Come on in: it's not a bit nippy

Don’t let the weather put you off swimming outdoors – the coastal scenery will soon distract you, writes Edel Morgan

Don't let the weather put you off swimming outdoors – the coastal scenery will soon distract you, writes Edel Morgan

AFTER SWIMMING his way around 50 outdoor pools, lakes and beaches in Ireland in two years, Brian Kenny set up a website, Outdoor Swimming Ireland, to spread the word about the free natural resource that tourists often find “a fantastic revelation” but that Irish people often leave empty and unloved.

His favourites range from golden strands in Co Donegal and Co Sligo to the long-established bathing spot of the Forty Foot, in south Co Dublin.

Despite being “avidly enthusiastic”, Kenny says he’s not a particularly strong swimmer. “I’m perfectly happy doing 20 to 30 yards up and down close to the shore. Besides, it’s more the immersion and feel of the water. It’s a fantastic natural high. You come out refreshed and invigorated. It’s a great way to relax and unwind. ”


Many Irish people are put off by the unpredictable weather and the chilliness of the water. “You can’t be a swimmer in Ireland if the weather puts you off,” Kenny says. “Cold water is not particularly cold if you are swimming regularly: you build up a resistance to it.”

A hardy breed of swimmer engages in “masochistic swimming”. “You never admit to the water being cold. If it’s 10 degrees below freezing you might say: ‘It’s a bit nippy today.’ It’s a terrible sign of weakness if you say: ‘God, it’s freezing.’ That would be letting the side down.”

Kenny, who includes safety tips on his website, says it’s important to stay within your depth. And “don’t swim alone, or in places you don’t know, particularly lakes, where you have to be extra careful. You could walk into a spot that’s out of your depth only three to five yards from shore. Lakes are particularly dodgy: the water is dark and you could jump in on top of a rock”.

These are his top five spots.

1 Trá na Rossan Rosguill Peninsula, Co Donegal

“A quiet, wide, sandy beach, with some protection from the wind if you move up into the small dunes at the back of the beach. One day a seal surfaced 20 yards out from shore, and we engaged in synchronised swimming, with him at a safe distance. When I swam to the right, he swam to the right. When I stopped, he stopped. I looked at him and he’d look at me. I dived underneath the water, and he did it as well. You can’t buy those things, and it’s never happened since. It’s a lovely spot and a nice beach, and the view from the hills is spectacular.”

2 Mullaghmore Co Sligo

“A sheltered family beach, good for all ages. The water is clear, it’s soft underfoot and there are views of the mountains that stretch to Ben Bulben. It’s one of the few beaches that have made an effort to be wheelchair- and buggy-accessible. Very few have that, so well done to Sligo County Council. There’s gradual entry into the water if you are looking for somewhere safe for children.”

3 Pollock Holes Kilkee, Co Clare

“These crystal-clear seawater pools are uncovered when the tide is out. Gorgeous. They’re not necessarily big – about 20 yards across – but the Atlantic could be crashing against rocks farther out and you are swimming in a sheltered pool. You can plunge straight in, there’s no wading, and the water is fresher and cleaner because it’s replenished by the tide. It’s deep but not a place that would be particularly dangerous. And it’s not too big, so you can swim along the side of the rocks.”

4 Derrynane Beach Caherdaniel, Co Kerry

“I describe this on the website as a real gem, a lovely beach. The water is turquoise. It’s lovely and clear: you could be swimming off a Greek island. It’s not too big, and there are rocks for people to shelter behind if it’s windy. Derrynane House and coffee shop are there to visit after the swim. It can be busy, but there’s plenty of room, so it’s never going to be crowded.”

5 Forty Foot Sandycove, Co Dublin

“I live in Dublin, and this is where I swim a lot. The great thing about the Forty Foot is that no matter whether the tide is in or out it’s got depth. The water there is lovely and clear. I think it is clean, and it’s a real swimmer’s spot – where men still congregate and women rarely venture. The entrance still has the men-only sign, but this is just a leftover from a thankfully forgotten era. It’s now a place where all ages mix. This is, of course, a place for year-round swimmers, and in the depth of a freezing winter all you are allowed to admit to is the water being ‘a bit nippy’.”

Brian Kenny welcomes reviews of Ireland’s outdoor swimming spots to add to, which he hopes will become an online community to swap stories about favourite swimming places