Triple channel swimmer Ted Keenan’s achievements will be celebrated in an exhibition at Fermanagh County Museum which opens this Saturday, July 1.

The Enniskillen marathon swimmer, who died in September 2013, was the first Irish man and just the second in the world to swim the English Channel, the North Channel and the Bristol Channel. 

The records he set over 40 years ago still stand today.

His achievements were formally acknowledged when his name was included in the Fort Lauderdale International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 1984, alongside the names of Olympic swimmers such as Mark Spitz.

In 2014, Ted was posthumously awarded the Sporting Great accolade at The Impartial Reporter Sport’s Awards. The seeds of this exhibition: ‘The Legend Ted Keenan – Triple Chanel Swimmer’ were sown at his wake in 2013, when one of Ted’s friends suggested that the family show his trophies, certificates and memorabilia to the public. Fermanagh and Omagh District Council agreed with the idea and months of planning have led to the exhibition which will officially open to the public at 3pm this Saturday, July 1. The exhibition will run until September 24, the fourth anniversary of Mr. Keenan’s death.

Always fondly remembered as ‘Ted’ or ‘Teddy’, he married Bridie (nee Quinn) and they had three children: Brian, Tony and Chanele Keenan and lived in Enniskillen. A joiner by trade, Ted looked after major contracts including the building of the Erne Hospital. He also worked as an Area Superintendent for Enterprise Ulster and in ground maintenance with the Western Education and Library Board.
His long-distance swimming career was born in 1967 when he was bet a half crown that he could not swim Lough Erne. He is quoted as saying: “Of course I took the bet and that was the beginning of many marathon swims.”
He swam the Broad Lough in just over five hours, winning his bet and gaining an appetite for more challenges.
Next, he swam from Mullaghmore to Bundoran and the 12-mile route took him six hours and 15 minutes.
Ted first tried the English Channel in 1970 but was hampered by bad weather. In 1971 he had set out from France and had swam 20 miles when the weather deteriorated and he had to stop just one mile from England due to fears for the safety of the team boat which included his wife and son. He was heartbroken but returned in 1972, aged 38, and successfully completed the swim, becoming the first Irish man to swim the English Channel – it took him 18 hours and 11 minutes.
In 1973 Ted became the third man ever to swim the North Channel from Donaghadee to Port Patrick in Scotland in 18 hours and 27 minutes. And, in 1975, he swam the Bristol Channel, from England to Wales in 14 hours and 26 minutes, completing a treble that only one man had achieved before and has not been equalled since.
“Dad was once asked by the BBC how he completed the swims and he replied that he was ‘as thick as a nine by three!’” commented Ted’s son Brian Keenan, who accompanied Ted on all his swims. “He was successful because of his commitment, determination and prayer,” Brian believes.
Brian was only in his early teens when he travelled with his father on his swimming adventures. “At no point was he allowed to touch the boat so he would tread water and I would feed him or give him a drink every hour,” he explained. Tony Keenan added: “He had no team of physios, sports psychologists or masseurs. It was just Brian.”
Picking through the swimming memorabilia was an emotional experience for the Keenan siblings, who are looking forward to showcasing their father’s momentous achievements to a wider audience.
“It will be an emotional day but we will be proud,” commented Tony, “He would have loved to have been here for this exhibition but he was a shy, humble man and he probably would have slipped away when nobody noticed.”
‘The Legend Ted Keenan – Triple Channel Swimmer (1934-2013)’ exhibition features stories, images, certificates, trophies and memorabilia charting Ted’s accomplishments.
Museum opening times are Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm, Saturday and Sunday 11am to 5pm. Normal admission rates apply.