Five years ago, I started a tradition of swimming naked at dawn on my birthday. The why and how of this tradition is a story for another time. I have always felt a connection to Ireland and almost from the start, I wanted to perform this ritual there. In June of 2017 I had my chance.
It was a trip of a lifetime; two weeks on my own exploring ancient sites in Ireland with the bonus of celebrating my birthday there as well.
I spent June 28th on Innis Óir, the smallest of the Aran Islands and on the morning of June 29th had booked afternoon passage on the Happy Hooker, a ferry that would take me to Innis Mór, the largest of the Aran Island where I would spend my birthday.
The trip across was uneventful, I walked to Claí Bán (White Fence) my B&B and settled in.
I had some research and I found Kilmurvey beach about three and a half miles from my B&B that seemed suitable.
Because swimming naked on a public beach can sometimes be frowned upon, I always check out the beach the night before, and so I rented a bike and began to peddle.
The road followed the coast past a seal colony, where there were no seals at the time. I was disappointed since I had wanted to see seals in Ireland. Perhaps some other when or where, and I peddled on and ten minutes later I was standing on the beach.
Kilmurvey beach is not as secluded as I had hoped, as it was quite visible from the road with no cover. Still, there were few houses around and I felt there would likely be no people awake and about at 5:00 am that I could swim there the next morning safely enough without later finding myself before an Irish magistrate trying to explain my lack of bathing suit.
I went to dinner and back to my room with the intent of an early bedtime. However, preparing for the next morning and more of my trip kept me up past 11:00 pm. The wind was gusting wildly that night and the weather report for the morning was not promising. The wind would still be up and the temperature down with rain in the forecast.
Nonetheless, I was determined to have my swim and set my alarm for 4:00 am, turned out the light, met Morpheus and went to sleep.
It will come as no surprise to anyone that a 4:00 am alarm is a difficult one to keep. Especially after a late night.
When the alarm went off, I decided that I could afford another fifteen minutes and went back to sleep. When the alarm next went off, I pulled myself out of bed and dressed for the ride, all the time listening to the wind howling outside.
Just as I was ready to walk out the door, a text from my ex Kim, arrived. Even though we were no longer lovers, we were still close and she had helped to make my trip to Ireland a reality. She had stayed up late in the states to be the first to wish me a Happy Birthday. The clock was ticking as we texted back and forth.
Of a sudden I realized that I had to get on my way, and said a very abrupt goodbye to Kim and headed to my bike.
Weather forecasts are notoriously inaccurate, but this time it was post on. When I reached my bike the sky was filled with steel wool clouds, the temperature was a cool 52f (11.1c) degrees with wind 13 mph (20 kph). I looked at my phone for the time and it was already 4:50 and there was twenty minutes to make it to Kilmurvey beach for the dawn.
I am not in the best of shape and in no way did I think I could make the four-mile ride to make the sunrise. I won’t lie, I hesitated and considered not going. I was already going to be late, the weather was unpleasant at best, and I was tired. No one would know I didn’t take this chance, I could tell them anything… except I would know.
I would know that I passed on at least trying to take the opportunity to do my ritual in Ireland. Not at exactly dawn, but close and that would have to do. I mounted the bike and headed to the beach. I would swim in the in the ocean on my birthday at dawn or no.
The wind was not at my back, and the trip seemed even more difficult than the night before. Peddling as fast as I could, I was berating myself for not planning better, for not keeping to schedule, and allowing myself to be distracted. I was going to have settle for almost.
I swerved onto the road that would take me to Kilmurvey beach, and the ocean. The wind was biting my skin and my eyes were tearing from the cold. Ten minutes and 1 mile (1.6 km) into my ride, I looked to my right.
There was a small beach , a beach that was not there the night before. It lay below the road, with a ramp leading down to it. I walked my bike down and stood for a moment. The sun was not yet touching the horizon, but first light had arrived and it was light enough for me to see.
This beach was not large and most certainly was not a beach of white sand where people laid their towels, set up their umbrellas and chairs. People did not slather themselves with SPF 50 sunscreen here and read a book found on a “Summer Must Read” list that appeared as they scrolled through their Facebook news feed.
This beach was primal.
The world was at my back and I looked at a beach that could be millions of years old. It lacked color in the predawn light, but I could see the random carpets of algae on the sand. Rocks covered with shaggy ea weed hair were scattered across the beach and miniature rivers cut small canyons through the sand.
The predawn light revealed one other thing, a path of sand clear of rocks, algae and debris that led to the water.
It was at this moment I noticed the wind had died down, and the air felt warmer. The clouds on the horizon were breaking, and I could see where the sun would be rising. I looked at my phone. I had about 5 minutes before the edge of the sun touched the rim of the earth.
I felt I was given my beach.
I took my clothes off and made my way to the edge of the water. The waters off Ireland are cold, very cold. But the water that washed over my feet, while cold, was not the frigid water I had read about. I moved forward, watching the horizon brighten. I looked down at the water. It was teaming with jelly fish. It was as if I was being asked, “I gave you this beach, took the wind, warmed the air… How much do you want this thing you came here for?”
There was not much time to hesitate or debate. With a deep breath of determination and with the sun coming up I dove naked into the water and swam past the jelly fish into deeper water. The edge of the sun was now just visible, and I had done the thing I had come for. I swam for a short time more, and now with the sun half over the edge of the world it was time to come out.
I did not know when the road would come back to life so I made my way back to my bike and toweled myself off and dressed myself.
I sat and watched the sun light the clouds as it rose above the horizon. Fully risen, fully visible in the breaks of clouds and then hidden with rays of light bursting above and below the clouds that blocked the sun.
When the sun had moved behind clouds that made it clear it would not be visible for a while, it was time to go.
I walked the bike up to the road and the wind came back up to bite me once more.
I rode back to my B&B, to rest before I joined the rest of the day.
The land had one last (or so I thought) surprise for my birthday, to my right was a rainbow.
That morning I was sure I was not going to swim in the dawn light breaking over Ireland, that I had missed what could be my one chance. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Believe what you will, I believe the magic of the land made the impossible possible.