It’s time to start swimming in our seas again

Ireland’s coastal waters are famed across the world, so why don’t we use them more?

Taking a dive at  Guillamene, Tramore, Co Waterford. Photograph: Patrick Browne Jnr

Taking a dive at Guillamene, Tramore, Co Waterford. Photograph: Patrick Browne Jnr

 

A few weeks ago, I took a trip to the Guillamene in Tramore, Co Waterford, to see what I had been told was a beautiful spot for swimming in the sea. This was not wrong – the Guillamene is a stunning seaside location, kitted out with a diving board. You can ignore the “men only” sign, which today only serves as a historical relic from a time when the area was designated for men.

I couldn’t help but feel guilty that there was a place as beautiful as this, and that so few people were using it

What struck me most – after the sign, at least – was that, despite the beautiful evening, the Guillamene was mostly empty, bar for two children making full use of the facility. I couldn’t help but feel guilty that there was a place as beautiful as this, and that so few people were using it. 

I have a huge love for Ireland’s coastal locations, which perhaps comes from living in an inland county. I find myself craving the sea in winter, looking forward to a time when it won’t be so cold so I can go swimming again.

And then summer comes, and I remember just how cold it is, and how long a journey it is to get to the sea. Somehow, by the time the summer comes to an end, I’ve been swimming once, or maybe twice, and I then go back to dreaming of warmer weather for the rest of the year.

But after seeing the Guillamene in Waterford so disappointingly under-used earlier this summer, I realised that we have a chronic under-appreciation for our coastline in this country.

We moan that the sea is “too cold”, or it’s “too rough” – these aren’t lies, but we do overstate them. Of course we have to be careful of the sea; it can be lethal – but most of the time, it is perfectly safe, and even more, it is incredibly enjoyable.

In fact, if we all went swimming in the sea more often we might also start to enjoy some of the other benefits, such as getting fitter and having clearer skin.

Yes, it was cold, but I survived, and had a lot of fun to go with it

I find this trend of staying away from swimming in the sea particularly worrying when it comes to children, who are missing out on the exhilaration and thrill of the Irish waters. In my childhood, I was obsessed with the sea, and had no qualms at all about swimming in it – even in November. Yes, it was cold, but I survived, and had a lot of fun to go with it.

There are, of course, dedicated groups of people who go swimming in the sea all year round. But why leave it just to them to enjoy the Irish waters? Those of us who like swimming should take advantage of the extraordinary natural facilities we have on our doorstep. It doesn’t even cost anything to get in.

When I returned to the Guillamene more recently, I was happy to see it absolutely mobbed. There were swarms of children in the sea, enjoying it with that complete lack of self-consciousness that adults crave. Perhaps we need to start working on getting some of that childish abandon back, and start swimming in our seas again.

Places to go swimming in Ireland

Derrynane Beach, Co Kerry: This beautiful seaside spot is a wonderful place to go swimming during the summer, and boasts some of Ireland’s most stunning sights. Based on the Ring of Kerry, the beach is situated near Derrynane House, and is on the Ring of Kerry. The beach is patrolled by lifeguards during the summer months too, so you can be sure that your swim will be a safe one.

Salthill, Co Galway: If you’re looking for something thrilling, Salthill is the ideal place to go, thanks to its diving platform.

Swimmers cool off in the warm temperatures at Salthill, Galway. Photograph: Brian Arthur
Swimmers cool off in the warm temperatures at Salthill, Galway. Photograph: Brian Arthur

People travel for miles around to see the beautiful seaside location, but only the brave will dive off the diving platform there.

A man watches people jump off the diving platform at Blackrock, Salthill, Co. Galway. Photograph: Andy Newman
Watching brief: thrill-seekers jump off the diving platform at Blackrock, Salthill, Co. Galway. Photograph: Andy Newman

If you don’t have quite that much courage, you can still take a dip in the water. It also gives you the perfect excuse to take a look around the local area and explore Galway’s other coastal attractions.

A teenager jumps off the diving platform at Salthill as storm ‘Henry’ approaches. Photograph: Andy Newman.
A teenager jumps off the diving platform at Salthill as storm Henry approaches. Photograph: Andy Newman.

If you’re totally opposed to the sea, you can always take a look around the city.

The Guillamene, Co Waterford: It’s hard to think of a place more stunning than the Guillamene, so it is no surprise that the bathing spot is adored by people across Ireland and the world. The area was originally a “male only” bathing spot, and featured a large sign warning female swimmers to turn away.

The diving board here may still be a bit of a jump into the sea, but it’s not quite as high as the one in Salthill

That sign remains today, but merely as a relic of the past (it now features a disclaimer that explains that female swimmers are, of course, welcome). The diving board here may still be a bit of a jump into the sea, but it’s not quite as high as the one in Salthill, which will come as a relief to those who are afraid of heights.

The Forty Foot, Sandycove, Co Dublin: A list of seaside places to swim would be incomplete without the Forty Foot.

Like the Guillamene, it was a “men only” swimming spot for many years, but is open to all today. The Forty Foot was perhaps most famously immortalised in James Joyce’s Ulysses. If you’re in the capital and don’t want to travel far, the Forty Foot is the ideal place to get a taste of the beauty of Ireland’s seaside areas, without having to travel to the Wild Atlantic Way.

Rougey Rocks, Co Donegal: All the way up north, some of Ireland’s most stunning seaside locations exist, and Rougey Rocks, just north of Bundoran, is no exception.

It is an ideal opportunity to bask in Ireland’s natural beauty

Like some others on this list, there is a diving board – but even if you’re not into jumping from heights, the surrounding landscape, and its famed cliff walk, is so beautiful that you won’t find yourself bored. It is an ideal opportunity to bask in Ireland’s natural beauty.  

This article was edited on August 8th, 2017, to remove a reference to swimming in Strandhill, Co Sligo. The beach is not safe for swimming

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