“We all swim at the same pace and stick together. And watch out for the swans!”
It’s 12.30pm on a warm but overcast Saturday afternoon in Limerick city. I am teetering on the edge of St Michael’s Rowing Club’s new pontoon. I look down at my bare legs as I shuffle my toes towards the water. Beside me stand Ger and John, me in my bright pink swimming suit and the two men in their speedos. The three of us make an unlikely trio, formed through an impromptu message I sent through the Limerick Masters whatsapp group earlier that day. I look across the river, towards House, where my friends are lounging in the garden treating themselves to afternoon tea and cake. I question why I am not over there with them. I have had a particularly stressful week. Work has been hectic; I’m pretty sure I’m being ghosted by my sole Tinder match and with one week before pay day I am looking into days of Dealz tinned soup for nourishment.
“One, Two, three. Jump!” shouts Ger. We all lift into the air together and then there are no more times for questions or worries.
I immerse myself into the depths of the Shannon River. I gasp as my body adjusts to the cool, clear water that has swiftly engulfed me from my tense shoulders to my tired feet. The three of us start to swim, synchronising our tempo as we begin our ascent to Thomond Bridge. At each turn of the head I sight footpaths I walk on everyday. The Strand Hotel, Shannon Boat club, The Curraghower Bar pass me by yet all appear so differently as I navigate this unique perspective on a city I believe I know so well.
We get into a rhythm. Under Sarsfield Bridge an echo resonates and the sound of our strokes splashing against the bridge’s wall makes it seem like we are in our own private lagoon. As we glide atop the Curraghower falls, people stop to point and wave but we keep swimming, focused on our final destination. We arrive at the Treaty stone, breathless and energised. I tread the water while literally submerged in history. Unbeknownst to us, a soon to be discovered historic hand grenade dating from 1921 lies beneath our paddling feet. I look up at King John’s castle which looms overhead and glimpse through the sturdy arches of Thomond Bridge. Rowers and swans pass us by with bemused looks at the three bobbing heads taking in every inch of this stunning vista. The tide sweeps us back to shore in under 10 minutes.
In June, the talented Emma Gilleece penned a piece on the demise of public open water baths. This was swiftly followed by a thought-provoking article by fellow Limerick blogger, Hlymrekr, who questioned whether it was time to re-open the Corbally Baths. 2017 also saw a record number of participants in the annual Thomond swim. Over 90 swimmers swam through our city on a sunny Saturday afternoon with crowds thronging the boardwalks to get a peak at this exciting and incredibly scenic swim. I was struck, though not surprised, that this wonderful community event creating such spectacle and vibrancy around the River Shannon received no mention in the city edition of The Limerick Leader and was only afforded one (quite superb!) picture in The Limerick Post. These are the same papers that are so quick to notify us when tragedy occurs in this exact same location. Yet a positive, unique event that brings our city community together around its most prized asset is ignored by our own local media.
Although I am county bred, over the years I have heard many happy stories of city local’s swimming in the Shannon. Wether it was children splashing around Kings Island from St Mary’s Baths or Christmas Day plunges that brought whole communities together in Corbally. Yet swimming in our beautiful river appears to have made a sad demise facilitated by a council that, by its neglect, appears content to permit these once bustling baths to decline into ruins.
The last few years has seen a re-engagement with our city’s marine inheritance. The revival of Illen Boats and Gandelow racing, as well as the introduction of more modern water pursuits so well catered for by Get West and Nevsail. Is it not time that the cities peoples reconnect to its main aquatic artery and re-establish city swimming, a tradition that has been in its blood for centuries?
For this purpose I am proposing a weekly city swim throughout August, a lovely, warm temperate time of year for Shannon swimming. This is not about swimming long distances, fast times or competitive swimming with others. This is to get people to dip their toe in the water (literally!) of open water swimming in our city. It’s about swimming safely with a group in a fun environment, as well as reviving a healthy and free activity in our cities best natural amenity.
More details of when and where will follow shortly but in the meantime get your wetsuits, swimming togs, speedos, flippers and goggles at the ready!