Today you couldn’t swim across Bangor Bay on Belfast Lough without skirting the Marina but from 1910 till the 80s the ‘Pickie to Pier’ annual sea swim saw many participants taking part in the 650-metre race from Skippingstone Beach, beside what is now Pickie Fun Park, to the then North Pier, now named the Eisenhower Pier, and back.
Now, in its Seaside Revival programme, the Open House Festival which runs in August every year in Bangor, the Pickie to Pier race is being held again, (in 2020 it is on July 4th) but sadly, the men’s prize, the Lyttle Trophy is missing! The ladies are lucky, however, as their prize is still intact. It is named the Connor Shield after a well-known old Bangor family.
So, the hunt is on for that trophy. Local businessman David McCullough won the race in the late 1960s when he was around 12 years old and remembers the trophy had three handles.
The swim to the pier pre-dates the Bangor swimming club – the 18th annual swim was organised by Donegall Amateur Swimming Club based in Belfast. By the time Bangor ASC was formed, there were inter-club races to the pier featuring Wellington, New Alliance and Northern swimming clubs. BASC swam the route weekly, and the Pickie to Pier race carried on through two world wars but met its demise in the late 1980s when a new heated indoor pool was favoured to the freezing cold, jellyfish-laden waters of Bangor Bay.
According to one of the local librarians who has done some research, it is probable that 1918 was the 18th year of the race but no evidence that it started in 1910 could be found in the local press. The race did continue through WWII but there is a gap in the library reels from 1916 – 25 so those years cannot be checked. Generally, the race was run for individuals in a handicap system according to how good a swimmer they were – the faster you were, the longer you had to wait before starting off. There was also a team event for the Gamble Memorial Trophy.
Before Pickie Pool was built in 1931, gentlemen swam in that area and the ladies swam just below the large mansion called Seacourt in what was called ‘Ladies Bathing Place”.
Many people who did the race remember how cold it was, even in August; the horrors of being touched by the seaweed and stinging jellyfish as well as the distance, all presented a huge challenge. One of the competitors remembers the coal boat leaving harbour during the race, creating chaos. But what amounts to a questionable memory is that of a competitor who did the swim with a bottle of Olde English (an American malt liquor) in one hand and a Rod Stewart album in the other!
So if you can help please contact Caroline McCoubrey [email protected]