Owen O’Keefe, from Fermoy was named as Young Person of the Year at this year’s People of the Year Awards which were broadcast on RTE One from the Citywest Hotel, Dublin on last Saturday night.
Owen, aged 17, was honoured at the star studded event, which is organised by Rehab and sponsored by Quinnhealthcare, for his single minded determination in becoming the youngest Irish person ever to swim across the English Channel just one week before the first anniversary of his extraordinary achievement.
Rugby pundit and children’s author, Brent Pope presented Owen with his award on the night.
“It was a great night, I was a small bit nervous beforehand but I was first up so I could relax when I was finished and enjoy the rest of the night. It was fantastic, and Grainne Seoige is as beautiful in the flesh as she is on TV,” Owen told The Avondhu.
Owen entered the English Channel at Dover at 1.41am on September 21 last year. Ten hours and 19 minutes later he reached land at Cap Gris-Nez in France and Owen’s marathon effort raised €15,000 for the Irish Cancer Society in honour of his late grandmother, Virgie Baker.
Owen O’Keefe began swimming when his grandfather, Tommy Baker, brought him to the local pool in Fermoy. His father describes how Owen fell in love with swimming while Jackie Power, the club coach, helped him to perfect his technique.
Owen swam in the Blackwater river with his grandfather and later began swimming in the sea at Sandycove.
There, he came to the attention of Ned Denison, a huge figure in outdoor swimming in Ireland. Ned saw great potential in the Fermoy lad, offering great encouragement and also planting the germ of an idea that he might one day swim the Channel.
ANSWER TO HONOURS SYSTEM
Now in their 36th year, the People Of The Year awards were presented by Grainne Seoige with Mary Hanafin TD, Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport as guest of honour at the event. Ireland’s answer to an honours system, the awards provide a unique opportunity for the Irish public to honour outstanding contributions made by individuals and organisations to life in Ireland.