Salthill, Galway – Boards and Ice Bucket Challenges

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

The wind whistles through the metal rails flanking the boards. The waves wash the concrete structure and a queue weaves its way up the steps, spilling out onto the top board. Squealing youths launch themselves into the air, legs kicking as they approach the water, to land with a great splash. A rush of sea water and bubbles as they each claw their way up to the surface, gasp for breath against the cold and exhilaration, then, shaking the sea from their hair, race back to the steps and climb to the high board again.

Mere minutes from Galway City along the Salthill promenade is where you will find these famous diving boards and this traditional sea bathing area. The yellow walls of Salthill, built at various angles to create shelter from the wind, invite one into the inner sanctum where white painted benches, strewn with towels and little mounds of clothing, run the length of each wall. A community of sea-swimmers thrives here, coming from all walks of life.

Early morning sees the business folk taking a dip before their commute. Mid-morning and the retirees club share swims, stories and cups of tea and after school and throughout the summer, the youths congregate.

Following the traditions of past generations, the high boards have become a rite of passage. On the last day of school the leavers flock here in uniform to storm the sea, a release before exams begin. Encouraged and guided by the veteran divers, they progress from the lower and middle boards. Finally making their way up to the double-sided high platform. Egged on by each other and the older divers, they gain confidence, throwing themselves, twisting and somersaulting, towards the ocean.

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Now taking the ice-bucket challenge to new heights, a group of teenage girls arrived. Each clutched a small white bucket, pink fluted pinnies worn over their swimsuits. They giggled as they milled on the steps, each pushing another forward, none wanting to be the first, while the on-lookers smiled in amusement. They nervously followed the stream of boys up onto the high platform. The boys shouted as they leapt while the girls, one by one, edged to the front of the board, looking back for re-assurance, then, with courage plucked, a deep breath and a scream, stepped out.

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Squeals of delight as they re-surfaced, the girls joined the boys again in the race back to the top.

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Salthill; Sea Swimming area and Boards

Easy to find along the promenade and show-cased around the world in film, including Brendan Gleesons “The Guard”, the area is a hive of activity.  Bicycle parking and toilets.

Flanked by banks of steps, the near-side bathing area forms an amphitheatre above the sea stage, behind the double-ended boards soar up.

Seamus Heaney wrote several poems in this area and along the promenade you can find quotations of his scribed on the sea wall.

Here is the place to meet swimmers and find out about the local history, people will share with you the hidden beaches and will recommend the entertainment spots in the city.

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Howth – Dublin

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

On this, the first weekend of summer, a festival vibe sweeps along the coastal path from Howth as a host of teenagers in swimsuits and shorts flock alongside tourists. Clutching their return tickets for the Dart they pass the cliff top shop, towels slung over shoulders and lost in chatter.

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No longer allowed to jump from the pier and now fined if they do, they instead have re-claimed an old diving haunt a little way along the craggy coastline. Leaving the tourists to watch as they drop down off the main path onto a beaten track clearly used year round by fishermen, they make their way to a vertiginous staircase. I thought of Escher and his drawings of the impossible stairs or Harry Potter with the moving staircases of Hogwarts. With no railings and seemingly suspended held only by their own weight, the steps span the cavernous drop to the rocks below and lead onto a rocky outcrop where the concrete plinths of old diving boards still remain.

The water is deep and clear, I can’t see the bottom but I can see that it is very deep and there are no dangerous rocks beneath the surface, a perfect dive pit.

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Plunging in and swimming the few metres to the diving platforms, teens scramble up the cliff in swimsuits, with socks the only protection for bare feet on the barnacle encrusted rocks. Tourists shout encouragement from their vantage point on the cliff path above as a wet-suited young man ventures to the highest plinth. He steps to the edge, clenches his fists then backs away. Gripping his long hair in frustration as he repeatedly goes through this performance. The spectators are getting restless, cries of “Go on! Do it! It’s not that high!” Cameras are poised for the action as anticipation builds. The board below him looks only about 3m from this height.

It’s only when I get down the path, level with the board that I can see I was mistaken. The lower board I would estimate 5 – 6 metres above the surface that would make the higher plinth close to 10 metres. I’ve jumped from 10 in Dublin’s NAC, once, and there’s a lot of time on the way down to realise that you just might have made a mistake.

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Across the deep green natural diving pit, four young men line up along the facing cliff. Standing level with the high plinth, one after the other they leap. The sharp smack as their canvas shoes hit the water reverberates around the cliffs, applause from the coastal path high above as their whoops of delight carry up to the crowd. They swim across to a small rock and rest in the sun. One standing as the others sit they look from a by-gone age. I am hit with a thought of this very same scene happening in the twenties or thirties, a ‘great Gatsby-like’ vision of young men in their prime enjoying the beginning of a seemingly endless summer. Finally they decide to join the throngs of younger divers on the main rock.

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We leave the rock littered with girls and boys, their happy chatter and laughter echoing as we cross that impossible staircase again.

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Creggan Country Park – Derry / Londonderry City / Stroke City

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge

Up on a hill overlooking Derry City lies Creggan Country park, the site of an old reservoir which is now used for water-sports and fishing. As I crested the hill I got my first glimpse of an interesting building, slate walls and a green roof lifted my hopes that this could be an oasis in the midst of residential housing.

A crowd was milling at the entrance and I joined them to introduce myself to Mervyn, one of the Northern Velocity coaches. With changing rooms and showers above the gated lake this is not a wild swimming area, but it does provide a safe training zone for those wishing to venture into the open water. The water quickly becomes deep and each of the wet-suited swimmers scanned their micro-chipped armbands as they made their way in to swim the 1km loop, with the swimmers content to swim at their own pace a couple of kayaks paddled out as safety craft.

The advantage of Creggan is that it is compact and swimmers are always visible from the slipway, marker buoys form a loop that never sees the swimmer too far from the shoreline. Beside the concrete jetty new swimmers can slip into deep water yet be coached from the side before venturing out into the main body of the lake for their first lap. This is the opportunity, for some the first time, to experience the lack of visibility in lake swimming. The shock of colder water – (some swimmers will never again say an indoor pool is cold!) and the feeling of exposure in a much larger expanse of water than previously experienced.

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Ranks of inflatables and kayaks moored up create a separate area for these test swims and the large zorbing balls and great green and white climbing pyramid show this site is well used by young and old.

If you want a play session for yourself and the kids, check out the Country Parks activity program and if you want a safe, well-marked training area they can give all the times when swimmers are welcome.

Creggan is a NOWCA listed lake – (National Open Water Coaching Association)

THE “SLOUGH” – DUNSEVERICK – NORTH ANTRIM COAST

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography By Paul McCambridge

Early evening and nearing the end of a super day exploring the North Coast, the weather was glorious, the warmest day we’d had in weeks.  The evening sun lit up the grassy field as we parked the car on the roadside behind many other cars and climbed over the stile to follow the path down to the Slough.

On the far side of the inlet, nestled on the small patches of sand between large rocks were a couple of extended family groups, with children ranging in ages from a very vocal two year old to teenage.  With wind-breaks pegged into the sand and folding chairs set up, they had been there for the whole day.  Another family picked their way across the rocks, barefoot and in wetsuits to jump from the lower ledges, gaining confidence to later try the high rocks on the opposite side.

As we got closer and the whole of the Slough came into view, a bright pink li-lo starkly contrasted with the teal-green deep water.  Drifting on this was young man, long hair tied back calling instructions to his friends on the rocks.  Another then threw down a large rubber ring and took a great leap from on high to land in the centre.  We all laughed and clapped at his display.

Kealan and I headed to these high rocks.  Kealan jumped first and as I stepped forward I felt a twinge of nerves.  My cautious nature made me hesitate and assess the depth, judge the distance I would need to jump out to clear the rock walls and my heart beat faster as I realised there was no turning back.  3-2-1- jump!  I think I might have squealed a little!  My feet hit the water and I pulled my arms in close to my body, as soon as I was underwater I opened my arms and used a breast stroke kick to stop myself from hitting the bottom.  I needn’t have bothered, wearing my wetsuit I was so buoyant that I popped up again like a cork and bobbed about in the gentle ebb and flow of the inlet.  Barefoot I climbed back up the rocks for a second go.  Then it was time to lose the wetsuit.  The black rocks were warm with the sun beating on them all day and after a few more jumps, and Kealan somersaulting a couple of times, I felt a dive was in order.  Nothing spectacular, just a clean straight dive, start low and work up to one of the higher rocks.

I tested myself on a low rock, ever cautious of the depth, and executed a passable straight dive, next step, a little higher.  The higher I went the more respect I felt for cliff divers, I would never be brave enough for that.  A couple more dives and then I thought I should quit while I was ahead and embarrassment free, maybe with some diving practice I’ll return brave enough to resurrect my somersault, I don’t promise anything though.

I warmed myself on the black rocks as the groups of people began to disperse and we agreed that a long days swimming and exploring now warranted a good feed, the evening sun still strong as we dressed.

Slough at Dunseverick

A lovely inlet with varying levels to plunge from which should satisfy most age ranges.

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