It’s the feel-good afterglow that keeps open-air swimmers taking a daily dip in the great outdoors. Now a new book shares the secret of Ireland’s best river, lake and beach locations
Even in Ireland’s unpredictable climate, it doesn’t take very much to get Maureen McCoy to strip off — the sight of an inviting looking cove, beach, lake or swimming hole will do it. In fact the 47-year-old from Newcastle in Co Down says she never goes anywhere unless she knows she has a swimsuit in the boot of her car, just in case she spots a tantalising patch of water she can’t resist plunging into. McCoy is an award-winning wild swimmer (who knew there was such a thing?) and takes a bracing dip in the outdoors almost every day of the year, regardless of the weather.
“The main reason I do it is that I know how good I am going to feel afterwards,” she says. “If you ask anyone who swims outdoors,they will say the same thing. You stand straighter, you feel less tired and you are in better mood afterwards.”
McCoy is a qualified lifeguard, swimming teacher and diving coach, but her real passion is open-air swimming, which she has done competitively as well as just for pleasure. She has competed in countless long distance swimming events and has won the Copeland Island to Donaghadee swim in Northern Ireland in 2005. The following year, she won the 17km Irish Long Distance Championship and she was also was a member of the the first relay team to swim Lough Erne from Crom Castle to Belleek. Then in 2009, she swam the English Channel. She has even swum in the chilly waters of Alaska, taking part in the 8.2 mile swim around Pennock Island. On that occasion, she finished second in the “naked lady” category (in a swimsuit rather than a wetsuit).
Those of you already in the wild swimming loop will probably have heard of McCoy, through her blog Wildswim, which chronicles her adventures in the water as well as being a repository of wild swimming information on the best places to strip off and get in.
Now she and fellow swimming enthusiast and photographer Paul McCambridge have produced a glove compartment-friendly book called Wild Swimming in Ireland, with over 50 locations, mostly seaside, but with a few lakes and rivers, too. Many of these locations will only have been known to a few locals up until now.
“My brother gave me a copy of a similar book that covered the UK and I showed it to Paul and he reckoned we could do one,” McCoy says. “It was a journey of discovery and a lot of places came from talking to other swimmers.”
Each swim comes with an Ordinance Survey grid reference and advice as to its level of difficulty. She also includes precise directions to places that can sometimes be difficult to find. Also included with each swim is information on local hospitality facilities, camping and accommodation in the area. There are safety tips and good advice on what to bring with you in terms of equipment, refreshment and attire. Togs are optional, but wetsuits are frowned upon. The following five, all taken from the book, might be good to dip a toe in. Carrickreagh Jetty, Co Fermanagh One of just a handful of freshwater swims in the book, this jetty is in a sheltered bay on Upper Lough Erne with easy access to parking, great views and picnic facilities to hand. McCoy reccommends and early morning dip before the cruisers and other tourist craft start to arrive. Under the water, you will see shoals of tiny fish splashing past and occasionally larger ones a bit deeper. McCoy describes the water here as “surprisingly warm. Nobody really knows about this one. Most people presume you can’t swim here. It is both exciting and accessible.”
Howth, Co Dublin The swimming spot off the cliffs at Howth, Co Dublin will be well known to anyone who has grown up on the north Dublin peninsula, but probably a well-kept secret to everyone else, unlike more famous Dublin bathing places such as the Forty Foot. This spot is accessed on foot via a path from Kilrock car park, then swim off the rocks and diving plinths. “There was a great atmosphere the day I visited,” says McCoy. “It was a beautiful day and the place was full of teenagers.” Ballydowane, Copper Coast, Co Waterford The Copper Coast has some of the most spectacular scenery Ireland can offer, along roughly 25km of Waterford’s coast. It has a succession of coves, bays, and inlets, dotted with sea arches and stacks, but McCoy and McCambridge have plumped for the impressive Ballydowane, between Bunmahon and Stradbally. It’s accessed via a lane leading to a very basic parking area, then there is a ramp between two sea stacks down to the beach. McCoy says the water is warm here but advises it for strong swimmers only. The rock pools have an abundance of fish, for anyone interested in catching their own supper. Glanmore Lake, Co Cork “The day I was there it was flat, calm and magical,” says McCoy. “I am sure it is not all the time but I like to imagine it is.” The lake is overlooked by the Caha Mountains but is sheltered and has a number of rocky islands including
a crannog. According to McCoy, it is a quiet enough spot and sheltered enough to attempt a skinny dip. Trá Sailín, Spiddal, Co Galway This secluded cove (Salty Beach in English) is an oasis of complete calm. It is a great spot for wild camping, beach fishing and an evening or night time swim, says McCoy. Part of it is brackish where a small river meets the sea and you can look out across Galway Bay towards the Aran Islands. Wild Swimming in Ireland, Collins Press, €19.99