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Dublin: 16 °C Thursday 13 August, 2020
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'I’ve had a lot of luck, and Sammy is probably one of the luckiest things that has happened'

We speak to Alan Hegarty about his business – and his unlikely mascot.

MILLIONS OF HITS online, holding up traffic, delighting people’s hearts and getting chased with chairs is just an average day for Sammy the Seal.

A native of Wicklow but recognised worldwide, Sammy has caused a stir online over the past few years with his eccentric activities.

Videos show him cheekily jumping out of the water at Wicklow’s South Quay and lumbering across to the local fish shop.

Source: Charlie G Vinall/YouTube

Onlookers have noted this is bound to happen as there’s a sign with one arrow pointing to Sammy and another arrow pointing to the shop.

Alan Hegarty opened The Fishman in 2012 with his wife Liz after years going from door to door in his fish van, and in 2015 set up The Lighthouse, his restaurant next door. Alan feeds Sammy three times a day in accordance with advice from Seal Rescue Ireland so as not to overfeed him.

“It all started the first week we opened the shop,” he says.

I saw him in the river and I went out with a little bit of fish and I gave it to him.

Sammy disappeared for about a week, but Hegarty noticed him in the river again so he fed him some more.

He now feeds Sammy every day “unless there’s a shoal of mackerel or herring out in the
bay”.

“He’d feed out there then come in and gives us a little visit to let us know he’s there. If he’s mating, he disappears for a couple of weeks. When the female has a pup, he disappears for four or five weeks, and he stays with them until the pup is strong enough.

We’ve noticed after that time when he comes in he’s lost all the weight. It’s a great advertisement for slimming. He’s half the size.

Sammy the seal Wicklow town 3 Hegarty feeds Sammy Source: Michael Kelly

Sammy recently turned 13 and Hegarty holds a seafood festival each year, marking it as
Sammy’s birthday. He picks a charity (Parkinson’s Disease next year). In 2016, over
2,000 people came along.

“For a small one-man show, it’s a lot of people. It’s all down to Sammy the Seal.”

People constantly call into The Fishman to ask about Sammy’s whereabouts, and during our interview it was no different. Two ladies come in wondering when feeding times are.

“He’s bringing down a whole range of people from Dublin, people from Carlow, people from Waterford. I’ve had people from Australia, Russia, France, Spain, all over the world.”

The business owner hopes Wicklow Town can adopt Sammy as a mascot of sorts as he’s such a great attraction. Sammy now has T-shirts reading “I saw Sammy the Seal” and a Facebook page dedicated to him. Hegarty also hopes to develop a “Sammy seal of approval” for local businesses to promote the town.

While Sammy has been arriving solo for the past few years, recently he’s been bringing a
certain friend along with him: “Valentine’s Day we had a little female seal come in with
him.” Laughing, he adds: “She disappeared for a while, so we thought it was a one-night
stand.”

However, she’s joined Sammy again “full-time” and there are plans for a competition soon to pick a name for her.

Hegarty views Sammy as a great publicity stunt, sort of like Wicklow’s own Fungi the Dolphin. While he constantly has to tell people that Sammy is a wild animal and must
stay that way, he’s glad of the companionship.

Sammy the seal Wicklow town 4 Source: Michael Kelly

“I think I’d be very upset if anything happened to him. There is a relationship, there is a bond. Five years I’m feeding him every day, three times a day, creating birthday cakes and parties for him.

But, I do respect that he’s a wild animal and I wouldn’t sit with him or pet him.

Sammy gets bold enough to walk across the road, and distractions often won’t push him back to the water when he blocks traffic. While this fuels publicity, Hegarty is also aware of the dangers it could cause.

Nothing bad has happened to his knowledge, though Sammy has barked at him a few times.

Sammy the seal Wicklow town 1 Source: Michael Kelly

However, Sammy no doubt recognises his feeder after all these years, following him down the Quay to where his car is parked after work. It’s a “good night” of sorts when it happens, “then he’ll go on off to his little home in the sea”.

While Hegarty obviously feels some attachment to the seal he recognises the reality of the
situation.

“Sammy, to me, is probably the best advertising campaign that I could have thought
of,” he says. “And he’s probably one of the best things that could have happened to this business. I think it’s something that was meant to be, that I should open a fish shop here.

“I’ve had a lot of luck, and Sammy is probably one of the luckiest things that has happened.”

Related: Wicklow’s Sammy the Seal is going viral all over the world

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About the author:

Fiachradh McDermott

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