Ireland has some extraordinarily beautiful beaches: Darrynane, in Co Kerry, and Glassillaun, in Connemara, easily hold their own against Caribbean counterparts. Unfortunately, our weather can rarely do the same, often making a trip to the coast a damp proposition. So more and more of us are embracing cold Irish seas – especially from the vantage point of mobile saunas and seaweed-filled whiskey barrels parked on the shore.
This Scandinavian-inspired solution is reimagining Ireland's beaches in spite of summer water temperatures that peak at about 15 degrees. The renewed popularity of traditional year-round sea swimming at the Forty Foot (no 1 here), in Sandycove in south Co Dublin, and Blackrock Diving Tower (no 14 here), in Galway, has inspired dozens of new swimming communities, including Rise & Swim, in Cork, and Dublin Sea Swimming.
Instagramming your latest sea swim in freezing conditions has almost become something of a cliche, but not even social-media oversharing can dampen the euphoric effect of the ocean on the soul. Communing with the sea in Ireland has never been more popular, as the emergence of these hot spots shows.
The Warming Wagon
Inch Beach, Co Cork; follow @the_warming_wagon on Instagram and Facebook for weekend schedules; €20 for an hour-long session, book in advance. Runs year-round
Designed in Cork and built in Finland, this glass-fronted sauna pops up regularly at sunrise and sunset on Inch Beach. Race into the Celtic Sea once the sauna temperature becomes unbearable, then return for another essential-oil-infused session inside. Share swimming-spot tips with other saunagoers while the owner and his kids cook pizzas in a portable oven – to be eaten around a firepit at the edge of the beach. Indian head massages are on offer in a nearby caravan.
Wild Atlantic Seaweed Baths
Tours the west coast; €35 per person, €50 for two sharing, under-16s free with a parent. Locations announced on social media on Wednesdays; booking advised, wildatlanticseaweedbaths.com
Seaweed baths have long been a feature of west-coast town from Inniscrone, in Co Sligo, to Ballybunion, in Co Kerry. Now a mobile version of this classic Irish spa experience tours around piers and beaches of west Co Cork and up the Wild Atlantic Way. A dozen Irish whiskey barrels filled to the brim with organic seaweed and piping-hot seawater are lined up at the water's edge – allowing for an instant warm-up after a cooling dip in the Atlantic. Lose yourself in the sweeping vistas while soaking up the iodine and essential minerals released by the hot seaweed.
Swim & Ritual
Salthill, Galway; €36 through Airbnb
Victoria McCormack, a local artist, leads her guests to Salthill for meditation on the beach lit by the rising sun. McCormack places rose oil in each person's hand, to be brought into the sea as a gift, followed by an active meditation focusing on the healing force of the ocean. Hot hawthorn tea, blankets and hot-water bottles greet your return to the shore. If you haven't had enough of cold water, follow the promenade west to Blackrock Diving Tower, where locals swim in all conditions.
Poll na bPéist (the Wormhole)
Aran Islands; Inis Mór and Inis Meáin are served by Aran Island Ferries, from Ros an Mhíl, Co Galway; Doolin Ferries serves Inis Meáin from Doolin, Co Clare
This unique place to swim, on Inis Mór, takes the form of a rectangular natural basin created by the erosion of a granite plateau below the island's towering cliffs. This amazing quirk of nature hosts the Red Bull Cliff Diving Championships every summer, but wild swimmers can have the pool to themselves at high tide for the rest of the year. Take the ferry on to Inis Meáin and dodge the Arctic terns at its main beach, which you'll (most likely) have to yourself.
Nationwide; follow Bosca Beatha for updates about the sauna's timetable and current location. Available year-round, no booking required, €12 a session
Shirley Fitzpatrick's wood-fired sauna is fashioned from a converted horsebox, which at weekends she tows to some of Ireland's best swimming spots, including the Blue Pool in Glengarriff, Garretstown Beach, in Co Cork, and Fenit Beach, in Co Kerry (as well as the River Avonbeg in Co Wicklow). Relax afterwards with a cup of herbal tea brewed on the sauna's fire and amid the tented seating area extending around the sauna.
Strandhill, Co Sligo; seaweed bath and steam (50 minutes) from €28, voyaseaweedbaths.com
Stock up on organic seaweed toiletries at Voya in Strandhill, Co Sligo, while waiting for your seaweed bath (with seaweed harvested from the Atlantic coast) to fill in its adjoining spa. Maybe cool down with a surf lesson across the road at Strandhill Surf School.
Seaview House Hotel
Ballylickey, Co Cork; seaweed baths from €40; doubles from €130 B&B, seaviewhousehotel.com
Seaview House Hotel, which overlooks the ocean in west Co Cork, recently opened a bathhouse and spa in its garden. Start each session in its Russian-cedar steam barrels to open up your pores and render your skin more receptive to the minerals and iodine released in the adjoining seaweed bath. An outdoor hot tub and sauna await outside. Dive off nearby Snave Pier and take the ferry out to Whiddy Island for a visit to one of the island's beaches. – Guardian