Last updated on November 25, 2023
Ireland is an island. That’s clear so far. What does that mean for keen swimmers? There are not only beautiful coastlines here, but also plenty of water!
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In addition to the Atlantic Ocean on the north and west sides and the Irish Sea in the east and south, there are also plenty of wonderful lakes, large and small rivers and even a real fjord! The water quality is excellent almost everywhere on the island.
Great conditions for an active holiday with lots of swimming. However, open water also has its pitfalls: there are currents, tidal currents, wind and waves and the water temperatures are also rather fresh.
However, these are no obstacles for keen swimmers and if you learn to deal with the conditions, there are few things better than ploughing through the waves among seals and seagulls.
Many Irish people think so too, which is why open water swimming, as swimming in the sea, lake and river is called, is a popular sport in Ireland.
And the sociable Irish wouldn’t be real Irish if they didn’t celebrate their sport with great competitions and events. The most fun is had together and tourists are always welcome.
Taking part in a swimming event gives you extra safety: the organisers know the local conditions, there are plenty of other swimmers in the water and rescue services are on hand with boats to help if needed.
You can of course swim in the open water on your own during your holiday in Ireland, or join one of the swimming events.
To make your search easier, I’ll give you a brief overview of open water swim events in Ireland below and then give you a few good recommendations on open water safety. This will give you a good start for your holiday planning.
I’m originally from Germany, but have been living in Ireland with my family for a few years now, where we run our motorbike rental business (https://www.easycruiser.tours) and also offer guest rooms (https://www.the-view-accommodation.ie) in the summer months at our base south of Dublin. We have travelled the island several times in all directions and know all the coasts and many lakes and rivers – on the water and sometimes in the water.
Open water swim events on the island of Ireland
Let’s move on to some exciting open water swimming events on the Emerald Isle:
Gaelforce Great River Swim
Gaelforce organises outdoor sporting events, such as swimming events. The Great River Swim takes place in May. The venue is at Lanesborough on the River Shannon, Ireland’s longest and largest river. There are three distances, 800m, 3.1km and 5.8km and the swim is downstream, so with the help of the current. See: https://gaelforceevents.com/en/gaelforce-great-river-swim-lanesborough.
Gaelforce Great Lake Swim
Mountshannon on Lough Derg is the venue for the second event in the Gaelforce Swim Trilogy, the Lake Swim. The event takes place in July. There are 750m, 2km and 3.9km distances, the longest of which takes you around a small island in the lake. See: https://gaelforceevents.com/en/gaelforce-great-lake-swim-mountshannon.
Gaelforce Great Fjord Swim
Ireland has many bays, but only one true sea fjord, Killary Fjord on the west coast. An absolute dream in terms of scenery, this is the venue for the Great Fjord Swim, which is the crowning glory of the Gaelforce Swim Trilogy and takes place in September. There are distances of 750m, 2km and 3.9km, with the two shorter distances where you start from the boat and swim back to shore. See: https://gaelforceevents.com/en/the-great-fjord-swim-the-great-fjord-swim.
River Moy Swim Fest
The River Moy Swim Fest takes place in July. There are 600m and 2500m distances. On the swimireland.ie site in the Open Water section you will find more competitions for the coming season as time goes on, so keep checking back. See: https://swimireland.ie/disciplines/open-water/open-water-events/.
Open Water Swimmer Lough Key Castle Island Loop
Open Water Swimmer is another organiser that offers several swimming events. The Lough Key Island Loop takes place in July at the beautiful Lough Key Activity Park. There is a 750m and a 1.5km course. The latter circles the small island with McDermott Castle. See: https://www.openwaterswimmer.ie/.
Open Water Swimmer Glendalough National Park Swim
Glendalough is a beautiful location in the Wicklow Mountains, south of Dublin. One of Glendalough’s lakes, surrounded by high mountain walls, is the venue for this event. The event takes place in September and there are distances of 750m, 1.5km and 3.9km. See: https://www.openwaterswimmer.ie/event/glendalough-national-park-swim.
Open Water Swimmer Hodson Bay The Hodson Mile
Hodson Bay is located on Lough Ree on the River Shannon. The event takes place in July and there are half mile and one mile distances. See: https://www.openwaterswimmer.ie/event/hodson-bay-the-hodson-mile.
Safety in open water swimming
You will have noticed that open water swimming competitions in Ireland usually take place on lakes, rivers or in the shelter of a deep bay.
There is a reason for this, as the sea around Ireland can be more turbulent than an organiser would like, not to mention the tidal currents.
That doesn’t mean you can’t swim in the sea. But you should be aware of the dangers and be prepared for them.
Experienced open-water swimmers usually wear a neoprene swimming costume to prevent hypothermia, as well as a highly visible swimming cap and a buoyancy aid, which provides additional safety in the event of exhaustion and is also highly visible.
Pay attention to local weather reports, the tide table and local warnings and stay close to the shore. Let someone on the shore know when you are going into the water and when you are coming out. This person can make the emergency call for you if you are in the water too long.
If possible, stick to supervised beaches with lifeguards and ask local swimmers about the best and safest swimming locations and times.
Good information on open water swimming safety can be found on the Watersafety website, see: https://watersafety.ie/open-water-swimming/.
As you can see, there are great swimming events on the island of Ireland. But even if you just want to swim for yourself on holiday, Ireland is certainly a top location with fantastic beaches and bays, wonderful large and small lakes and rivers and, above all, clean water.
If you’re a swimmer and don’t have Ireland on your bucket list yet, then put it on the list quickly – preferably at the top!
Have fun in the water – in Ireland!
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Image credit cover picture: Photo by Conor Rabbett on Unsplash