A Brief History of the Liffey Swim

The first Liffey Swim race took place on the 22nd July 1920. The idea to organise the race was that of Bernard Fagan. Fagan was a swimmer and through his knowledge of public health (he became Dublin Corporation's Analyst three years later), he would have deemed the water safe enough to swim in as the race is swum at high tide when there are fewer pollutants. The first Liffey Swim attracted an entry of 27 male swimmers and J.J Kennedy won the race with Bernard Fagan himself finishing fourth. Bernard Fagan's son Jack Fagan later won the Liffey Swim in 1951.

One of the earliest Liffey Swims was immortalised in the Jack B. Yeats 1923 painting entitled The Liffey Swim, which was to win him a silver medal at the 1924 Paris Olympics competition for artistic endeavour. You can viewThe LiffeySwim inthe National Gallery of Ireland.

During the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s the Liffey Swim attracted huge crowds to the banks of the river to view the competition. The advent of television initially took its toll on spectator interest, as it did with all outdoor sports, however the event evolved to withstand this competition and has stood the test of time.

In 1991 the first ladies race was introduced and nowadays the race is held on Saturdays on either the last weekend in August, or the first in September, to allow for greater spectator involvement. Although the race has not changed length from being a distance of one and half miles, the start and finish points have changed. The race originally started at the Victoria Quay from a Guinness Barge and finished at Burgh Quay.

Dublin's Custom House overlooking the river Liffey In the early 1990s the race was moved 400 yds down river to start beside the Civic Offices and to finish opposite Dublin's Custom House. This architectural masterpiece is one of Dublin's great historical landmarks and contributes well to the spectacle of the finish-line drama.

Dublin City Public Libraries


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