As a child, I often went to the Jersey shore. While the beaches there bore no resemblance to the reality show of the same name, they also in no way reflected the romantic idea of strolling along an empty beach, listening to the sea and the cries of gulls, and feeling at peace with nature. I didn’t realize that vision until I went to Ireland.
I once walked on a beach in Bunbeg, Co. Donegal, for an hour without seeing another person. This would never happen in New Jersey.
It took several trips before the temperature got warm enough for me to contemplate swimming in the sea, although I always optimistically packed a bathing suit. The year I first ventured in, Ireland was having a heat wave. I was never quite sure what the temperature was, since it was always expressed in centigrade, but everyone assured me that the swimming was fine. The crowds in the water at the beach I chose, Mullaghmore in Co. Sligo, seemed to confirm the consensus.
If you decide you’d like to swim in Ireland, consider this advice: Do not be brave, fearless, or foolhardy. Go in slowly. Very slowly. On the other hand, don’t give up. It may seem that your body will never accustom itself to this fearsomely cold water, but it will. Once you’re fully immersed, swim quickly. Very quickly.
Why, you may ask, should I bother? Because this is some of the cleanest and most refreshing seawater you may ever experience. In my several swimming experiences that warm summer, I may have been reluctant to go in, but I was equally reluctant to leave the sparkling water.
Ireland has some of the finest beaches in Europe. 74 of them qualify as Blue Flag beaches, a designation given by the Blue Flag Program, which is owned and run by the Foundation for Environmental Education. Such beaches meet strict criteria of water quality, environmental education, information, and management, safety and services. (Blueflag.org)
I have experienced several Blue Flag beaches in Ireland, and they, too, are a far cry from New Jersey. They are immaculate and invariably set in areas where views of mountain, cliffs, and endless skies are breathtaking. This is swimming at its best.
Don’t feel left out if you can’t quite bear to stick even a toe into the water. A walk along the shore will refresh you nearly as well. For moments of pure and peaceful meditation, you couldn’t choose a better experience.
For a list of Blue Flag Beaches, see the link below.