Pictures from the Forty Foot swim, Christmas Day in Sandycove.

Some pictures from the famous Forty Foot swim, from the recent Christmas Day swim.   Oh, if you’re reading this on a desktop or laptop, don’t forget to hit the Title line above, to expand text and pictures!

Swimming Wideshot Fortyfoot 1 -Wideshot Arran Henderson, Dublin Decoded

This is a real tradition around where i grew up in Dun Laoghaire and the whole surrounding area, (Glasthule, Sandycove, and all around) with hundreds of people coming down each year throughout the day.

Swimming queue Fortyfoot 1 -Wideshot Arran Henderson, Dublin Decoded

Usually I’d be swimming myself,  typically with my sister, and often our mum too.   My sister and I even went in during the great freeze of 3 years ago.  We were the only ones mad enough that year, at least at the only ones in sight when we were down.  It was -10 for weeks beforehand and the very ground was frozen.   So nobody else was daft enough.   Our feet got so cold- we nearly lost them.  I haven’t been in during winter since!  Maybe next year…

Swimming Wideshot Fortyfoot 3 jump 1 Arran Henderson, Dublin Decoded

Yet,  as you can see,  most years the swim is insanely popular.  You even have to queue to jump into the freezing water.     Incidentally, the sign you see on the rocks behind the queue warns people not to jump in, especially not to dive in head-first, unless they know what they are doing.   The Forty Foot is a beautiful, natural bathing place, and very safe, especially at high tide. But if you’re ever there, please look at the sign and always ask a local person what do do, before you just go jumping in.  Okay?

Fortyfoot 4 jump 2 Arran Henderson, Dublin Decoded

You have to admire the variety of jumping, plunging, dive bombing styles on show…  above and below..

Fortyfoot 5 jump 2 Arran Henderson, Dublin Decoded

You will observe that,  just like the Olympics, there are solo, pair, and tandem events  on display..

Forty foot 6 jump 2 Arran Henderson, Dublin Decoded

I also admired the chap (seen above)  with his festive, Father Christmas hat on.  My recollection is that he managed to somehow not loose it, which I thought was some achievement.

Fortyfoot 7 exit 1 Arran Henderson, Dublin Decoded

Having jumped in, stage two is getting out,  up the cut stone steps.   Not always as easy as you might think, when there’s a choppy swell running.

Forty foot 8 exit2 Arran Henderson, Dublin Decoded

Forty foot 9 exit3 Arran Henderson, Dublin Decoded

I love the quality of light in this place.

Even though we have all been swimming and taking pictures at the Forty Foot for decades, I always associate the 40-Foot with work by a friend of mine, the artist Gary Coyle,

like many locals, and Dun Loghaire natives, Gary has been swimming at the 40-Foot for years, the difference being that he minutely recorded the process, through drawings, photographs, notes and writings, a performance show, even bottles of water samples, over an 8-year process.

I once helped Gary, in a very small way, with one of his terrific spoken word performance shows.   He later gave me a gift of one of his beautiful gigantic, hand printed photographs.  It hangs in my living room to this day and is one of my proudest possessions.   You can see some of Gary’s lovely picture’s on his home site here.

The Forty Foot also of course bears a strong association with  James Joyce’s Ulysses.


In the first the first chapter of that iconic book, one of the two main protagonists, Stephen Daedalus is sharing “digs” (accommodation) with his friend Buck Mulligan, at the Martello Tower that looks out over the 40-Foot,  just as Joyce did in real life as a young man, sharing the tower with his then-friend, the poet and surgeon Oliver St John Gogarty.

Famously in that first chapter Stephen and Buck Mulligan go for a swim in the 40-Foot bathing place, joined by an English academic called Haines, who is over in Dublin to study the Gaelic Revival and Irish literature.  Stephen is not in good form.   He is furious about some loose remark Mulligan has made about his deceased mother, and also dismissive of Haines and his anthropological, slightly patronizing or simplistic views on Ireland.   (Again this mirrors Joyce himself:  although he admired many of the writers of the Gaelic Revival movement, he himself was far more Internationalist, even global in outlook, and was never convinced by the Gaelic Revival itself.

Forty foot 10 Martello Tower James Joyce Scott House, Arran Henderson Dublin DEcoded

You can just see the Martello Tower in the background of this photo above, half-hidden behind that white house.  The tower is clearly undergoing some restoration work.  Today  it is the home of a small but lovely James Joyce museum.   All the Martello towers of course were originally built by the British Gov and Admiralty, as signal towers and coastal defenses, to watch out for a French invasion of Ireland, during the Napoleonic Wars.

The white house in front of the tower is another celebrated building.  It was home of the architect Michael Scott, who was one third of Scott, Tallon and Walker, the leading architects in Dublin and Ireland building in the modernist style from the 1940s through to the 1980s and beyond.  (Scott’s original firm was founded in 1931, Ronnie Scott and Robin Walker joined the older Scott as partners in the firm in 1957)    On a personal note, I had had the pleasure of attending a very good party or two in this house, many years ago.  (Many thanks to my host, Mr Patrick Sheehan!)

Forty Foot 11 Exit 4 Arran Henderson Dublin Decoded

Maenwhile, back at the bathing spot,  this sensible trio of swimmers have opted for the neoprene strategy.  Some people call that cheating.  I say good for them.   The stack of white houses you see in the distance are of “Pilot View”  on the outskirts of Dalkey village, just to the south.

Below:   Looking the other direction, back towards Dun Laoghaire.

Forty Foot 13 Arran Henderson Dublin Decoded

In the distance, you can see the two spires of the two main churches in Dun Laoghaire.  The spire to the right belongs to St Michael’s church, the main church of Dun Laoghaire, right in the centre of town.  The main part of the church was destroyed by fire in July 1965, and later rebuilt in a modern style, but the huge old, Victorian-era, Gothic Revival spire survived as you see.

The spire slightly to the left in the distance belongs to the Mariners Church.  Due to dwindling congregations,  services ceased in the 1970s but this wonderful building reopened at the end of that decade as the Maritime museum.  I hope to post about it soon.  Apart from anything else, I’ve yet to relate the sad but heroic story, long promised, of Captain William Boyd.   So many post to write and stories to tell, and so little time.

Forty Foot 14 Dun Laoire Wideshot. Arran Henderson Dublin DecodedJPG

Thank you for reading everyone.  I hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas.   Personally I’m really looking forward to 2014 and all the new stories, talks and tours in and around the city of Dublin, with Dublin Decoded on history, arts and architecture.

If you want notifications of any of our events, please go to Dublin Decoded and on any individual post, the subscribe- button to the blog (Separate to this blog, Dublin Decoded is where I post all Dublin-specific talks, tours and posts)     I look forward to seeing you there some time,  and who knows, maybe on one of our nice, sociable walking tours soon.

If you’ve enjoyed the post, please leave a comment or share it.  Or,  better yet, share our new Dublin Decoded site.  I am mustard-keen to try and grow my new little touring business, specializing in arts, architecture, history and local and social history.   I look forward to reading many great blogs and talking and supporting each other through the year to come.   Happy 2014 everyone!

12 thoughts on “Pictures from the Forty Foot swim, Christmas Day in Sandycove.

  1. nice and interesting post, Arran! And great pictures. well done! I hope to take part in this christmas swimming tradtion this year 🙂 looks like lots of fun!

    Happy new year from germany!


    1. I know! I can’t believe I did it myself for so many years. Even worse, I fully plan a return to action this year.
      It’s always a chilly dip in the 40-Foot, whatever the season; oddly almost worse on a warm day in summer. The difference between air and sea temperature, (and corresponding shock) cancelling out any possible benefit from the extra few degrees warmth in the air!
      Thanks so much for the share Jane, and for the smile. You are high among my staunchest allies. It is all very much appreciated.


  2. Living not too far from Holyhead I’ve made the crossing over to Ireland but always to Dublin. Next time I’ll come and enjoy the beauty ( and insanity) of Dun Laoghaire. Around the Welsh coast we’ve also had the tradition of the Christmas bay dip and I’ve snuggled in a thick jumper before now to watch my brother catch his annual cold at Colwyn Bay or Rhos on Sea. You have some wonderful photoraphs of the ocasion.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx


    1. Greetings David, from across our shared Irish sea! Delighted to hear we are not alone here in our winter-swim madness. I’ve always suspected our Welsh cousins might have a similar set of traditions. Good to have it confirmed! Delighted to make your acquaintance, and find your lovely and generous blog also. I shall follow.


  3. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Arran. This post is amazing! I shudder and squirm (but with admiration) looking at these people jumping into the cold and choppy waters. Such bravado! I would freeze to death, lol…


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