Shivering Dublin bay swimmers slighted for their 'fancy fleeces'

Rory Carroll Ireland correspondent
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Niall Carson/PA</span>
Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

James Joyce opened Ulysses with a reference to the “scrotum tightening” effect of swimming in Dublin bay, but these days there is a secondary, somewhat more visible effect: dryrobe bashing.

A boom in the popularity of sea swimming in Ireland has filled Dublin’s bathing spots with people wrapped in fleece-lined hooded robes – and for some of the old-timers it feels like an invasion.

“By order: no dryrobes or dryrobe types!!!” said a sign erected by the Forty Foot swimming site in Sandycove, Dublin Bay, with a red line across an image of three people in robes. It referred to the dryrobe, a brand of UK clothing designed to keep sportspeople warm.

“Warning: beware of dryrobe wankers,” said another poster spotted in Blackrock. It complained about the “grim reaper silhouette” and accused wearers of taking up too much space and using GoPros, selfie sticks and other devices to document fleeting swims.

The critiques have sparked debate on social media and on radio shows about tribalism, snobbery and social etiquette in the Covid-19 era.

Year-round sea swimming used to be the preserve of a few people, known as “hardies”, deemed brave or mad. That changed several years ago when sea swimming became trendy. The throngs multiplied this year after pandemic restrictions shut gyms and other amenities.

As defence against the post-swim chill identified in Joyce’s literary masterpiece, many bathers bought robes costing about €150. Some robes have been spotted inland, and dog walkers, outdoor drinkers and gardeners swear by them.

However, some hardies associate the robes with arrivistes who snaffle parking spaces, hog benches with their fancy fleeces, call sea swimming “wild swimming” and try to undo the Irish Sea’s effects on the human body.

“The hardy guys wouldn’t wear one if you gave it to them, but I think they’re great – warm, comfortable, practical,” Storme Delaney, 40, wearing a black dryrobe at the Forty Foot promontory, said on Wednesday. “The real issue is that the hardies feel they’re being taken over by the newbies.”

“I’m traditional, I wouldn’t be into them myself,” said David Mitchell, 63, fresh from a dip. “I’d be too warm in it.” He was wearing shorts.

Kay Wallace, 74, a lifelong Forty Footer, said robes took up bench space, which was limited. “People just feck them everywhere.” However she was open to conversion. “They look great. I might get one.”

Bathers, those with and without robes, laughed off the posters. “It’s funny, it’s just teasing,” said Susan Ledwidge, 58, who received a robe as a birthday present last month and said she loved it. “It’s so nice and warm.”

Ian O’Meara, owner of the Viking Marine store in Dun Laoghaire, said he could barely keep up with the demand for robes. He lamented a “sinister” tinge to the mockery. In an effort to restore harmony on Wednesday he recorded an instruction video on how to fold and store robes.