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40 foot

Dryrobes at dawn: How new sea swimming converts brought Irish bathing spots to international attention

Seriously, lads.

IT’S THE FIGHT which has the world talking.

The established, no-nonsense veteran against the new kid on the block, equipped with the latest gadgets and status symbols.

PastedImage-880 The Guardian The Guardian

You’d be forgiven for thinking we’re building up to some sort of epic boxing match and evoking montage imagery from Rocky IV.

Even over in the UK they’re talking about it. The Guardian has picked up on the new pandemic fad that is going for a dip in the freezing cold ocean. And in typical Irish style, it notes that we’ve managed to begrudge people a new hobby.

Because rather than boxers, we’re talking about sea swimmers and, in particular, those who wear “Dryrobes” and those who don’t.

For the uninitiated, a Dryrobe is a sort of fleece-lined poncho that keeps people warm when exposed to the elements. It also allows people to get dressed without doing that Macarena of shame you see so many doing, those people swinging their hips violently in a bid to free themselves from their swimming togs, while also keeping their modesty in check.

Dryrobe is a company based in the UK. One of its basic models will set you back around €150 – so you’d want to have a proper think about investing if you’re just starting sea swimming. 

Supposedly, if you were to believe the online hype, it’s frappuccino-quaffing yuppies who are donning the Dryrobes to keep warm before getting that picture-perfect Instagram story. Not for them, drying off with a mere towel.

As The Guardian put it: 

The critiques have sparked debate on social media and on radio shows about tribalism, snobbery and social etiquette in the Covid-19 era.

Recently, a sign was erected at the 40 Foot swimming area in Sandycove, south Dublin, stating: “By Order: No dryrobe or dryrobe types.”

Though it was presumed by some to be satire, it still spoke to the kerfuffle kicked up by the comfy coats. It even led to another sign, with the opposite message, being erected in Balscadden in Dublin.

So, in the interest of journalistic integrity, decided to visit the 40 Foot to see what the fuss was about. Was there a vicious of war of words between the yummy mummies and the old dears? Were the old bucks rearing up on the soft-handed chaps from Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown? 


On Friday afternoon, the beach and its surrounding areas were thronged with people enjoying a peculiarly decent winter’s day. The sun was beating down, not that there was much heat to talk of. 

As I meandered around a turn which leads to the iconic bathing point known as the 40 Foot, I wondered what sight would befall me: would it be like a disco for 12-year-olds, with one group looking at the other from a safe distance, or would it be all-out-war? The Dryrobes sharpening their manicured nails and the veterans with their own weapon – most likely a SuperValu bag full of jocks?

Alas, no. There was no war. There was no division, no fighting. Dryrobes and pot-bellied grandads mingled and chatted almost as if they were the same. Who would have thought?

As I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, I had to go in for a closer look. Was this like Christmas 1914 when the Germans and British laid down their weapons and had a game of football to celebrate the birth of Christ – just a frisson of civility before barbarism returned? No. Everything was grand. 

‘Wear a bloody wedding dress while you’re at it’

Mary Byrne has been coming to the 40 Foot for over 40 years. She is from the Silchester Road area of Dun Laoghaire and walks down every Friday, come rain or shine, to meet with her friends. 

“It is fantastic to see so many new people coming in and enjoying themselves. It’s something this pandemic can’t take away from you. I know I sound like a cliché, but me and the girls always head up to Cavistons for some food, or maybe we will pop our heads into the Eagle House for a drink – well, when they’re open,” she said. 

EmTIRvsXIAAiL7f Karl Brophy / Twitter Karl Brophy / Twitter / Twitter

Mary laughed when asked about the Dryrobe “storm in a teacup” as she put it. 

“That’s all just a bit of fun. I think it started with one of the older fellas laughing at the young because they couldn’t handle the cold. As I say, so long as you come down and respect the area, I don’t care what you wear. Wear a bloody wedding dress while you’re at it.”

Cormac Brady and Peter Murphy are in their early 20s and have only started sea swimming in the last month. Neither own a Dryrobe.

“I can’t afford one. They’re like €150 or something mad,” Cormac said. 

“We started coming down to shake off a hangover in the first place to be honest. Then we just kept coming back. It really just gives you a boost or something. It’s hard to explain. Once you get in then you know all about it. I’d say prepare for a shock,” Peter said. 

As I go to take a photo of the lads, I see Mary beckoning me towards her. It turns out I have made a 40 Foot faux pas. 

“Don’t be taking photos up close of people like that. You could get someone else’s lumps and bumps in the picture and they might not want that,” Mary explained. 

That was me told anyway. Off I scuttled to a vantage point where nobody’s lumps or bumps could be seen. 

As I wandered back to the car, I thought about the war that never was. 

While there might be some out there incensed enough to laminate anti-Dryrobe signs, it seemed that those at the Forty Foot weren’t concerned with making sartorial slights against fellow swimmers.

It seemed the message from those at the Forty Foot was clear. If you want to go sea swimming then do. If you want to wear a Dryrobe then do. If you want to do that Macarena of shame to get your togs off without flashing a pensioner then do it. As my dear mam says: “Sure who’d be looking at you anyway?” 

Who indeed, mam. Who indeed. 

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