Irish people are learning to swim with mermaid tails and fins

It sounds crazy, but people are attaching tails and fins to their bodies and learning to swim
underwater,  writes Nuala Woulfe

A monofin enthusiast in their local pool

IF you want to make a splash this summer, get a mermaid tail. Mermaid tails are a tight, realistic-looking material that binds the legs, with a monofin at the feet. They retail from €40 over the internet, and are big business since the world’s first mermaid academy opened in the Far East.

America quickly followed the fad, and Europe opened its first academy last year. Now, mermaid tails, mermaid swim courses and even ‘professional mermaids’ are coming to Ireland.

“Our first mermaid tail on a child turned up recently. We’d never seen one before,” says manager of the Aqua Dome, Tralee, Noel McCord. “The child looked lovely, but the legs are literally stuck together in the tail and we’d some concern about what if the child got into difficulty. We didn’t want to have the child in tears, but told the parent they had to be very, very vigilant, as the Dome is not a normal pool. There’s a lot going on with waves and currents,” he says. McCord says that mermaid tails aren’t banned at the Dome, but “if tails are going to be a trend through the summer, we might have to look at this again.”

Part-time professional mermaid, Mairead Kelly who runs Merlesque in the UK.

On the other side of Munster, a spokesperson for the Courtown Adventure Centre, Wexford, says they’ve also had their first mermaid visitor, but they asked the person to take off the tail for safety reasons.

The Irish have an affinity for watery beings. Ireland’s mythology incorporates merfish and selkies. There’s a Mermaid of Ireland channel on Youtube, which features stories and swimming, and movies such as Splash, the Little Mermaid and Ondine have kept mermaids alive in popular culture.

There has also been an upsurge in Irish people using monofins or unifins on their feet. These allow the swimmer to move like a mermaid or dolphin underwater, without the need of a tail. These have contributed to the interest in mermaids.

Daryl Hannah in the 1984 movie, Splash.

The University of Limerick say more people with monofins are coming to their pool and that is permitted.

“Monofins are a bit of fun, people also use them for training. They’re flexible, but can be quite difficult to use, but really good for building up core strength, as you use a dolphin kick — one of our lifeguards here has one,” says lifeguard and swim co-ordinator, Sarah Hartigan.

Cliodhna Fawl, of Lahinch Surf Shop, in Co Clare, says people are also using monofins to swim with Dusty the Dolphin. “It seems to be a bit of a trend at the moment,” she says.

Monofin swimming has always been huge in Eastern Europe, and Ireland is beginning to pick up on the trend, says Feargus Callagy, founder of www.freediveireland.com. Callagy runs free dive courses in Dublin and Cork, for adults, and in his native Sligo, where children “get to try out the monofin and swim like a mermaid or a merman.”

“I’m 10 years free-diving; some people just prefer to swim underwater. In Dublin, a class goes on all day and we use the pool. In Sligo and Cork, time is spent between the pool and open water,” says Callagy.

“People love the monofin, because it’s fun; some get the movement straight away, but others need more time to adjust. Kids also love the monofin, because they’ve a fascination with mermaids and being under water.”

Accountant and part-time professional mermaid, Mairead Kelly, who lives in the UK, has ‘grown into’ her tail since she set up her business, Merlesque, at www.realmermaids.co.uk, two years ago.

With family originally from Clare, Mairead, who goes by the mermaid name, Ondine, hasn’t yet got back to the Atlantic to swim, but it’s on her ‘to-do list.” “When I was a kid, I loved mermaids and swimming under water and Irish fairy stories and mythology,” she says. They were interests Kelly never lost — she took Celtic studies at Cambridge and, afterwards, did accountancy, before setting up Merlesque with two friends, doing cabaret, children’s parties, underwater modelling, festivals and events.

“Being an accountant is a strong background for any career, but I developed a brain tumour and needed surgery and decided to just go for the mermaiding, as well. Even though it seemed like a massive endeavour, it was something really positive to aim for while I was recovering,” Kelly says.

So far, the Merlesque sirens have travelled all over the UK mermaiding, but Mairead “can’t wait to do some Irish gigs. Mermaiding is a great way for people to reconnect with the sea and nature as a whole. I swim better now as a mermaid than I do as a human,” she says.

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