Derry’s Ray Cossum - first person from Ireland to swim English channel - inducted into Hall of Fame

Legendary swimmer and honorary Derry man Ray Cossum has been inducted into the Irish Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame - Class of 2021.
Ray, who has achieved many open water swimming accomplishments since taking up long distance swimming in 1964, was the first ever swimmer from Ireland to successfully cross the English Channel back in 1970.

Friday, 4th December 2020, 3:48 pm
Veteran diver Ray Cossum pictured at an event to mark the centenary of the sinking of the Laurentic. Lorcan Doherty Photography.

He said he was “thrilled to bits” to be inducted into the national hall of fame.  “It’s just tremendous, I was speechless for a change,” he said, after receiving his official certificate. “It’s such an honour. I felt like running up and down the street with it!”
Born in Folkestone, Kent, Ray first came to Derry as a teenager 70 years ago and was based in Ballykelly.

He was at that time a young submariner, as was his lifelong friend, mentor and pioneer of long distance swimming, Commander Gerald Fosber.

Ray met and fell in love with Bridie, and the couple married and still live in Creggan, Ray having become very much at home in a city he takes great pride in.

Building on his career as a submariner, Ray went on to become a saturation diver and worked all over the world including the North Sea, The South China Sea and the English Channel.

Along with his son Des, who nominated him for the award, he owns the wreck of the historic bullion ship SS Laurentic, which was sunk in Lough Swilly during World War II.

Fifty years on from his epic swim across the English channel, 89-year-old Ray still claims to this day that he must be the only man living that “worked at the bottom” of the Channel and also crossed “by, train, submarine, plane, and swam it”.

In between diving in years past, Ray was busy training and spent all his available time between Lisfannon in Inishowen during the spring and summer, and William Street Baths in Derry during the colder months.

Ray in training for the Channel Swim.

All that training and experience helped him achieve becoming the first swimmer from Ireland to complete the English Channel in 1970 in 13 hours 41 minutes. But the achievements didn’t stop there.

He also completed other epic marathons, including the 17 miles across Lough Swilly from Buncrana to Portsalon in seven hours, Portrush to Greencastle (19miles) in eight hours, and Derry to Moville (20 miles) in six hours and 51 minutes.

Beyond the north west, he also swam the 10.5miles of Lake Windermere in seven hours and 30 minutes, and the width of Lough Neagh (9 miles)in six hours.

Ray also completed epic swims below the marathon distance of 10k which were historically important: from 1964 to 1970 Lough Swilly, Rathmullan to Buncrana (five miles) 11 times, and Rathlin Rue Point to Ballycastle.

Ray (on the left) with John Hume, Tony O’Reilly and Ray’s son Des at the American Embassy in Dublin.

Ray contributed to the sport for many years, and he was the coach on the 1978 Irish under 16 channel relay team which broke the existing world record with a time of eight hours and 40 minutes.

This record would stand for a further 18 years. In the same year Ray accompanied two of the team to Syria to compete in the 20k Jableh to Latakia swim. Ray spent a full year at this training and fundraising.

This was a cross-community team and the achievement was recognised in Dublin at a reception given in the American Embassy attended by politicians across the political divide. 
Ray is still also a Vice President of the Channel Swimming Association.

The Hall of Fame co-ordinators Eilis Burns and Deirdre Ward, both former additions to the hall themselves, described Ray as an inspiration to themselves and indeed all the 108 Irish swimmers who have crossed the English channel since Ray’s success 50 years ago.

Veteran diver Ray Cossum pictured with the then Mayor Hilary McClintock at an event to mark the centenary of the sinking of the Laurentic.

The four 2021 recipients got together via a Zoom meeting recently, and Deirdre paid tribute to and congratulated Ray .

She explained: “The Hall of Fame was created in 2017 and recognises and honours the leading marathon swimmers on the island of Ireland.

“It serves as a historic record and provides heroes, heroines and role models for future generations.”

Eilis added that it was an honour to bestow the accolade on Ray, and told him:

“You have been an inspiration to many and will be an inspiration down the line to many, many thousands of swimmers who follow in your footsteps.”

Ray Cossum first came to the north west as a young submariner and was stationed at Ballykelly.