Nostalgia: A look back at Cork's famous Lee Baths

Nostalgia: A look back at Cork's famous Lee Baths

Swimming at the Lee Baths July 1935.

With mounting calls for a lido to be built in Cork, this week we have taken a look back at the last open air swimming pool to operate in Cork city, the Lee Baths.

The summer of 1934 saw the opening of Cork’s new municipal and open air unheated swimming pool on the site now occupied by The Kingsley Hotel on the Carrigrohane Road.

In May 1934 the Cork Examiner gave a preview of what the city could expect from the new facility.

Work in progress at Lee Swimming Baths, Carrigrohane Road, 1933.
Work in progress at Lee Swimming Baths, Carrigrohane Road, 1933.

"Admittedly the facilities provided for swimming by the public authorities are scandalously poor; at the same time, there is scarcely a town or village in Ireland that is not within easy reach of sea, river or lake. 

"The city of Cork is fortunate in this regard, for in addition to the existing municipal baths, we are to have this summer a splendid new outdoor pool at the Lee Fields.

"This pool which will be equipped with a diving tower and pit will provide a swimming area of 100 by 50 yards and will thus be the largest in Ireland."

Watching the action at the National Swimming Championships at the Lee Baths in April 1957. 
Watching the action at the National Swimming Championships at the Lee Baths in April 1957. 

Opened later that summer, the project was more pared back than originally planned but still proved an instant hit with the people of Cork. 

Along with the indoor Eglinton Street baths, the Lee Baths became the main swimming facility in the city and were used extensively by clubs such as Dolphin Swimming Club and Sundays Well Swimming Club.

The pool was 50 yards long with a deep end of 7ft, a shallow end of 4ft and the amenity also included a paddling pool for young children.

The depth in the diving pool was 15ft.

 Children splashing around at the Lee Baths, Carrigrohane Road, 1951.
Children splashing around at the Lee Baths, Carrigrohane Road, 1951.

Perhaps the best known of the lifeguards at the Lee Baths was Andy O'Brien, dubbed the 'Brown Bomber' because of his year-round tan.

Mr O'Brien was a high board diver who lived locally and was the head lifeguard at the Lee Baths. 

He became well known in Cork in the 1930s for his sporting prowess, winning many awards for high board and springboard diving at a local and national level. 

Diving and swimming competitions were held regularly at the Lee Baths and water polo was practised after public hours.

A large crowd watch the water polo international between Ireland and Scotland at the Lee Baths, Carrigrohane Road in August 1951.
A large crowd watch the water polo international between Ireland and Scotland at the Lee Baths, Carrigrohane Road in August 1951.

Although used extensively in the summers for several decades, eventually the popularity of the Lee Baths began to wane.

In the summer of 1985, the Corporation suffered a deficit of £35,000 in operating costs over the seven week opening period of the facility that summer, according to an Echo article in March 1986.

High diving at the National Swimming Championships at the Lee Baths in April 1957. 
High diving at the National Swimming Championships at the Lee Baths in April 1957. 

"Because of the summer that never was in 1985, Cork Corporation has no plans to open the Lee Baths this year," the article stated.

In 1984 the deficit incurred amounted to £29,000 over nine weeks.

These operational costs coupled with the rise in popularity of new indoor swimming pools brought about the end of the Lee Baths but the legacy and fond memories of baths linger on.

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