Opinion David Robbins

Wednesday 19 June 2019

David Robbins: Might as well jump -- my memories of Blackrock baths (and a diving Heron)...

'There's 25p," my mother said, handing us our towels wrapped into a neat sausage-roll shape, with our togs inside. "I don't want to see you home until five o'clock."

We were bustled out the door into the semi-hostile environment that was Blackrock in the 1970s, pointed in the general direction of Blackrock baths and shooed off for the day.

If a mother tried the same thing now, she would probably be reported to social services; but back then, groups of kids roaming the streets without adult supervision was the norm.

Out on our road, we met up with other boys who had been similarly banished. In the distance, we could see the high diving platform of Blackrock baths. Slowly and rather resentfully, we made our way through the village towards it.

The city authorities announced this week that the baths, which have been closed for over 20 years, are to be demolished.

The baths were built in 1839 in the early years of Victoria's reign, when the health benefits of sea bathing were all the rage.

Back then, they were state of the art, with a soaring diving platform, a viewing stand for 1,000 spectators, a 50m pool and two smaller children's pools.

Now, however, these structures, exposed to the depredations of the elements and the graffiti artists for so long, have apparently become unsafe.

Along with the death of Marc Bolan and the fall from grace of Gary Glitter, the demolition of the baths is another stain on the shroud of my youth.

Back on that journey to the baths, we engaged in deep and prolonged discussion as to the best way to spend our 25p.

Entry was 5p. That left 20p to be eked out over about seven hours. The general consensus was that a quarter-pound of pineapple chunks on the way there and a bag of chips from the Central Cafe on the way home provided optimum value.

Certainly, the chunks lasted as long as any sweet could reasonably be expected to, while removing the skin of your soft palate into the bargain.

At the baths, we changed in the freezing concrete vastness of the men's changing rooms. Although technically an indoor space, it was so exposed and the wet floor was so cold that you might as well have disrobed on the sea wall.

Once in our togs, we took up our positions on the viewing gallery to watch older men, hairy and sleek with fat like seals, do lazy lengths of the pool.

They moved with such ease, their kicks leaving a little contrail behind them, their arms entering and leaving the water without disturbing the surface.

Later, the water-polo teams would arrive. They had big, swimmers' shoulders and tumbled out of the changing room and into the water in one boisterous jumble.

How could they just do that, just dive straight in? We'd spend ages on the steps, inching our way in until the water passed the Maginot Line of our midriffs.

We marvelled at the way they could raise themselves up in the water in order to shoot at goal. When we tried it, we'd get a mouthful of seawater.

Sometimes, we would go right to the back of the viewing platform and look south, towards Dún Laoghaire.

They had their own baths there, we had heard. There was a slide and the water was reportedly warmed there. And there were more girls. It sounded positively Mediterranean.

However, getting the bus there would put a big hole in our 25p, so we stayed where we were.

Just when the summer boredom was reaching danger level, a hush would descend on the baths. People would point and whisper as a trim old man in Speedos made his way to the high diving platform.

The gasps would increase in pitch as he climbed the stairs, past level one, past level two. Oh my God, he's going to the top!

The trim old man was Eddie Heron, a former international diver, who now ran a bookie's shop in the village.

He stood at the edge of the platform and raised his arms. He paused, outlined against the sky and the rise of Howth in the distance across the bay.

Then he bent his knees and launched himself into the air. His arms stayed outstretched for the longest time, straightening only just before he entered the water.

A perfect swan dive. Take that, Dún Laoghaire Baths! You might have your slide and your warm water and your bathing beauties, but we had Eddie Heron.

drobbins@independent.ie

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