In any discussion on what extra amenities Limerick city should have, one that is frequently overlooked is a safe place for open-water swimming near the city centre. It is an unusual situation that a city with a river running through it doesn’t provide a safe place to swim in the city environs. Limerick city used to have such a facility in the Corbally baths, but they have been closed and allow fall into disrepair. It is time for the Council to adopt an action plan for this facility. As the Council works to the improve the amenities available, one simple measure would be to restore the baths to their previous standard.
Open water swimming is perhaps unusual in that the practitioners don’t require a wide range of facilities, what they do require is the assurance that the water they will swim in is safe. At a push, they like a point with an ease of access to and egress from the water. While it is easy to imagine a vastly updated Baths, it is certainly arguable that many open water swimmers would just like the vegetation scaled back and an assurance that the water quality has improved.
The decline of open water swimming in Limerick can be tied to the decline in water quality in the Shannon river from the 1960’s on. Emma Gileece, an Architectural Historian from Limerick has written about the decline of Ireland’s Public baths, including those at Corbally. We have allowed a significant number of public baths fall into a state of disrepair despite the fact that open water swimming has been increasing year on year. There is a large community of open water swimmers across Ireland and Limerick is no exception.
The Corbally baths opened to the Limerick public in 1947. On their 70th anniversary it would be an apt time for the city council to announce the long awaited restoration plans. In their heyday in the 1950’s and 1960’s the baths were a well used and much loved facility. The decline of the baths, and the failure to replace them with modern open water facilities, has the affect that people are unsure where is safe to swim in the city. It has also removed a key social activity in city life.
Up until the completion of the main drainage, a staggering 4 million gallons of wastewater was discharged daily into the Shannon and Abbey rivers from more than 50 outfalls. The impact of this wastewater was to render the river unsafe for swimming, and had a significant impact on the environment of the river.
The main drainage project was completed in May 2004 and the water quality of the river has improved significantly since then. Somewhat strangely, it was in April 2004 that Limerick City Council last updated the public on the water quality of the water in the baths. It is unfortunate that in the intervening years, no update has been provided as to the water quality in the Corbally baths.
The action plan for the baths should be multiphase. As a first step, the Council should test the water quality to ensure it is safe for swimming. As a second step, the Council should ensure that there is safe access to and egress from the water, along with the removal of reeds and any hidden impediments to swimming that might cause swimmers to get tangled or injured in the water. A third phase could be the upgrading of the facilities themselves. These upgrades could be minimal or a complete redesign, depending on the nature and needs of the users.
In recent years, more and more activity has returned to the river, with the revival of the annual Thomond Swim through Limerick city centre and the provision of sailing and kayaking on the river by both Get West and Nevsail watersports. These activities are possible because of the success of the main drainage project. It has been a tremendous success and one the City Council should take credit for. It is time for the City Council to take another step and refurbish the Corbally baths. The Baths themselves are only 3 kilometres from the city centre and are an ideal amenity for the entire city to benefit from.
The Thomond swim and the Castleconnell triathlon has shown that people want to swim in the river, it is up to the City Council to ensure that they are given the facilities to do so. Even allowing for the health benefits of open water swimming, providing a safe bathing place would allow Limerick people reconnect with the river in a fundamental way. If nothing else, the Corbally Baths are a serene and peaceful point on the river, and one that should be made as open as possible.
In order to fully appreciate the amenity that the river can be to the city, people have to be able to interact with it in a safe manner. When we talk about improving Limerick city, it needn’t be large projects. Small projects that promote increased interaction amongst communities can have the impact of making an entire city a more pleasant place to live.