We each have our own way of passing St Patrick’s Day – for some, it may involve a trip into Dublin with the family to see the parade, for others, it could revolve primarily around the consumption of certain beverages. For UCD Sub-Aqua Club, Paddy’s day means Paddy’s weekend, and Paddy’s weekend means a trip to Malinbeg!

Located on Donegal’s coast, Malinbeg is a popular spot for divers and snorkellers – but probably not many others. Unserviced by phone or internet, reached only by a maze of seemingly endless winding roads, and lacking in all bust the most basic of services, it doesn’t exactly sound ideal. Of course, that’s because all these things are in the wrong place – what Malinbeg really has to offer is underwater. Relatively warm waters, sheltered from the waves of the Atlantic, an astounding variety of marine life and a depth of less than 10m makes it a perfect place to bring trainees to carry out their qualifying dives!

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Each morning at the dive brief, trainees are paired with instructors who will take them out throughout the day, and we get a brief overview of weather conditions and the plan for the day from our Diving Officer. We then head to the dive site, ready for a full day of diving! Before any diving can begin, every diver has to have 3 snorkels completed before every dive season, to prove they are water fit. Most will have completed their snorkels in Dublin bay on the Sub-Aqua club’s Sunday snorkels, but the few who remain start their snorkels bright and early. The rest of us carry our gear down to the dive site, ready to dive. The first challenge: getting all our gear down these steps!

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It takes a few trips running (then walking, then finally crawling) up and down these steps, laden with tanks, weight belts, and buoyancy aids, clad in our full body armour of neoprene. UCD Sub-Aqua own most of the gear, but keep it serviced regularly and train everyone in proper use, so you know it’s safe and in good condition. Older club members are always willing to lend their gear to trainees, so we’re well kitted out. As well as the normal wetsuit, we have gloves, booties and a hood to ensure as little skin as possible is exposed to the harsh sea – it’s still not enough and the water is freeeezing! As if the gear isn’t heavy enough, we’re wearing weight belts (to make sure we sink in the sea), which ensure you’ve a nice weight lifting work-out every time you climb back up the steps! Once strapped in, we each look about twice our original width, but how and ever.

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Safety checks completed, completed again and completed a third time just in case (UCD Sub-Aqua take no chances when it comes to safety!), we head for the water with our instructors. The cold is the first thing to hit you, it seeps through every inch of your wetsuit and clings on, but you soon forget. We let air out of our buoyancy devices and suddenly we’re underwater! It’s pretty unreal under there, I’m not going to lie. Visibility isn’t great, but you can still see a few meters around you. The sea floor is rocky and teeming with life. Crabs and starfish are found everywhere you look, as well as multitudes of sea plant species (probably why so many zoologists and marine specialists amongst the group!). Underwater, we travel with our assigned instructors towards the sea stack, which we have the amazing opportunity to examine below the surface of the water. We’ve a few drills to go through so we can be signed off, which our instructors go through with us – it’s the same thing as we’ve been practicing in the pool for months, so by now it’s no problem to whip off your mask or take out your breathing apparatus, it’s easy to find them and set up again, even if you are underwater!

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By the end of the weekend, most trainees will be leaving with 5 qualifying dives under their belts, and soon a letter in the post that they’ve received their 1* certificate! It’s a great weekend, in part because of the diving, but also because of the great atmosphere created by the older club members, who are always so friendly and keen to lend a helping hand.

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