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Dublin: 10 °C Sunday 7 June, 2020
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5 of the most incredible spots around Ireland for a sea swim - and what to see when you dry off

Ally Thompson rounds up five destinations that are perfect for a swim (or a splash).

Dash & Splash swimmers at Skipping Stone Beach.
Dash & Splash swimmers at Skipping Stone Beach.
Image: Facebook/Causeway Living

GRAB YOUR SWIMMING togs, pack your towel and fill your Thermos as I take you on a drive around Ireland’s coastline for an an invigorating splash, be it in the Irish Sea or the Atlantic Ocean.

With health and wellness benefits abound and views to die for, these sea swimming spots will leave your local leisure centre back in the changing rooms.

Here are my favourite spots for a dip, and what else to do when you dry off…

1. The Pollock Holes in Kilkee, Co Clare

Only a short walk from the main Kilkee Beach, this swimming spot requires some careful timing. To get the best experience, you need to visit within two hours of low tide when the water remains trapped in the giant rock pools. The most spectacular views are below the water’s surface, so be sure to take a mask and snorkel with you. An abundance of sea life can be found in the clear waters beneath. The Pollock Holes provide a toe-curling chilly experience in the winter months, but can be pleasantly warm in the summer – though they’ll also be much busier!

And when you’re out of the water: The Kilkee Cliff Walk provides breathtaking views of the Aran Islands and Loop Head and shouldn’t be missed after your dip. The walk will also help you work up an appetite for the Diamond Rocks Café at the end of the trail – check out the Cliff Walk Special breakfast.

shutterstock_481814521 The Pollock Holes at Kilkee. Source: Shutterstock/Zoe Coco FitzPatrick

2. Aughrus Bay in Connemara, Co Galway

At the gateway to Omey Island, you’ll find Claddaghduff, home to Aughrus Bay. Here, sea swimmers have the choice of two appraoches: either gently immersing themselves in the Atlantic waters from the beach or going with full gusto and launching themselves (with caution) into the clear waters below, from the Aughrus Pier. A quiet and relatively undiscovered spot, even in the summer months, Aughrus Bay worth seeking out.

And when you’re out of the water: Claddaghduff provides a great base for exploring the wild and mountainous region of Connemara or for venturing along the west coast and the Wild Atlantic Way to discover the area’s golden beaches. Clifden is often referred to as the ‘capital of Connemara’ and makes for a great day trip. The town is home to an array of seafood restaurants, seasonal festivals and a vibrant arts and craft scene. The annual Connemara Pony Show takes place in August while the Clifden Arts Festival transforms the town in September. 

shutterstock_642765739 Omey Island, Co Mayo. Source: Shutterstock/Maria_Janus

3. The Cove on Clare Island, Co Mayo

A little extra effort is required to get to this swimming spot – a short ferry journey from Roonah Point on the mainland, followed by a small trek through boggy landscape. At the end of your journey, you won’t be disappointed by the small, deserted cove that awaits… the waters are crystal blue and the views across to Clew Bay are stunning. Be sure to pack a picnic as you won’t find any corner shops near ‘The Cove’!

And when you’re out of the water: Clare Island was the birthplace of the 16th century pirate queen, Grace O’Malley. Nowadays it is home to around 145 islanders and attracts visitors who want to explore the island’s bird and wildlife or take part in some high adrenaline coasteering (a truly extreme sport involving rock jumping and adventure swimming). There are plenty of guesthouses to choose from if you want to extend your visit. For evening entertainment, The Sailor’s Bar is the island’s social hub with a steady stream of guest musicians throughout the summer months.

shutterstock_693689179 Views of Clare Island from Roonagh Quay, Co Mayo. Source: Shutterstock/Frank Bach

4. Skipping Stone Beach in Bangor, Co Down

A popular haunt in the early 1900s, the Victorian Ladies Bathing Pool at Skipping Stone Beach in Bangor has recently been given a new lease of life after many decades of neglect. The local Dash & Splash sea swimming group campaigned to have the railings and ladders renewed, making it a safe area for all ages (male and female) to enjoy a seawater dip. Bangor is just twenty minutes outside Belfast, and a short walk from the seafront along the North Down Coastal Path will take you to Skipping Stone Beach for a secluded swim. Bathers can see right across Belfast Lough to Whitehead – and on a clear day, they can pick out the West Coast of Scotland on the horizon to the North East.

And when you’re out of the water: If you forget your flask, Bangor has its fair share of seafront coffee shops to help you warm up again. For local specials, check out The Guillemot Café or the Starfish Cafe at Cairn Bay Lodge.

60336249_2412159178816006_8514314558813241344_n Sunrise swimmers at Skipping Stone Beach. Source: Facebook/Causeway Living

5. Murlough Bay, near Ballycastle, Co Antrim

Fine white sands and clear waters make for an enticing package when it comes to sea swimming on the Antrim coast. You’re spoilt for choice with a myriad of secluded inlets, and I reckon Murlough Bay is one of the finest in the area. Sheltered beneath towering cliffs of chalk and with uninterrupted views across to the Isle of Mull, the setting offers drama and tranquility in equal measures.

And when you’re out of the water: Six miles to the west of the Bay lies the seaside town of Ballycastle with its daily ferry service to Rathlin Island. Rathlin is a small inhabited island teaming with birds and wildlife that’s something of a hidden gem. The Manor House is a local hotel in a listed Georgian building where you’ll find a warm welcome and the local pub, McCuaig’s, offers plenty of craic. Ballycastle bursts into life in the summer season with the 400-year-old Auld Lammas Fair taking place during the last week in August.

3981907154_f89c973695_b Murlough Bay, Co Antrim. Source: Flickr/kylemonahan

More: ‘See puffins up close’: 6 underrated islands on Ireland’s west coast – and why you should visit>

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Ally Thompson

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