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The Forty Foot

The Forty Foot, a rocky plateau projecting into the Irish Sea, is one of Dublin's traditional bathing pools. Situated on the southern tip of Dublin Bay at Sandycove, County Dublin, near Dun Laoghaire, it is famous for having been mentioned in James Joyces's Ulysses. People have been swimming in these icy waters for more than 250 years and the clean, deep waters are considered Ireland's most formidable swimming hole. Beware: there are no lifeguards and the frigid waters are not for weak or nervous swimmers. While jumping from the rocks is definitely discouraged, experienced swimmers have the advantage of depth to perform a successful dive, even at low tide.

Skinny Dippers and Equal Rights

Visitors should also be aware that the Forty Foot was also historically notorious as a male-only skinny dipping spot. A gentleman's club was established to conserve the area in the 1800s and, due to its isolation, it became a popular nudist spot. In the 1970s, a group of female equal rights activists plunged into the freezing waters and since then it has been open to women and children. The gentleman's club opened its doors to both genders, although there is a secluded spot around the side where men congregate but women won't. The 'men only' sign at the entrance still stands -- a left over of another time. While it is no longer considered a nudist area, some older men still enjoy swimming naked here, but on busy days they generally move away from the main area, to a quieter section. The gentlemen's bathing place sign at the entrance still stands -- a left-over from another time.

The Christmas Plunge

Each Christmas Day, a large group of hardy souls make their traditional festive plunge into the Forty Foot, many of them wearing festive hats or swimming costumes. The event is covered extensively by the Irish media. Until recent years, this too was a male tradition, but in contemporary Ireland, brave souls of all genders grin and bear it.

How the Forty Foot Got Its Name

No one knows for certain the origin of the name Forty Foot, but a popular legend says it was named after the 42nd Highland Regiment of Foot, a British Army unit stationed here to guard against Napoleonic invasion in the 1700s. Another belief is that "40 foot" is a reference to the water depth, which, in fact is much less than 40 feet. Yet another claims the name refers to the width of the road that leads to bathing area.

Visitor Tips

  • Swimming and bathing is enjoyed here by strong swimmers -- but be advised again that there are no lifeguards, so please be very careful
  • While you may see many people diving from rocks, do not attempt this yourself. These people are experienced.
  • Leave your belongings near where you can see them. The area is generally very safe but now and again incidents of theft are reported.

Image

Image by Joemon Plavunkal

Sign at the Forty Foot says 'Gentlemens Bathing Place'. Image by Moacir P. de Sá Pereira

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