My Liffey: ‘Feeling like a champion for a day’ – the annual swim down Dublin’s central artery

A 40-year veteran of the Liffey Swim says climate change and a growing population in Greater Dublin Area have changed conditions on the river

Greg O’Dwyer has been swimming in the river Liffey for more than 40 years, since he was a teenager. During that time, he has only missed the annual Liffey Swim race three times.

He calls the swim “our Grand National”, running for more than a century with participants swimming past Dublin landmarks such as the Four Courts and finishing at Custom House Quay.

“It’s just one of those races that has that attraction. There are not many races around the world where you can swim through the central artery of the city and take in all those sites,” he says.

“It’s just a fantastic spectacle. There are very few other swims where you have such a huge crowd supporting you.”


O’Dwyer takes part in the open-water swimming season, which has about 30 races in the calendar between May and September every year. The Liffey Swim is normally the last event of the year, taking place in September, with people participating in a number of sea swims to qualify.

The popularity of the event has increased since it first began. There are about 600 participants every year. Conditions on the river have also improved, particularly during the “bad years” in the late 1980s, he says.

But climate change and a growing population are changing conditions on the river again. A number of people who swam this year reported feeling unwell afterwards. He attributes this to the heavy rain experienced in an unusually wet July this year.

“So there is untreated water going into the river. And then you have all the contaminants on the land being washed into the river,” he says.

The river Liffey is “an integral part” of O’Dwyer’s life, he says, to the extent that when he dies, his family and friends know he wants to be cremated so his ashes can be scattered at the river.

He grew up in Stoneybatter “smelling the Liffey” and has since moved to Lucan where he is “overlooking the Liffey”. He won the Liffey Swim in 2006 and his medal is his “most prized possession”.

“It’s a big deal. You could win any other race in the calendar and it’s great,” he says.

“But for an average or good swimmer – most aren’t national champions doing this – you get to feel like a champion for a day.”