St. Patrick’s Day: Ri Ra’s 12th Annual Portland Plunge

At 5:00 this cold St. Patrick’s Day morning, I walked across the sand at East End Beach in Portland. It was pitch black, but you could hear the sound of the ocean. The frigid ocean. As I stood there looking out into the darkness bundled up from head to toe, all around me were people in their bathrobes and bathing suits.

Before the plunge. Photo courtesy Bill Campbell

Before the plunge. Photo courtesy Bill Campbell

At 5:30 a.m. about one hundred brave or foolish souls, however you happen to see it, took the plunge. They were in and out of that frigid water in a flash!

The plungers make a mad dash into the ocean. Photo courtesy Bill Campbell

The plungers make a mad dash out of the ocean. Photo courtesy Bill Campbell

Ian Brodie about to take the St. Patrick’s Day plunge. Diane Atwood about to watch only. Photo courtesy Bill Campbell

For twelve years Ri Ra’s Irish Pub on Commerical Street in Portland has hosted the St. Patrick’s Day Plunge. Bartender Ian Brodie says, “It started out as a lot of bartenders trying to get themselves awake for the big day to come — St. Patrick’s Day — and it’s really turned into something more. We have a great time with it. As you can see, green beard, green hair for me. A lot of people are having a good time out here as well and it’s for a good cause so that’s even better.”

The good cause is the Portland Firefighters Children’s Burn Foundation. After the first plunge, Ri Ra’s decided to make it a fundraiser for the burn foundation. Portland firefighter and foundation president Dave Petruccelli is grateful for the partnership. “We help Maine families that have to go Massachusetts for burn treatment,” he says. “Maine Medical Center can do a lot of good work with burns but they don’t have a dedicated burn unit and a lot of times somebody will have to go down to Boston. It’s complicated for a Maine family to spend time down there, so we’re there to help support them. We also send Maine children to the Children’s Burn Camp in Connecticut in the summertime and we host a winter burn camp here in Maine.”

Last year Ri Ra’s St. Patrick’s Day Plunge raised $13,000 and this year’s goal is $15,000. And that is why so many people took off their woolies and plunged into the frigid ocean. “It’s part insanity and part good cause, because we did raise money for the Burn Foundation” explained plunger Kari, “but it’s also because of a lot of peer pressure.”

“I’m doing it partly for a good cause and partly because I’ve never done it before, so I might as well try it,” said her friend Jon. “Am I mentally prepared? No!

Colleen  DiPierro did it partly to celebrate her St. Patrick’s Day birthday, and she talked family and friends into joining her party. Video is courtesy Barry Atwood.

Time for a well-deserved St. Patrick’s Day breakfast. Photo courtesy Barry Atwood

Afterwards, Ri Ra’s opened its doors and served a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast. In the buffet line was first time plunger Harry Johnson “Leading into is like facing your enemy,” he described. “Looking at the infinite black of the ocean and then just running.”

Was it a shock to his system? A little, he says, but he won a bet with a donor that he’d wear a Speedo and he managed to raise a little more than a hundred dollars for the burn foundation. All in all, a really good St. Patrick’s Day! And it was only just a wee bit past 6:00 am.

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.