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At Swim

A Book about the Sea
Brendan Mac Evilly with Michael O'Reilly
New Books


From the Introduction

It's difficult to avoid religious analogies when speaking about sea swimming. For some people it's a daily rite. More moderate followers might go once a week. Others again only on special occasions - perhaps on Christmas Day after being forced by a more militant family member. But all who take the plunge are believers to some degree. The experience is almost spiritual. There is a literal cleansing. It is often a communal ritual, where you shed your clothes in the company of others, and enter the temple. There is, at the same time, an isolation - in the sea you are disconnected from the temporal world and its difficulties. The distraction that the bracing water provides, and the need to focus on the simple process of keeping afloat, swimming, help to clear the mind. For a few minutes you are freed from the constant flow of your thoughts. The sea is a source of healing too. People have been 'taking the waters' for centuries. Swimmers claim the sea relieves aches and ills of all kinds, from hangovers to sciatica, from diabetes to depression. More importantly, swimming in the sea is incredible fun. It generates a natural high.

In the dark days of a winter as Ireland eased out of the depths of recession, I was managing to swim in the sea only about once a month. After an unusually hot summer full of weekly dips, I was becoming what you might call a lapsed swimmer. I dreamed of summer days, with longer swims in warmer waters. I had bathed in many of Dublin's famous spots but knew only vaguely of others around the Irish coastline. Wherever I swam, there was always a kind word from a stranger — a willingness to talk that is more commonly shied away from. I imagined a journey to places further afield, hearing the stories of innumerable strangers, listening to the local lore connected with each spot, and sampling the cool seawater daily. It was in those dark days that Michael O'Reilly and I decided to spend the coming summer months tracing Ireland's coastline in search of enticing entries to the sea. The purpose of this book is not to provide a definitive list of the best places to swim, but rather to give an impression of Ireland's sea-swimming culture at a moment in time and give voice to the stories attached to the places where we enter the sea.

We hope this book brings more swimmers to the sea, with a greater respect for the guardians who develop and maintain these locations, a greater sense of the sea-bathing culture that surrounds them, and a greater appreciation for the power of the sea and the joy it can bring.