The evils of mixed bathing

In 1925 there was a major debate in the Urban Council about a Garda report that two men from County Offaly who had been swimming in the sea in Salthill without any bathing costumes had been apprehended, and how the gardaí should deal with them. The debate was about the evils or otherwise of mixed bathing in Salthill.

In 1930 Bishop O’Donnell preached a sermon in the Pro-Cathedral which included the following: “Indiscriminate mixed bathing is a modern and most objectionable practice from the moral point of view. It had its origins in countries which have largely abandoned Christian ideas of morality and decency, and has been encouraged abroad, and .... one must say with shame .... in some Irish resorts, largely with a view to commercial prosperity. The Urban Council to its great credit has uniformly resisted all suggestions that it should be allowed in our splendid seaside resort of Salthill. No man or boy, unless compelled by circumstances, wants to indulge in bathing in the company of women, no modest woman or girl wants to indulge in the company of men.”

The bathing pools on the Prom (which are in a sorry state today ) were blessed by Canon Davis in June 1930, and thereafter would be known as ‘The Ladies’ or ‘The Pools’. Bilingual signs were erected warning of how offensive it was to indulge in mixed bathing. “Men Only” signs appeared at Blackrock. The so-called family resort made a point of splitting up families who went swimming, though for some reason the beach at Grattan Road seemed exempt.

The Bishop used to patrol the Prom to see this rule was upheld. There is a legend of him accosting a woman on the Prom who was wearing a bikini. “You cannot appear on the Prom wearing that skimpy outfit,” he said. “Which part of it would you like me to remove first?” she replied. Mixed bathing would remain a contentious issue in Salthill until the 1980s.

Competitive swimming in Galway really began with the formation of Galway Swimming Club and Blackrock Swimming Club in 1930. Competition between the clubs helped raise the standards, though the conditions under which they competed were primitive until the opening of Leisureland in 1971. It was ironic that swimming galas, which included female competitors, took place at that “Men Only” bastion, the diving tower at Blackrock.

Our photograph today shows a group of Galway Swimming Club members taken at the ‘Pools’ in 1959. They are, front row, left to right: Richard Coughlan, Neil Howard, Anne Whelan, Hilary Martin, Michelle Lohan, Jane Kenny, Raphael Darcy, and Olive Kyne. Second row; Eamonn Carroll, Des Rogan, Ken Keane, Donal Hickey, Henry Reid, Seamus Brennan, Claude Toft, Jimmy Cranny, Brian Colgan, Maura Darcy, Noel Rogan, Gabrielle Kyne, Joe Lally, Maura Kyne, and Anne Kelly. Back row: Seán Brazil, Alan Howard, David Burgoyne, Bobby Coughlan, Niall McConn, Peadar O’Beirne, Hugh Watson, Seán Hogan, Billy Herterich, Jim Craddock, Kerry McConn, Tom Kenny, Finbarr Lillis, Eamonn Doorley, Brendan Watson, and John Craddock.

Claude Toft sponsored the Prom swim, a tradition his family continues today. Jimmy Cranny was known as ‘Mr Swimming’. He taught thousands of Galway youngsters how to swim, and the Leisureland pool is named after him.

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