Sea swimmers take to the water on Christmas Day

It was 8C as hardy swimmers entered the sea for a bracing Christmas Day dip in Co Down.

Festive jumpers were peeled off but reindeer and Santa hats remained on as members of a local club walked down the slipway and into the Irish Sea with barely a flinch.

A pale winter sun and the whitewashed Donaghadee lighthouse provided the backdrop.

Kathleen Monteverde said it was an exhilarating experience, adding: "It is something I always admired other people doing and never thought I could do it.

"I started in February and aiming to get the whole year for the first time."

She began sea swimming using a wet suit and that morphed into "skin swimming".

"It definitely wakes you up and gets you ready for the day because Christmas can be very stressful – it is so busy.

"It is great, you just get grounded and ready for the day."

Christmas Day swimmers gather at Donaghadee
Christmas Day swimmers gather at Donaghadee

She said it was also a mindful experience: "You feel the cold going up every part of you and you just enjoy it.

"It is really stimulating but it is about the company as well and having new friends."

Numbers had been expected to be limited this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, increasing infection rates and pressure on health services.

Northern Ireland goes into a strict lockdown after Christmas Day, but there was still a cheery atmosphere at the harbour, with one woman dancing in the waves.

Jill McClements said her mother was 86 and had been swimming for 80 years in Newcastle, Co Down, extolling the benefits in friendship and how good it left her feeling.

She added: "This is the first year I am swimming through the winter and I think she is really delighted.

"In fact, I think I am the favourite daughter at the moment – yay."