Ten great Irish outdoor swimming spots – and the hunt’s still on
The authors of a forthcoming book on coastal swimming spots have spent a month dipping and diving around Ireland’s coast. Here’s what they’ve found so far
Addiction is perhaps too strong a word. But in the same way you might have a niggling desire for a cup of tea, that’s the kind of daily yen I’m feeling for a swim.
Going from a dip once or twice a month to swimming two or three times a day, I’m beginning to overcome some fears and develop a sea skin as my friend Michael O’Reilly and I search for Ireland’s best coastal swimming spots.
The sea hasn’t been getting much warmer in this weather, but the shock of the cold is wearing off. Or at least the sound of my shrieks can now be heard by human ears as well as dogs’. My dread of the unnerving brush of seaweed is also fading.
The innate fear of the unknown prevents so many indoor-pool swimmers from exploring the sea’s hidden beauty. But on a hot day at Derrynane Beach, in Co Kerry, when the sun lights up the shallows, I decide to venture with goggles into a tangle of seaweed close to the shoreline and am rewarded with sightings of crabs and fish.
“When we were small we were all afraid of the dark, of the unknown, and people don’t know what’s underneath them,” John Edwards of Wild Water Adventures, in Tralee, says. He recalls the difficult transition from pool to sea as a teenager, at one of his first sea-based swims in Fenit. “I swam from the pier to the Tralee Bay slip – I saw a fish – and I got out, and I walked back.”
Since then Edwards has had his share of encounters with underwater wildlife, enduring numerous jellyfish and weeverfish stings, and has even had a lamprey attach itself to him. But they haven’t deterred his passion for covering distances of 20km or more in the open sea.
Irish waters have their share of friendly creatures too. Michael and I have been followed a number of times by curious seals that slink up out of nowhere – but tend to keep a safe distance.
And Fungi is still alive and leaping. He was in somersault mode as I dried myself after a dip below Dingle Lighthouse, in Co Kerry. The town celebrated his 30th anniversary as a Kerryman in April 2013. Bottlenose dolphins have been known to live for up to 50 years, so we may enjoy his company for another few years yet.
Another swimmer has also been hanging around Irish waters for quite a while.
“This is my 4,523rd swim at the Forty Foot,” the artist Gary Coyle says as we swim together towards the slip. He set himself the goal of sea swimming daily for a full year, and although he didn’t quite make it to the Forty Foot every day, he is a stalwart there 16 years on. He shoots a reel of film during each swim with his underwater Canon, and for four years he bottled a sample of seawater on each outing. His photographs have been displayed at the Royal Hibernian Academy, in Dublin, and the Irish Cultural Centre, in Paris, among other venues.
Perhaps the trickiest part of searching for the best places to swim along Ireland’s coast is the sheer number of suggestions we’ve received. We’re trying to strike a balance between large beaches, such as Curracloe, in Co Wexford, and smaller beaches, such as Coumeenole, on Slea Head, in Co Kerry.
We’re taking to rock pools in Hook Head and the Pollock Holes near Loop Head, and diving off boards in Kilkee and Salthill.
This weekend sees us in Co Clare. Suggestions for Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Donegal are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can support the project by preordering our book At Swim on kickstarter.com.
POOLING RESOURCES The top spots we’ve found so far
Jameson’s Pool, Howth, Dublin 13 Situated on Drumleck Beach, a sandy inlet on Howth’s southern cliff walk. Members of the Jameson distillers added a wall to the natural rock to capture the sea after high tide. The water leaks out quickly, so time this one carefully.
Vico Baths, Killiney, Co Dublin Quiet and secluded with panoramic views of the sea. Are we still in Dublin? One of the last bastions of the nude swimmer. If you can tackle that, then you’ll enjoy a dip in these deep blue waters.
Magheramore Beach, Co Wicklow A short walk along a public access track through Seawalk Farm (off the R750) brings you on to a pristine little beach with regular seal visitors. One minute it was deadly quiet, the next it was overtaken by 30 young surfers. We also spotted the sorry sight of a baby whale washed up on shore.
Solomon’s Hole, Hook, Co Wexford A 300m walk south of Slade Harbour, on the Hook, will bring you to Solomon’s Hole, an enchanting natural pool, with an overhanging ledge. Ideal at high tide in calmer weather.
Portally Cove, Co Waterford An unassuming beach with steep, lush-green hills on either side that seem to stretch on for ever, providing protection from the open sea and leaving the water flat as a lake on fine summer days.
Guillamene, Tramore, Co Waterford Whether you want to wade in or spring-dive from a height, this spot is ideal at all times. At higher tides you can cross the cove to the equally enjoyable and railing-free Newtown.
Garrettstown, Co Cork There are few better places for coasteering than along the cliffs and rocks just west of Garrettstown Beach with G-Town Surf School. They’ll ensure your safety as you swim through the Devil’s Hole and leap from Shark Rock.
Derrynane Beach, Kerry Derrynane is like a large pub but with lots of snugs. It’s a playground for the senses. Navigate the nearby islets, fish for crabs in the shallows, dive off the small stone pier, and explore the ruins of the sixth-century abbey.
Finian’s Bay, Co Kerry A favourite with surfers and bodyboarders, this spot is also good for swimmers who like to crash against the waves. Two hundred metres away is the Skelligs Chocolate Factory, where they’ll give you free tastings of their latest range.
Menogahane, Kerry Even some Kerry folk haven’t heard of it, but this is an ideal spot for exploring sea caves, jumping off rocky ledges or swimming through sea arches. All in a confined and sheltered space, with easy access from a large slip.