Nikki Walsh, Txema Lozano (Maria’s son), Maria Patternottre and Liz Cooney are in the group doing the charity swim on Saturday; participants who are not in the photo are Dee Roche, Paula Murray, Mary Taaffe and Stephen Dunne.

Making waves for new school

A group of Mullingar swimmers are hoping to help make waves – on the Westmeath educational scene.

This Saturday, five swimmers are to swim across Lough Owel in a bid to raise funds to help with the cost of getting a new school off the ground.

The team behind the Midhe Democratic School, which aims to operate on the basis of ‘self-directed learning’, hope to open in the spring of next year.

“The founding team are close to identifying the perfect location for the school – a place where children will have the space to learn through play, at their own pace and follow their passions,” Mullingar midwife, Liz Cooney, one of those undertaking Saturday’s swim, told the Westmeath Examiner this week. “So the fundraising is happening now for all the essential building materials and then for the supplies for the school, and when I heard that, I thought that was a perfect cause to swim for.”

The others set to brave the chilly lake waters are Dee Roche, Stephen Dunne and Maria Patternottre, Mullingar; Nikki Walsh, Ballinea and Paula Murray, Bunbrosna.

The forecast for Saturday is giving a 30 percent chance of rain: that won’t worry the swimmers, but they will be keeping their fingers crossed that it is not windy on the day.

Accompanying the swimmers on their journey across the lake will be a number of kayakers, who will be able to help if anyone gets into difficulties.

The distance across the lake is a daunting 2.9km, and the swimmers will arrive at the finish line, at Lough Owel diving boards at Portnashangan, between 11.30am and noon on Saturday, August 26, and will be met by a cheering team of local friends and families.

All are welcome – it will be a fun gathering with hot drinks and cakes, and anyone can join for a dip.

There are already three ‘democratic schools’ in the country, says Liz: “The idea is that it’s a child-led form of education. It’s inclusive, it’s a safe environment, they can follow their natural curiosity; everyone’s voice is heard; everyone’s voice is equal. That’s the ethos behind it.”

Says the school’s website: “At MDS every school community member has one vote. There is no structural hierarchy. Each school member, staff and child have a say on all aspects of the running of the school with the one exception of safety, where a staff member may intervene if a child is at risk to themselves or another.”

• To support the fundraising swim, see

• See more about the Midhe Democratic School at:

Some of the swimmers in Lough Owel - Mullingar Sailing Club is visible in the background.