Artist proves Dublin’s a real dive
Sunday Times October 23 2011
Fergal McCarthy echoes Joycean journey by swimming through the Irish Sea, the Liffey, the Grand Canal and five pools to highlight city’s aquatic side
Leopold Bloom crossed Dublin by foot in James Joyce’s Ulysses. More than 100 years later, an Irish artist has made the journey by water. Fergal McCarthy has made a film documenting his odyssey across the capital, which involved swimming through the sea, waterways and pools.
McCarthy, 38, who lived on an island on the Liffey as part of this year’s fringe festival, began at the Martello tower in Dun Laoghaire, which was also the starting point for Ulysses. He swam through the Irish Sea, four private pools, the Grand Canal, the Liffey and a public pool before finishing at the Martello tower in Sutton.
The journey took more than 14 hours and was completed on a Saturday last month. It was shot by Still Films, which made Pyjama Girls and Build Something Modern, and is currently showing as part of an exhibition about water at the Science Gallery, Dublin.
McCarthy was inspired by The Swimmer, a 1968 American film in which a man travels home by swimming through his friends’ pools. “Immediately after watching the movie, I thought I would love to do something similar in Dublin,” he said.
“We’re so land based. When you think of Dublin or Los Angeles or any city in the world, you don’t think of the water. Especially in Dublin we don’t think of the Liffey or the coast. There are so many opportunities to engage with water and most of us don’t take them.
“By doing this, I’m challenging people to rethink Dublin from an aquatic perspective rather than as a land base.”
McCarthy, who lived on the man-made desert island on the Liffey for two weeks last month, started by searching for private pools on Google Earth, a virtual globe created with satellite imagery. He identified nine suitable locations and went knocking on homeowners’ doors. All were willing to participate and three were used in the final film.
“It was like they were waiting for me to turn up, like they were dying to tell their story. I didn’t expect all of them to welcome me, but they did,” he said.
“The first one was across the road from the Martello tower in Seapoint at a beautiful Georgian home. [The owner’s] husband had died and he had been a fanatical swimmer. The daughter of the family had got married in a marquee by the pool.
“She then rang ahead because she knew all the other pool owners. The pools were probably all built in the 1960s and I guess there was a certain moneyed section of Dublin society that knew each other and had dreams of California-type lifestyles and built these pools.”
McCarthy began the trip at 6am by swimming from the Forty Foot at Dun Laoghaire to a beach at Sandycove. He then ran to a nearby home with a swimming pool before travelling to pools at houses on Ailesbury Road and Shrewsbury Road. Sean Blake, a cardiologist, and his wife Frances, who features in the film, own the Shrewsbury Road home. It was also used as a location in Far and Away, a 1992 film starring Tom Cruise.
McCarthy then swam across Grand Canal Dock and up the Liffey before diving into the Markievicz public pool in Townsend Street. He ran to the men’s bathing area in Dollymount, swam across to Sutton, and mimed swimming in an empty pool at Sutton Park school. He reached the Martello tower at 8.30pm, just in time for sunset.
McCarthy wore a pair of swimming shorts, and put on trainers to run. He was frequently towel-dried and advised to drink a can of Coke after swimming in the Liffey in order to kill the bacteria.
“I was training all summer. I literally ran every day for an hour and swam for an hour. I was ready to run a triathlon. That was the level of fitness that was required,” he said.
“They found a shower that you can attach to a cigarette lighter in a car to heat up the water, so I had a hot shower after being in the Liffey.”
McCarthy, a primary school teacher, is considering another project at a lighthouse in Dublin bay, where strangers would be invited to a dinner party each night.