The Irish Times view on sea-swimming: December dip
After the initial shock the body settles into a state of grudging, tingling acceptance, though feet and hands tell a story of the numbing cold
Swimming is now Ireland’s second participation sport involving some 9 per cent of the population. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill
That first toe in the sea is a reassuring surprise. The December swimmer, torn by “not today perhaps” doubts as he orshe tiptoes down the Forty Foot rock steps into Buck Mulligan’s “scrotumtightening sea”, rediscovers the reality that the cold sea is actually warmer than those northerly gusts uptop.
Another step banishes doubts. Then a gentle push outwards, a sharp intake of breath, and a brisk stroke propels the swimmer beyond the rocks towards the buoy, the daily target. In a flat sea the sense of movement through clear green water is exhilarating. And after the initial shock the body settles into a state of grudging, tingling acceptance, though feet and hands tell a story of the numbing cold.
There are the serious long-distance swimmers, and those out for a short turn, or the briefest of in-out dips, and then those who gather in circles for a chat. The young dive or jump off the rocks. These days, particularly at weekends, the numbers are summer-like, crowds defying social distancing and making regulars nervous. They are old, very old, and young, of all body shapes, local and commuting from afar. Swimming is now Ireland’s second participation sport involving some 9 per cent of the population.
In December the sea temperatures are down around 11.5 degrees, from the 13s of early November and the 15s of September. And likely to be below eight by March. Yesterday the air temperature was four degrees, chilled by northwesterlies and rain, but Tuesday, five degrees higher, windless, the most glorious swim of autumn/winter.
The numbers have been bolstered by lockdown home-working – for many this is their defiant fightback – and by the easy access provided by the new cycleway linking that other great southside bathing place, Seapoint, to Sandycove.
Reports, even in these pages, of “consternation” at the influx of dryrobe-wearing “arrivistes” are pure O’Carroll Kelly – although some complain at the space-hogging dryrobes spread out over changing benches, the bathing equivalent of manspreaders. But they are more than welcome.