When Nell McCafferty, Nuala Fennell and Mary D'Arcy led the women's liberation invasion of the famous Forty Foot swimming area in Sandycove, Co Dublin, in the summer of 1974, I applauded their brio, but I'd never have joined in. Deep sea water? Terrifying.
Sea swimming in summer time is something I think we should all try to do, and I usually plunge in once a year at least: but maybe I have also inherited my Connemara grandmother's fear of the sea. The family tradition was that grandmother had seen a drowning in her impressionable youth, and forever afterwards feared the seashore. This story was diligently transmitted to me, and children remember what they are taught when young.
Yet I think the Connemara wariness of the sea was originally quite rational: that tumultuous Atlantic Ocean did indeed "take" people, and there was a superstition that when it "took" one, it would come back for two more. The desperate tragedy of the Cleggan Bay Disaster of 1927, when 45 Connemara fishermen drowned, left an indelible mark on the western coast.
It was always said that fishermen deliberately didn't learn to swim, because in a disaster at sea, swimming would only prolong the agony of drowning.
Being sent daily to the entirely safe location of the Dún Laoghaire baths over the summer months, I shouldn't have retained this fear of deep water, but I did.
And yet, sometimes what we fear most also fascinates us most. If I were asked to name a global personality I especially admire, I'd probably nominate Sarah Thomas, the American woman who swam the English Channel four times consecutively in August last year: Dover to Calais and back, and Dover to Calais and back again.
She swam for 54 hours continuously and, because of the zig-zag channel winds and currents, what should have been 129km turned out to be 209km. What an achievement! Ms Thomas was 37 and had recently recovered from breast cancer.
It's entirely fitting that the Forty Foot was liberated by feminists from being an all-male preserve: swimming is "the only sport where women are superior to men in long distance", according to the swimming historian Howard Means. Women's bodies - Michael Phelps notwithstanding - are more suited to swimming in cold water, having a greater proportion of subcutaneous fat, which helps both buoyancy and endurance. Phelps is the most highly decorated Olympian swimmer ever, and his almost fish-like anatomy is extraordinarily well adapted to speed in the water. But it was a woman, Lynne Cox, who was the first person to swim the Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia, in reported water temperatures of 3.3°C. Lynne was also the first person to swim the Strait of Magellan and the first person to swim around the Cape of Good Hope. Respect!
Human beings have been swimming for between 8,000 and 10,000 years, according to Howard Means in his history of swimming, Splash!. The Egyptians left traces of their swimming practices, and it was common in the Greek and Roman world - Julius Caesar was a swimmer, and Plato thought learning to swim should be part of everyone's education. Plato was undoubtedly right.
But these ancients swam naked, and perhaps for this reason women were seldom seen to join in, though they might have bathed privately.
Howard Means blames Christian prudery for discouraging swimming and even up to the 1930s, "mixed bathing" was controversial. In his memoir, The Thirties, Malcolm Muggeridge recalled that among the fiercest arguments of the time was whether men and women were permitted to swim together in London's Serpentine.
The Liffey Swim in Dublin started in 1920 and it's now one of the oldest swimming traditions in the world. Women only joined the swim - which was painted by Jack B Yeats in 1923 - in 1991.
It was the development of the fashionable swimsuit, pioneered by Carl Jantzen and his family, which put swimming in the spotlight. The waterborne movie star Esther Williams - a very accomplished swimmer - made it glamorous.
Then the launch of the bikini in France in 1946 made swimming sexy: it remained banned on Spanish beaches throughout Franco's regime, until 1975.
It's now August, and I will go down to the sea and swim, even if I do so rather gingerly. I had a mild fright a few years ago when a cold dip resulted in a temporary blackout: for an hour afterwards I lost consciousness, though I walked back to the house on a kind of automatic pilot. Subsequently, I was fine, but the GP cautioned that there can be a loss of oxygen to the brain, temporarily, by the sudden shock of cold water.
Getting into the sea can be a little like writing. You dread the start of the endeavour - the cold, swirling water, or the blank, forbidding screen. But take the plunge, and it can all go swimmingly.