Wild swimming: Seven of the best spots around Ireland

From scenic views to secluded settings, our pick of great places to take a dip

Best for scenery

Lough Doon (Pedlar’s Lake), Dingle, Co Kerry
Lough Doon, Co Kerry

The Conor Pass, just 10 minutes by car from Dingle town, is a highlight of the Dingle Peninsula. Lough Doon – known locally as Pedlar’s Lake – is perfect for swimming, hidden from sight and just a short climb from the roadside car park. The only clue to its presence is the cascading waterfall seen on the approach. Climb up the unmarked path over the great slabs of granite beside the falls and pick your way over rocks to reach the small but perfectly formed lake, nestled in a small valley surrounded by tall glacial peaks. The lake gets deep quickly and, at about 200 metres across, makes for a fabulous mountain swim. Key points: Mountain lake swim; scenic views

Best for family

Dunseverick Harbour and The Slough, Co Antrim
Slough, Co Antrim

The Slough at Dunseverick, one hour and 20 minutes by car from Belfast, provides a sheltered inlet for lazing away long summer days: jumping, diving, plunging and picnicking. Strong swimmers may want to swim from the petite Dunseverick Harbour along the rugged coastline and into the shelter of the Slough. This is for strong, competent swimmers as, while it is not a long swim, the tides here are strong. The Slough, though, is suitable for many levels of swimmer. The North Atlantic is cold with strong swells, so know your limitations and always swim safe. Key points: Family-friendly; rock pools; jumping with care; strong swimmers outside harbour

Best for wild camping

Dog’s Bay and Gurteen Beach, Co Galway
Dogs Bay, Co Galway

From an inauspicious start point, the beaches of Dog’s Bay and Gurteen are glorious, with fine, pure white sand, lying back-to-back with just a narrow spit of grassland between them. Discover two more hidden beaches across the bulbous nose of this tied island. By car, allow for one hour and 30 minutes from Galway city. If you’re going by bus, Bus Éireann’s Clifden-to-Galway route serves Roundstone daily during summer and three days a week in the winter. Dog’s Bay is 4km from the town. Key points: Scenic walk; family-friendly; secluded

Best for strong swimmers

Sandycove Island, Kinsale, Co Cork
Maureen McCoy swimming at Sandycove Island, Kinsale.jpg
Maureen McCoy swimming at Sandycove Island, Kinsale

Here you may meet seasoned marathon swimmers. Do a lap of the island or simply laze in the sheltered waters between the island and mainland. Close to Kinsale, Sandycove Island lies almost 200 metres from the shore and is home to a herd of wild goats. The circumnavigation of the island is approximately 1,800 metres, making it the perfect training ground for distance aspirants. There is a great feeling of achievement on completing a journey but note: this is suitable only for strong swimmers. On the far side of the island, you will be exposed to rougher waters and strong currents. Never swim alone and seek local knowledge on tides and conditions. By car, Sandycove Island is 45 minutes from Cork city. Key points: Easy access; island swim; popular with marathon swimmers


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Best hidden gem

Barley Harbour, Co Longford
Barley Harbour, Co Longford

In the centre of Ireland sits the ancient Lough Ree, and the dividing line between Leinster and Connacht runs down its length. On its northeast shores in Co Longford, the beautiful old-style stone jetty of Barley Harbour looks out to Inchcleraun Island, 2.5km across the tranquil waters. It was not always so tranquil. It was here on Inchcleraun Island that Queen Maeve returned for rest after the Táin wars and the death of Cú Chulainn. However, a son of the King of Ulster followed her. When she came to bathe in the cool waters, he fired a slingshot, striking and killing her outright. By car, the journey is two hours and 25 minutes from Dublin. Key points: Secluded lake swim; diving with care; island view

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Best tried and true

Blackrock Diving Tower, Co Galway
Blackrock Diving Tower, Salthill, Co Galway

A 30-minute walk from the centre of town brings you to this iconic Galway swimming hole: Salthill’s diving boards on Blackrock Tower. Join the locals at this popular bathing area and dive from the dual-aspect boards which have featured in several films, including The Guard starring Brendan Gleeson. The walls are built at strategic angles to provide shelter from the wind for changing, and a long, low bench serves as seating. A wide crescent of steps leads down to the sea at the bathing section, behind the diving boards. A narrow staircase rises up the centre of the structure to the top diving platform where divers gather their nerve before taking the plunge. Key points: Family-friendly; jumping with care; popular

Best for surfing

Thrupenny Pool and Bundoran Beach, Co Donegal
The waterfront of Bundoran town. Photograph: Enda O'Dowd

Thrupenny Pool, so named for the cost of a swim there in pre-decimal currency times, is a low-walled sea pool which provides a safe haven on rougher days. A small cave to one side provides a sheltered changing area. The shallow, sandy pool allows for paddling and play. Adult swimmers need to be close to the outer wall to get deeper water to complete their laps.

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The main beach has rock reefs on either side, with fossils of ancient macrofauna that look like engineered metal parts. Behind the rocks to the right of the town beach is a small cove where a long ladder scales up the rock face to an old diving board plinth, perfect for jumping from at high water. By car, Thrupenny Pool is 26 minutes from Donegal town. Key points: Town beach; lifeguard on duty in summer

Extracted from Wild Swimming in Ireland by Maureen McCoy and Paul McCambridge, published by Gill