The sea baths of yesteryear lie abandoned at Blackrock, Sandymount and Dún Laoghaire. In 2012, the striking diving board at Blackrock was demolished on health and safety grounds, as was the viewing gallery that used to hold over one thousand spectators to see the great Eddie Heron, who won a whopping thirty-four national titles in both high diving and springboard events. The only trace of Heron’s monumental achievements in the area are a plaque erected by the Sandycove Bathing Association at the bridge over the DART line.
The baths were a huge part of the recent history of Blackrock. The late actor and Forty Foot regular Frank Kelly memorably said: “Swimming at the Blackrock baths was a big part of our lives. Entire summers were spent there, falling in love with a different girl every day.”
There is also the story of Rock Shandy and how it was allegedly concocted in O’Rourke’s pub on Blackrock Main Street. The late Tony Wilson used to say if you’re presented with the truth and a myth, always print the myth. The Mancunian music impressario was referring to his own colourful past nurturing the dramatic careers of Joy Division, New Order and Happy Mondays, but it can equally apply to almost any local myth, legend or anecdote.
O’Rourke’s pub in Blackrock, Co. Dublin dates from the early 1800s. Myles Na gCopoleen, James Joyce and J.P. Donleavy have supped pints there over the years. It claims to be the pub where the Rock Shandy was invented, which is a cocktail of fizzy orange and lemon. It’s as Irish as Tayto or King crisps.
It became the non-alcoholic refreshment of choice after swimming at the nearby Blackrock baths. While I always thought it sounded like an old wives’ tale, when I led a tour of historic Blackrock over the summer, a gentleman who used to frequent the baths told me this is exactly what they drank after Sunday morning sessions.
A slight aside: the name Club for the soft drink actually derives from the Kildare Street Club in Dublin, who commissioned C&C to make an orange-flavoured drink. In 1960, Club Lemon was introduced as a sister product, and from the 2000s several other flavours were added to the range. Incidentally, the Kildare Street Club is now the Alliance Francais and features one of my favourite quirky sights in Dublin; a stonework sculpture of monkeys playing billiards.
The novelist George Moore, who authored The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs that was adapted into a movie starring Glenn Close shot in Cabinteely house, wrote scathingly of the Club: “This club is a sort of oyster-bed into which all the eldest sons of the landed gentry fall as a matter of course. There they remain spending their days, drinking sherry and cursing Gladstone in a sort of dialect, a dead language which the larva-like stupidity of the club has preserved.”
Anyways, back to Blackrock. In addition to spawning the invention of the Rock Shandy, Blackrock baths hosted the revival of the Tailteann Games games in the 1920s. My favourite Blackrock baths story is when a Spanish team refused to play an international polo match as the pool was not heated. If you’ve ever swam in Spain on holiday and then plunged into the Forty Foot or Seapoint, you can certainly understand their misgivings.
Here are some fantastic Pathé videos from 1937 and 1942, which would’ve been screened in cinemas at the time.
It would be wonderful to see something happen at this site, and hopefully sea bathing in Blackrock will be revived. People love a dip in the sea, but due to the modern combination of pollution, e-coli, jellyfish, treacherous currents, and other hazards, it would be amazing to finally see a salt water safe haven restored after all these years.