Half way down the South Wall pier at Poolbeg, Irishtown and you quickly realise you are somewhere very different.
For one, you’re a good bit away from land. Could anyone hear you scream out here? Perhaps, but that’s a very strong wind. Then, when looking out to sea, you have the waves brutally crashing into the wall on one side, but the gentle lapping of Dublin harbour on the other. It can seem surreal.
Maybe madness and lunacy figure in the whole package
Turn around and there’s a stunning view either side of both the north and south side of Dublin. It’s at this point you realise how rare it is to see both sides of this bizarre city together, side by side. It’s here that the “Moonmen” do what they love.
We should probably stop calling them Moonmen. They are the members of the Half Moon Swimming and Water Polo Club. But it’s really more fun to call them Moonmen. That’s because it implies some sort of madness, lunacy. Do they like their cosmic nickname? “It’s a bit of a badge” says Gerry. Gerry Dunne is helping us to unlock the mystery of the Half Moon Club. Gerry also just happens to be a Paralympic champion swimmer. He’s got the medals to show. No big deal. And he’s been a Moonman almost as long as he can remember. He might even have gills.
Maybe madness and lunacy figure in the whole package. I mean who would be crazy enough to go swimming in a freezing cold Dublin Bay all year round? The Moonmen. And they’ve been doing it a while. The Half Moon Swimming and Water Polo Club was founded back in 1898. It gets its name from the shape of the clubhouse on South Wall at Poolbeg. It’s a bit of a cabin-like structure that you could almost miss if you weren’t out to find it. You go down the ladder on the side and there you go, you’re swimming in the bay.
The nickname comes in part from the 1965 short film “Moonmen” by Kieran Hickey. It was his first, and it’s a must see. You can almost smell the sea air. The conversations between the swimmers are great too. Gerry’s hasn’t watched the whole thing, but he’s got a connection to it. One of the swimmers in the footage is his uncle, Ben Kealy. And Gerry says not much has changed at the club, just maybe names and faces.
…I’d uncovered a secret spot the Moonmen savour as their own
The film is very much of its time, yet there is something timeless about it. The world presented in the footage is very different from ours. Some of the locations will certainly be familiar: St Patrick’s church in Ringsend and what possibly looks like the Oarsman pub. But there’s no redeveloped docklands, no Airbnb, no Google. It’s a very different Dublin.
Gerry calls the place a hidden gem, and promptly asks how we found the club – almost as if we weren’t meant to find it. Maybe I’d uncovered some sort of crime ring. Nope. I’d uncovered a secret spot the Moonmen savour as their own. Gerry tells me about hours and hours of swimming there on long, hot Summer days. Gerry tells me about proposing to his wife there – that everyone always brought out friends and girlfriends to show off this particular spot that they call theirs.
What does the future hold for the Moonmen? The club continues to grow. Maybe there’s been less focus on the sea swimming they’re known for, but there’s also been very strong numbers for water polo. There’s the memorial swim they hold each year for Gerry’s brother who passed eight years ago. And I’m told there’s still the mad faithful who make it down for a dip at the old spot each and every Sunday (weather dependent, of course). My suggestion would be to make it down if you can, check them out. Maybe even go for a dip. Because who knows, maybe you too have what it takes to be a Moonman.