In August 2016, I participated in the 97th Liffey Swim: a 2.2km swim down the Liffey River through the centre of Dublin from the Guinness Brewery to the Customs House under 12 bridges. The first Liffey Swim was hosted on 22nd July 1920 to highlight the clean quality of the river water to the local populace. Flash forward to 2016 and the locals are still not convinced. All of my co-workers (being Dubliners) thought I was absolutely crazy to be swimming in the Liffey suggesting that I should get a tetanus shot before swimming and joking that the river would be filled with rats, dead bodies and shopping trollies.
But swim I did and I even had a friend from Luxembourg join me in the experience. We donned our pink caps and sung the first verse and chorus of the ballad of Molly Malone before starting:
“In Dublin’s fair city,
Where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,
As she wheeled her wheel-barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
“Alive, alive, oh,
Alive, alive, oh,”
Crying “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh”.
The song goes on to explain how Molly died of a fever and my co-workers were convinced that a similar fate would befall me after my swim. The swim itself was a wonderful way to experience Dublin from a new perspective. Going under some of the bridges in high tide did feel a bit claustrophobic as we were very close to the bottom of the bridges and some patches were pitch black. Fortunately, the only debris I saw while swimming was a plastic fork and a condom (presumably used). When we got out of the river, we were given liquid soap and stepped into a highly pressurised water shower (not helping with the impression that the water is polluted). I had a nip of whiskey from one of the other swimmer’s hipflasks that she was passing around. It was such a unique and vibrant atmosphere with a spirit of camaraderie and the highlight of the summer swim season.
I have always been an avid Olympic fan but watching it from Ireland really makes one feel homesick by not being able to properly watch and support South African athletes. Ireland is not a big fan of the Olympics with a very low medal tally and therefore there is very little TV coverage here. The homesickness is also exacerbated by the glimpses of mountains and beaches of Rio from the stadiums that look a lot like Cape Town. The major highlight being the funny interview with the two Irish lads, Gary and Paul O’Donovan, winning the Silver medal in the lightweight men’s double skulls. They ended off their post-win interview with the controversial “Tiocfaidh ár lá” (“our time will come”) which is a slogan used by Sinn Fein and the IRA referring to a potential future united Ireland.
In order to qualify to participate in the Liffey swim, I had to partake in a number of swimming competition in the open water season. The great thing about all of these swims is that I ended up going up/down the Dart line and seeing all sorts of little towns on the coast which was a great way to experience Dublin.
1. Sea Point
A few DART stops South of Dublin and a popular spot because it accommodates all types of swimmers. It is tidal so can only be swum at high tide. It was about a 2km race and with a 4min handicap, I almost finished last. Water temp 12 degrees.
At the end of the Dart Line South of Dublin, a quaint little town. We did a one-way swim where we were pushed by the current.1.6km felt like 1km.Water temp 14 degrees.
3. Low Rock, Malahide
Malahide is a cute, vibey town at the one end of the Dart Line North of Dublin (the Dart splits North of Dublin going to Malahide or to Howth). There is also a historical castle to see. The swim spot was a 30min walk from the train station. There are very strong currents and this spot is known for the jellies. This is where I discovered the thin non-wetsuit suits worn for protection against the jellies that some ladies had ordered on-line from Taiwan. We did a 2km swim in 14 degrees.
4. Around the Island, Howth
Howth is a great little town with markets, food stalls etc. and is on the other end of the Dart Line North of Dublin. This is more of an adventurous swim and not everyone does it. We left our bags at the back of a truck to be taken to the finish and boarded the ferry to the Island in our swimming costumes with a stylish black bag cover. We started the race by jumping off the back of the ferry and then heading off to shore. I was told by the experienced swimmers that the current would pull me right so I swam far to the left but over-compensated because there was no current. I ended up adding hundreds of metres onto my swim and almost finishing last. I swam about 2.2km and more in 15 degrees.
Killiney is a long stretched out pebbled beach right next to train station about mid-way on the Dart Line South of Dublin. It offers a beautiful water quality (in terms of clarity and colour) but strong currents pushing you the one way which you have to swim against on the way back. we did a 2km swim in14 degrees.
6. Grand Dublin Swim
This was an extra Liffey swim meant to attract in the wetsuiters who are not allowed to swim in the official Liffey Swim. It ended up being a 800m loop through top end of Liffey. Some swimmers were doing 5km and 10km loops in the Liffey River and so I think that the water must be okay.