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Diving deep: Celebrating 50 years of the Irish Underwater Council

The council is where divers and snorkellers meet – and they’ve seen sides of Ireland you couldn’t imagine.

DEEP UNDER THE water that lies off Ireland’s shores is a world that many of us think we will never see.

But for the members of the Irish Underwater Council, it’s a world that they have visited countless times – and which reveals new wonders with every trip they take.

imagePic: Richard Thorn

The scuba divers and snorkellers from the Irish Underwater Council (CFT) are a dedicated bunch who celebrated the 50th anniversary of the council’s founding this year.

Irish Underwater Council

CFT has over 70 clubs affiliated to it and has some members who are in their 80s. The divers all bring their varied interests with them to the hobby – some are keen photographers, some are fans of history and archaeology, others appreciate the variety of sea and marine life in Ireland’s waters.

On Stephen’s Day, Richard Thorn, the current president of CFT and a qualified instructor, will take the plunge for a post-Christmas Day dive.

He started diving over 20 years ago, after a fellow gym-goer noticed that he was a strong swimmer. He became hooked on diving and now his wife and son dive, and his daughter snorkels.

He has been heavily involved with the council, having held a number of positions during the years. He is due to step down in a number of months after two years as president.

imageGoby fish. Pic: Richard Thorn

He has seen many changes with diving over the past 20 years. “People have had more money,” he said. “When I started first started, you persisted in a wetsuit for years. Now they seem to be able to get their gear [such as dry suits] straight up, which is actually better. I don’t begrudge that at all.”

Another big change has been the economic downturn, which has affected the number of members. “You’re seeing people struggling,” said Thorn.

In the late 1990s, when people had more money, they tended to dip in and out of the sport. Thorn says that he hasn’t seen the volunteering side diminish, however. “Enthusiastic people serve in our clubs,” he said.

Members such as Thorn do voluntary work with secondary schools and other groups, helping to educate people about diving. They also have an archivist and take pride in the history of the club, and publish their own magazine, Subsea.

It really is an organisation that values the present and values the past and looks to the future.

In 2014, they will launch their new strategic plan, and celebrate the new Blue Way, a snorkelling and diving trail around Ireland’s west coast.

They aim to build a closer relationship with the members of clubs in the coming year, and bring like-minded people together more, such as encouraging new members of CFT’s underwater photography group and underwater hockey group.

Why dive?

Why do people love diving so much? For Thorn, it’s about being in the moment. He said that Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia captured the essence of it perfectly when he said that diving is “like a physical form of mediation, so silent you’re like a thought”.

“For me personally, diving is an opportunity to be right in the now,” he said. Often, when he dives he feels as though time has stopped.

Then there are the amazing sights that divers see – “the colours we have off the west coast of Ireland;  they’re phenomenal”.

imageOrgan pipe worms, Connemara. Pic: Richard Thorn

Though he says that diving is not for everybody, diving is a passion for Thorn and his fellow CFT members.

This Christmas, the Thorn family will head to their house in Achill. On Stephen’s Day, Thorn will go on one of his 180 dives this year, no doubt joined by at least one member of the family.

With the Blue Way being launched in 2014, there is a chance that by next year, even more families will find themselves drawn to this fascinating activity.

‘Everyone is on the same wavelength’

About 600 of CFT’s 2000 members are women. Louise Gilligan is the full-time administrator for CFT and also a leading diver. She got into snorkelling because of her love for the water, and then began diving.

“Diving and snorkelling are fun, and you meet the best friends you’ll ever make. You rely on each other,” she told TheJournal.ie. “Everyone is on the same wavelength. I don’t have a bank holiday when I’m sitting at home – you’re always away. I couldn’t imagine my life without my club.”

She said that after their 50th anniversary celebrations, she “came away feeling there’s hope for the future, we just need to harness our membership and the goodwill that most of our members show”.

In other good news for CFT, Kevin O’Shaughnessy of Aughinish Diving Club was elected president of CMAS (Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques) Europe, the international organisation to which CFT belongs.

CMAS sets the standards and promotes scuba diving, and this is the first such position taken by an Irish diver.

Read: Ireland to get its own snorkelling trail>

Read: Abseil 200ft when you’re 80? No bother, says Ronnie>

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