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The Liffey Swim is an annual race in Dublinmarker's main river, the Liffeymarker and is one of Ireland's most famous traditional sporting events. Swim Ireland organises the event and it is managed by volunteers.

The race is the penultimate event in a season of 26 open water races held during the summer months and is held on a Saturday in either late August or early September. Entrants to the Liffey Swim must complete five races of the season to qualify. Many levels and ages of swimmers compete in the race, but entrants must be a member of a swimming club and be able to swim a mile. International competitors are common. The race is handicapped with the slowest swimmers starting first and the fastest last.

Course

The race starts at the Watling Street Bridge near the Guinness Brewerymarker and takes competitors past landmarks such as the Four Courtsmarker, under the Ha'penny Bridgemarker and O'Connell Bridgemarker to finish at the The Custom Housemarker. Average entry is 200 males and 80 females. Wetsuits are not allowed. The race is held in the tidal section of the river meaning it is flushed twice daily. The race coincides with the Liffey Descent Canoe Race. The water authority releases 30 million tons of clean water from the Liffey reservoir to raise the river to flood level for this event. Due to the tidal nature of the Liffey, race times vary from year to year.

History

The first Liffey Swim took place on the 22 July 1920. Bernard Fagan was the first to organise the race. Fagan was a swimmer and became a public health analyst for Dublin Corporation in 1923. The race was swum at high tide when there were fewer pollutants. The first Liffey Swim had an entry of 27 male swimmers and was won by J.J Kennedy with Bernard Fagan himself coming in third. Fagan's son Jack Fagan later won the Liffey Swim in 1951. During the 1930s, 40s and early 50s the Liffey Swim attracted large crowds. The race has not changed length from being a distance of one and half miles (2.2 km) but the start and finish points have changed. The race originally started at Victoria Quaymarker, from a Guinness Barge and finished at Burgh Quaymarker. In 1991 the first ladies race was introduced and in the early 1990s the race was moved 400 yards down river to start beside the Civic Offices and to finish opposite the Custom House.

The 2009 Liffey Swim was the 90th anniversary of the race and saw electronic timing used for the first time.

One of the earliest Liffey Swims was portrayed in the Jack B. Yeats 1923 painting entitled The Liffey Swim, which won him a silver medal at the Art competitions at the 1924 Summer Olympics. This can now be viewed in the National Gallery of Ireland.

Health issues

Dublin Fire Brigade provide decontamination showers at the finish. There have been concerns about the possibility of contracting Weil's disease in the Liffey as well as other safety concerns relating to pollution. Studies have found that E. coli levels in the Liffey are higher than EPA standard levels.

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