Taking a dip in the water

Clodagh Moriarty talks with some of Dublin’s sea swimmers at the Forty Foot.

As I walked along a small hill on the coast of Sandycove, I came across the small area called Forty Foot – the open changing area reflects the openness of the ‘forty foot’ community.

The southern tip of Dublin Bay in Sandycove lies one of  Ireland’s most famous swimming spots.  At least Dubliners think it is.

Image by Clodagh Moriarty

A gentleman’s club was set up in the 1800s to conserve the area. For most of its time due to its isolation and inaccessibility, it became a popular nudist spot where men could strip off and swim in peace.

Local folklore offers several different reasons why the area became known as Forty Foot. It might have something to do with the height of the nearby Martello Tower. In September 1904, James Joyce stayed there briefly and the tower was in the opening sections of his famous book Ulysses.

The entrance to the Forty Foot still has men only sign but this is just leftover from a forgotten era.

Image by: Clodagh Moriarty

Since the 1970s it has been open to men, women and children. In July 1974, after a women’s liberation movement saw a group of female equal-rights activists plunge into the waters with placards. The ‘Irish Women’s Liberation Movement’, was a short-lived but influential group of Irish women who were concerned about the sexism within Ireland both legally and socially.

Other protests took place throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 1989, one protest saw a small group of women join the men in swimming at the Forty Foot in the nude.

People have been swimming here all year round for more than 250 years – a small cove with ladders, jumping and diving locations. The water is so deep you can swim at all tides – you will rarely arrive here to see no one swimming.

 Video by: Clodagh Moriarty

Barry Jackson, who had been swimming in the Forty Foot for four consecutive years has since changed his tune and now prefers to put his energy into yoga and pilates as he claims he gets much more exercise from them.

He said, “I did it for fours years and I just wasn’t getting enough exercise from it. I was only swimming out a bit and coming back in again – all that effort for what? I did feel good afterwards, but I prefer to give my energies to yoga and pilates now”.

Thalassotherapy is the use of seawater in cosmetic and health treatment and many people believe that routine swimming in that cold weather is healthy and can be beneficial to long term health.

“It’s a bit of a myth that it’s going to magically make you feel better. It doesn’t cure any colds or anything, that’s another myth”, said Jackson.

Researchers, such as Harvard Health Publications, however say it has many health benefits such as improving blood circulation and boosting metabolism. The exercise also releases endorphins that improve the feeling of wellness.

“It can be, but you have to be feeling kind of good in yourself anyway”, said Jackson.

“You never regret it afterwards, you do get a rush of endorphins because it’s so painful at this time of year, the blood rushes to your skin and releases endorphins”, said Jackson.

Martin Doyle has swum in the Forty Foot every day for the past year and says it’s not about the distance you swim or the time spent in the water.

Image by: Clodagh Moriarty

He also doesn’t think it’s bad for you but doesn’t think it’s good for you either, it’s all about the enjoyment you get out of something.

In the depth of a freezing winter all you’re allowed to admit to is the water being a bit nippy.

After Doyle’s twenty-minute swim around the buoys, he got out and said, “I feel grand yeah.”

Martin Doyle swimming in forty foot. Image by: Clodagh Moriarty

“A lot of people get the same buzz from the refreshment of just getting in, it’s not really about what distance you swim really. A lot of people make claims that it’s very good for this and that, but I don’t know if that’s right”, Doyle said.

I also spoke to Alan McLoughlin, from the West of Ireland.

“I’ve been working in the area for a while and some of the guys at work mentioned it on more than a few occasions, so I decided to see what the fuss was about”, he said.

Like many others, he was told it was good for you.

“I play a lot of sport and it intrigued me that it is supposed to be good for recovery”, McLoughlin said.

McLoughlin then braved the water that was only nine degrees – “maybe it’s just a mental thing but I do feel great.”

Alan McLoughlin (23). Image by: Clodagh Moriarty

McLoughlin told me that he thinks it does have a good impact on your body.

“Over the years, recovery has led to having baths with Epsom salts and cold water being more beneficial. This has it all really, the water is absolutely freeing and extremely salted, which I unfortunately tasted when I jumped in”, he said.


People keep coming back to swim at the Forty Foot. It’s no surprise that it is one of the most famous swimming spots in the country.


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