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John Mulvey and his son Cian after the Kilmartin Cup in Bray, Co Wicklow Mulvany family
1969 to 2019

This Dublin man won the Liffey Swim 50 years ago ... today he's returning to take part alongside his children

Dublin City Liffey Swim will celebrate its 100th year today.

FIFTY YEARS AGO in 1969, Dublin native John Mulvey won the Dublin City Liffey Swim at the age of 14. 

Today, as the Liffey Swim celebrates its 100th year, Mulvey is returning to participate alongside his son Cian (34) and daughter Rachel (36).

The Liffey Swim has grown in size considerably over the years, since it first began in 1919.

Over 600 swimmers are expected to take part in this year’s competition, participants travelling from all over the world to take part in this historic race.

Speaking to, Mulvey said that there were less than 100 swimmers taking part in the swim alongside him in 1969.

Reflecting on the lead up to his swim in 1969, Mulvey said that he first took up swimming at the age of 12 and joined the Half Moon Club in Dublin. 

“I was fortunate enough that I was handy enough at a young age,” Mulvey said. 

He explained that he would head to an indoor swimming pool most mornings for a swim. In the evenings, he played water polo or went for a sea swim in Blackrock. 

Prior to entering the Liffey Swim, participants have to complete a number of qualifying swims to be eligible for the race. Mulvey succeeded in each swim. 

This year, entrants to the Liffey Swim had to complete six qualifying open sea races from the annual Leinster Open Sea Calendar.

unnamed (1) John Mulvey (in the pink hat at the back) participating in a race in Co Wicklow Mulvey family Mulvey family

Looking back on the Liffey Swim event in 1969, Mulvey said “it was fantastic because it’s, kind of, very much the unknown”. 

“At the age of 14 you really are a nipper,” he said, adding that he never expected to win the race. 

“I had very bad eyesight and all I knew was that my brothers and sister were up [on the path] running along and they kept pointing behind me … I thought that someone was right behind me and I just kept going faster and faster and faster,” Mulvey said. 

I hadn’t a clue I was going to win. Just the whole atmosphere was fantastic. 

Mulvey participated in the swim the following year, but hasn’t competed since. 

This year’s swim

Marking the 100th year of the Liffey Swim, Mulvey has made the decision to return to the competition, and participate alongside his son and daughter, Cian and Rachel. 

Mulvey said the lead up to this year’s event and getting to train alongside his children has “probably been most of the most moving things”. 

“I’ve got four kids but just to swim with these two now will be just incredible, that’s all I can say,” he said. 

The build up has been fantastic and there’s been some incredible moments. 

Capture Rachel O'Doherty during the Dublin Docklands swim Mulvey family Mulvey family

When asked if he thinks whether any of the family have a chance at winning today, he said he was unsure. 

“I think because it’s such a big event … I think the tide might be slightly against us from what people are saying. I think we’re all going to try swim as well as we can,” Mulvey said. 

“Rachel and Cian have been training like mad but the chances of winning now would be really remote,” he said. 

If we all finish on Saturday, there will be one mother and father of a party. It does mean a lot and it has been a great challenge. We’ve all become so fit this year because of it. It’s just been a great challenge. 

Following the race, a black tie event is being held in the Mansion House for those involved. 

“We’re all going, the whole family, and I just can’t wait.”

This year’s competition will begin at the Watling Street Bridge and end at Custom House Quay, with the men’s swim race kicking off at 12pm and the women’s swim race beginning at 1pm.

Competitors will race 2,200 metres downstream underneath the key bridges of Dublin City.

In doubt

Questions were yesterday raised over the Liffey Swim after it emerged that water samples from the Dublin river are “exceptionally poor”. 

Dublin City Council tested the water quality after sewer debris was discharged into the Liffey following heavy rains earlier this week.

The council said yesterday evening in a statement that:

Water samples of the River Liffey were taken on 31 July and 1 August 2019 and the results became available today, Friday 2 August at 1.30pm. The results are exceptionally poor, and significantly exceed the maximum permitted levels for designated bathing waters.

The HSE also said yesterday that it was informed of a significant increase in bacteria found in the River Liffey in water samples taken between Glenaulin Park and East Link Toll Bridge between 31 July and 1 August.

It said: “Swimming and other water based activities in this water may cause illness.”

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