REMEMBER THE BIG Freeze of 2010? Of course you do — it was three years ago… There was transport chaos as people struggled to make it home for Christmas: flights were cancelled, the road network was clogged, and on Christmas Day the country’s coldest December temperature ever was recorded in Mayo — minus 17.5 degrees.
Up in Blessington, Co Wicklow, however, one group of hardy locals were determined not to let something as mundane as life-endangering weather conditions interfere with their tradition of taking a dip in the lake before settling down to dinner:
Christmas Day at Dublin’s most famous swimming spot, the Forty Foot, now sees people queuing to get in and queuing to get out of the water. Yellow bellies, all. Bathing at the Poulaphouca Resevoir in Blessington is less subscribed. The lake is 600 metres above sea level and filled with icy bogwater run down off the Wicklow mountains. The ‘beach’ features mud, rocks and a long shallow stretch to wade through before (and after) you get to swimming depth.
The chilly custom started in the early 70s when one of the locals turned up at Christmas drinks with a towel over his shoulders and wet hair claiming to have just had a dip. He was blagging, but the idea took hold and the swim now gets 20-30 shivering, gibbering attendees a year. Wetsuits are frowned upon. Hot whiskey flasks, hot water bottles welcome.
Breaking a hole in the ice was a first, but the long walk over dry powdery snow to carve out a swimming hole was way more pleasant than stumbling numbly over sharp, slippy stones.
— The Anonymous Blessington Bather