08 Aug 2022

The tide is turning: Bid to bring back Rann na Feirste’s forgotten sea pool

Efforts underway to restore and develop coastal facility

The tide is turning: Bid to bring back Rann na Feirste’s forgotten sea pool

Cllr Micheál Choilm Mac Giolla Easbuig at the tidal pool in Rann na Feirste

Efforts are being made to convince a new generation of swimmers to take the plunge and get behind efforts to revive a defunct tidal sea water swimming pool in west Donegal.

The facility at Rann na Feirste is located in an idyllic location, a small sheltered cove on the Gweedore River bay estuary just east of Carrickfinn Airport.

A local community group, Coiste Forbartha - Poll na tSnamh, Rann na Feirste, was set up a number of years ago with the purpose of restoring the pool to its former glory but political wrangling has left it high and dry until now.

The pool was originally constructed in the late 1930s by a local Irish college and was actively used until the 1970s.
Hewn out of the rocky coast, the pool is ringed by man-made walls and access points which naturally replenish with a fresh cascade of seawater.

Now local councillor, Micheál Choilm Mac Giolla Easbuig, is spearheading efforts to revive the project and encourage Donegal County Council to take the plunge and reopen this facility.

He believes with interest growing in wild swimming combined with growing participation in exercise activities, the health benefits of sea water swimming, therapeutic treatment for sports injuries and ailments and mental health wellbeing, this project would fit with contemporary trends that Poll na tSnamh could capitalise on.

“A pool like this would not only complement the Wild Atlantic Way tourism product but could offer direct and safe bathing with facilities in actual Atlantic sea-water.

“It would be an added attraction too for those wishing to attend the local Irish colleges, not to mention the economic spin offs it would hold by adding to the already many reasons to come here,” he said.

He believes it’s something Údarás na Gaeltachta, Leader, Fáilte Ireland and the many development funds would be happy to get involved with.

As summer gets into full swing and despite the rain this week, increasing numbers of folk are stripping off and diving into lakes, rivers and the sea all over the county.

What indeed could be more liberating, especially in just a swimsuit, bikini or pair of trunks?

Those daunted by the prospect of swimming in the open sea, with its associated hazards (undercurrents, rip tides and so on), could embrace the prospect if they were able to bathe in coastal tidal pools.

As we ease out of the Covid pandemic, the idea of splashing around in the cold, life-affirming waters of Donegal seems to have increased its appeal.

The pool in Rann na Feirste has the potential as a haven for “safe” outdoor swimming, with little chance of being swept out to sea, says Cllr Mac Giolla Easbuig.

“Unfortunately a few years ago when a few of us went to set up this unique asset for west Donegal we were met with nothing but petty political negativity. It was a lost opportunity as councillors stopped me moving it on because of their own political selfishness. They thought this was more important than developing community facilities.”

He added he refused to let the idea sink and slowly and over time he has been pushing the project's potential again. He is quietly confident the council’s Community and Enterprise section can engage with other developmental bodies to see if this development can move forward.

Cllr Mac Giolla Easbuig says a consultant's report on the pool a number of years ago was very favourable.

“A survey showed there was support for the idea not only here but in places like Anaigre, Gaoth Dobhair, An Bun Beag, Cionn Caslagh, An Clochan Liáth, An Fál Carrach, Gort an Choirce and beyond.

“It also showed that local groups and activity associations including the local Irish colleges who were contacted and as part of the research gave the project the thumbs up.

“It was obvious that local support and demand for the facility is positive,” he said.

In terms of the actual structure itself, Cllr Mac Giolla Easbuig said the feasibility study suggested the proposed new pool would have a maximum occupancy capacity of over 140 persons. It would be just over 38 metres long by 11 metres wide internally. The deep end will be 1.87 metres, leading to a shallow end depth of 0.9 metres.

It also stated the pool can be filled at flood tide and emptied by means of a sluice control system and the chlorination of water is not envisaged at this point.

The proposal also envisaged building a slipway for marine users alongside the pool. Parking, including cycle and minibus parking with turning areas, are also indicated. A new changing facilities block has been designed with an existing changing block converted to a reception area.

“This all adds up to being a great asset for our area. It could lead to other marine-related developments within the bay too,” he said.

There’s no doubt the sea air would be rather bracing, the water not much warmer than freezing and the chance of swallowing a lungful of salty seawater extremely high but like the generations of hardy souls that learned to swim in Rann na Feirste's coastal tidal pool, this idea could make a big splash!

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