Weather does not stop the Irish. Rain or shine, they can be found playing
golf, walking the dog -- and even plunging into the icy Irish Sea for a mind-awakening
The chilly tradition -- in which Dubliners brave coastal waters for the
exercise or to ward off the effects of a few too many pints -- takes place
daily at swimming holes dotted along the country’s coastline. Some of the more public
bathing places attract families wearing swim trunks, while the more sheltered
spots lure nude swimmers seeking a bit of peace and privacy. But no matter
where locals enter the choppy waters or what time of year they jump in,
folklore suggests that the effects of an invigorating swim improve the immune system and contribute to good
health. For outsiders though, it is hard not to
wonder whether an icy swim simply replaces a Guinness-induced headache with a
different kind of pain.
One entry point into the sea is located near the neighbourhood of
Ringsend, about 8km from Dublin’s city centre, where the Great
South Wall extends 2km into the Irish Sea. The stone seawall, with its
little red lighthouse at the end, is a popular place for a stroll, and Dubliners
from all walks of life can be seen watching the sunset or fishing off the edge.
Halfway along the wall’s length, a ladder and a sloping ramp leads straight to
the water’s edge, inviting a dip with its clear shade of deep blue.
On a recent visit, two boys discarded their clothes in sloppy piles and
leapt into the water clad only in underwear. The father watched amused from the
edge of the wall, as the sound of their splash was followed by shouts of
exhilaration once they broke the surface again. The boys backstroked along the
length of the wall, and when the wake from a boat swept in, they clung to the ladder
until the water calmed again.
The Great South Wall is one of Dublin’s most exposed swimming
destinations, so locals looking for more isolation head 12km further south to
the Forty Foot
in Sandycove, a coastal rocky nook with expansive coastline views and more than
250 years of swimming history. Here, just off a road called Sandycove Point,
nudity is common among daily devotees, due to the fact that the Forty Foot was
once home to a gentleman’s swimming club with no women allowed. Frequent visits
suggest that the likelihood of dropping drawers before sauntering towards the
sea seems to increase with age; the older the swimmer, the less modest they seem
While it is possible to arrive at the Forty Foot and swim without another
soul in sight, the scene is quite different on Christmas Day (25 December).
Despite the chilly weather, packs of usually clothed men and women line up on the
rocky ledges to launch themselves into the water. The swimming hole becomes a scenic place to wish each other season’s greetings and have a
bit of holiday craic.
The most private swimming hole along Dublin’s coast is 4km further south
again, in the hilly suburb of Dalkey. Here among some of County Dublin’s most
impressive residences is a tucked-away bathing place amid the rocks under Vico
Road, offering nude bathers privacy from passersby. Entering from the road, a
short hike down a windy path flanked by wild grasses is required to reach the
simple changing hut. Stairs have been sliced into the coastal rocks allowing
swimmers to jump off ledges, or you can ease into the sea via a ladder.
This is a neighbourhood place, where many of the same swimmers greet
each other daily. It is also possible to arrive and find it empty, an
opportunity to savour a local secret without interruption.
Those seeking a fully clothed introduction to Dublin’s coast can find it
closer to the city centre, at Sandymount Strand, a strip of beach along the
coastal Strand Road in the village of Sandymount, 6km southeast of Dublin. Here,
among picnicking families and kids flying kites, you can dip your toes in the shallow
pools that are left during low tide, perfect for playful splashing without
needing to venture all the way in. Plus, the combination of crisp sea air and
the cool sand beneath bare feet does wonders for a pub-inspired headache — without
needing to strip down at all.
Advice for taking the
- Take a
number of strokes once you are in. It helps you adjust to the water
temperature and regain good circulation.
- Create a
reward system as encouragement.
Taking the plunge often earns locals a hot whisky or tea out of a
flask once back on dry land.
- Keep your eyes
straight ahead. Do not be surprised if nude bathers strike up a
conversation while in the buff or drying off.
- Warm up.
Swimmers often claim that after getting out of the cold water, the air
feels warm on the skin. Test the theory for yourself.
- Dress the
part. Visitors should wear whatever makes them feel comfortable, from a
bathing suit to a wetsuit to nothing at all. But bring your own towel.