughter in the group,” according to June.
She decided to set up an Instagram page to promote the benefits of sea swimming and mental health awareness. And the numbers continued to grow. June says that “all of a sudden there were people travelling on a Sunday morning. We started having a country music disco on the beach and doing breakfast on the beach and hundreds of people would arrive from the four corners of Ireland.”
The pandemic has had a significant effect on the groups popularity. June says that during the pandemic, “sea swimming became very popular because people were really struggling and they needed something for themselves and something for their mental health.”
One of the things that makes Snámhaí Sásta stand out is their uplifting singsongs in the sea. June says that the singing started after ‘Nationwide’ did a story on Snámhaí Sásta in early 2020. June informed the researcher of the show that she loves country music and in particular, Declan Nerney. ‘Nationwide’ got in touch with Declan and he arrived down to Spanish Point for the taping of the show and “from there, the singing in the water took off,” says June.
June is currently fundraising for the Simon Community. She has set herself the same target as last year – to complete 63 swims in 21 days between the 1 and the 21 December. Last year, she managed to raise €15,000, this year she hopes to raise €50,000. The Snámhaí Sásta’s also recorded a cover of Tommy Fleming’s ‘Don’t Give Up Till It’s Over’ for the cause and CD sales will go directly to the charity. June says that she thought “it was very appropriate for anybody going through a hard time.”
The Snámhaí Sásta Instagram page receives hundreds of messages every day, often from people going through difficult times and looking for words of encouragement or advice. June’s day starts at five o’clock in the morning when she dedicates two hours to replying to the messages. She offers prayers and lights candles for those that need it most. “I enjoy it really and I’m doing something I like which is great. And it means that I can be at home for my children which is very important,” she says.
Next year June hopes to get around the country to spread her message of positivity and mental health awareness. She says that she would like to build up her self-confidence in order to “do more talks about mental health awareness and talks to young people, telling them that it’s okay not to be okay and the bravest thing you’ll ever do is ask for help.”