Forty Foot club stops trying to hold back tide and takes women

Sandycove Bathers’ Association accepts female full members 40 years after first protests

One of the last bastions of male exclusivity in Ireland has been breached following a decision by the Sandycove Bathers' Association to accept women members into its club at the Forty Foot bathing spot in Dublin.

Almost 40 years after the women’s liberation movement first mounted protests, members of the all-male club have agreed to allow female swimmers to be full members.

The Forty Foot, mentioned in James Joyce's Ulysses was for a long time a male-only swimming are but it has been available for everyone since the 1970s.

However, two huts owned by the bathers’ association – one for changing and one with clubhouse and kitchen facilities – were not available to women. Many women contributed an annual fee to the association for maintenance, but this did not entitle them to membership.


There had been intermittent campaigns to allow women full membership, including in 2012 when a vote was held on the issue. And last October councillors in Dún Laoghaire agreed to ask the Minister for Finance to review a 1937 licence under which the association operated. However, a meeting last week in a local pub has agreed that women could become full members this year.

Local councillor Jane Dillon Byrne applauded the decision. She said she understood it “went through without acrimony” and the club had formally accepted two women members. There had been considerable, low-level campaigning, she said. This was helped by a new bathing shelter erected by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

Pat Johnston, who has been swimming at the Forty Foot with her husband daily for more than 40 years, said she was very glad about the decision because it did not make sense that the women enjoyed great swimming there but did not contributeto the facilities. “It is not going to change anything except for the fact that the few men who were anti- women will be sensible enough to stop now,” she said.

President of the association Fred Espey said the issue had boiled down to an interpretation of the rules. He said there was never a rule excluding any particular people, but the committee had the power to accept or reject applications. Now that the council had put up new changing facilities in the area it made a difference, he said.“I’m glad to say everybody, male and female, is now provided for,” he said.

Mr Espey added that “most ladies are not interested in becoming members and want to continue on as they are”.

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist