Amazing spots for wild swimming in Ireland
From untamed beaches on the edge of Europe to crystal clear lakes previously home to monks and mystics, the island of Ireland’s natural swimming locations are nothing short of magnificent
The surge of adrenaline, the shock of the cold, the natural high… Wild swimming is something unique and in the island of Ireland, the brilliant beauty of the surrounds enhances the experience to epic heights.
Join the locals, wear a wetsuit or swimming gear, and enjoy the energizing, refreshing and liberating pleasure of diving into our seas! Here are some of the greatest…
Ballintoy Harbour, County Antrim
Fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones® may remember Ballintoy Harbour as the Iron Islands, but this tranquil area off the Causeway Coastal Route is also famed for what Chris Popham from the Wild Swimming group describes as “astonishingly clean” waters.
Park near the port, stroll back up the road and keep an eye out for a little entry that leads down a track to a magnificent length of golden beach.
Fancy something more adventurous? Head out with Coasteering NI for a “swim, climb and splash around the coves of Ballintoy”. Warm up afterwards with a bowl of Strangford mussels at The Fullerton Arms on Ballintoy’s Main Street.
Carlingford Lough, County Louth
This glacial fjord in County Louth is no stranger to beauty – after all, it features vistas of the majestic Mourne Mountains – the peaks that inspired CS Lewis’s Narnia. But it’s the dazzling, crystal-clear water here that will truly make your heart sing.
Be advised, it’s chilly — so a wetsuit, or at the very least a wetsuit-top is a smart idea if you’re taking the plunge. You’ll be pumped up on endorphins afterwards, so walk into the historic town of Carlingford where loads of quaint taverns, cafés and restaurants await.
Mountshannon, Lough Derg
One of the island’s greatest freshwater lakes, Lough Derg is one of the island’s Blueways and is steeped in natural beauty from its glittering waters to the sandstone hills and mountains that surround it.
Swimmers should come to the exquisite 18th century town of Mountshannon, County Clare with its lovely marina and Blue Flag beach.
Once you’ve removed the cobwebs with a swim, stroll over to local favorite The Snug and warm yourself up with pizza and tapas.
Keem Bay, Achill Island, County Mayo
Achill Island is significantly more than simply picture-postcard magnificence. It’s a genuinely remarkable setting, due to a mix of sky-high sea cliffs, shockingly gorgeous beaches, rough highlands and spectacular peat bogs. And the finest place for swimming?
It’s got to be Keem Bay. Michael Alexander from the Wild Swim community describes the waters here as having “that deep Atlantic tint of green and blue,” with a temperature that is “reassuringly cold”. Bear in mind that it does become deep very rapidly, so remain near to the shore.
The River Barrow, County Carlow
The picturesque River Barrow in Carlow is somewhat of a hidden treasure that’s a favorite among local hikers and bikers, as well as kayakers and boaters.
But it also offers some swimming alternatives, too. Follow the level towpath walk from the charming town of Graignamanagh and you’re into a spectacular natural paradise with crystalline reflections, woodlands and quaint lock houses.
It’s roughly a 7km walk or bike to the hamlet of St Mullins – your bathing place. “Cool, dark and pleasant,” is how Outdoorswimming.ie describes the waters here, although they do add advise that the Barrow is a wide river so it’s necessary to be aware of any flow.
Afterwards, warm the cockles with tea and scones at the wonderful Mullichain Café, just on the doorstep.
Killary Fjord, County Galway
There is truly nothing as delightful as finishing off a visit to this bit of Connemara paradise with a plunge in the gorgeous Killary Fjord. Base yourself in the town of Leenane, and, well, just go for it – dolphins, seals and exquisite vistas will keep you company.
Feel like a bit of a challenge? Why not attempt the yearly Great Fjord Swim? Either way, after you’re done, munch into a toasted sandwich at Gaynor’s tavern, where most of the action in John B Keane’s film version of The Field took place.
Dogs Bay Beach, County Galway
Heading off to County Galway today for another show-stopper! A stone’s throw from Roundstone on the route to Clifden you can discover the magnificent Dog’s Bay Beach.
Another horseshoe-shaped coastline with beautiful pure Atlantic seas. The sand is unusually white since it’s formed of shattered seashells. The protection from the headlands make it suitable for swimming.
Beara Peninusla, West Cork
So now we drive farther south on Ireland’s Atlantic coast to the Beara Peninsula in West Cork. I visit friends down here as frequently as I can and have spent many joyful days and nights in this absolutely lovely corner of the globe.
This is a nice hidden area we found for our swim one day near the charming hamlet of Eyeries.
Lough Erne, County Fermanagh
No list of wild swimming sites would be complete without Lough Erne, nestled in the heart of the Fermanagh Lakelands. Peppered with no fewer than 154 islands, there is plenty of soft beachfront here where you may take steps into the ocean.
The lough’s main town Enniskillen also holds the annual Lough Erne Swim, featuring swims from 1.5km up to 25km long, as part of The Global Swim Series, the world’s largest collection of open-water competitions. Incredible to be part of, and to see. Are you up for the challenge?
If you intend on stepping out for a swim, always be safe. The Irish Water Safety gives advice on what to watch out for while swimming in the sea or open water in Ireland.