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Swimposium for the senses: why the Irish are drawn to water

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During the long lockdowns last year, swimming in the sea has been a source of comfort for many. Something about being momentarily alone in nature, with only the roar of the oceans in our ears, seemed to provide a respite from the endless claustrophobia of our homes and the daily anti-chills of a walk in the park.

anessa Daws is a Dublin-based artist who tries to investigate in her work exactly why we find such a calming plunge.

Over the years, she herself has created art in “water spaces” as diverse as the M50 Aqueduct in Blanchardstown in Dublin to the Ballcroy Bogs in County Mayo. Her work “seeks to know where this desire to swim, to immerse yourself in water comes from. Is the pure thrill of the unknown; feel the water on your skin, the cold on your head, adapt your breathing and feel you exist?

Daws is unveiling an “Aquatic Project” – a “Swimposium – Swimming a Long Way Together”, which will take place from morning until evening next Saturday (August 21) at various points in Dublin Bay.

There will of course be swimming proper, but also presentations and round tables which “will investigate the swimmer’s physical and psychological connection with the ocean”. Panels will also feature a discussion on the role of swimming in health – with surfer Easkey Britton among the lineup – and its place in the community. There will be a hot meal and a performance by the traditional singing group Landless.

It will be a meeting of art, history and leisure.

“There’s an inexplicable draw in the water, I can’t put words on it,” Daws said.

The inspiration for the event comes from the heroine of Daws in swimming: Mercedes Gleitze.

She was an Englishwoman, of German descent, who became the first person to swim the Strait of Gibraltar and the first British woman to swim the English Channel. She was something of a sports celebrity in the 1920s and 1930s, and huge crowds cheered her on for her record-breaking swimming attempts..

Vanessa explains that her fascination with Gleitze was linked to her own attempt to swim in the English Channel.

“In the summer of 2019, I spent 12 hours in the Channel, I was on my way to France. A lot of people are doing it now, it’s pretty common. There are boats with a pilot and crew who help feed you.

“It’s a narrow body of water with a lot of traffic. I was being pushed into the current, and I ended up where the ferries go and my pilot was able to figure out that with the speed I was traveling I was going to be on the way [of the ferries] so he made me stop.

“I knew I still had six or seven hours to go and I felt good and I was swimming well. It was a little disappointing but that’s how it is.

“I was cold and tired but I was fine. I want to try again.

The failed attempt did not mar his love of swimming.

“When I pass a body of water, whether it is a pond, a fountain, a lake, a river or a sea, it is difficult for me to resist the urge to swim, ”she says.

Daws read a book on Mercedes Gleitze, written by Gleitze’s daughter Doloranda Pember, and during the lockdown “to relieve the endless emails of that time” they became pen pals.

“We wrote letters to each other, which was pretty cool. I went to meet her before Covid hit and it was really cool. ”

Music played a central role, as accompaniment and support to Gleitze during her record swims and the festive atmosphere she encouraged on the pool terrace will be emulated at the next swimposium.

“It’s a way for people to come together and talk about swimming and its value,” says Daws from his studio in Dublin. “It’s for swimmers, artists, geographers and historians, anyone who wants to come with us.”

Tickets for Dublin Swimposium events are € 20. A ticket for the bus between the Swimposium event venues can be purchased at the time of booking for € 5. Tickets are available at eventbrite.ie/e/swimming-a-long-way-together-dublin-swimposium-tickets-164895327363

For more information, see swimalongwaytogether.com


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