Projects: Goethe-Institut’s Odysseus: A Quest for Europe 2007

To mark the German Presidency of the EU in 2007, the Goethe-Institut throughout the enlarged European Union has embarked upon a web-based art project: Odysseus: A Quest for Europe. With this project, the Goethe-Institut takes the visitor on a virtual journey through the idea of Europe, inspired by the legend of Odysseus. Media artists, photographers, philosophers and modern-day nomads reveal an aspect of European identity, based on an – entirely subjective – view of their chosen location.

The Irish contribution by the artist Gary Coyle: The Daily Practice of Swimming was launched on the internet at the end of March 2007. This project consists of almost daily swims during the month prior to the launch at the Forty Foot bathing place, Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin. They are recorded in three ways: a diary entry, a traced and scanned map and a photographic work, taken from the vantage point of the swimmer.

Essay written by Dr. Mia Lerm Hayes of the University of Ulster School of Art and Design on Gary Coyle’s contribution to the Goethe-Institut’s Odysseus: A Quest for Europe project.

“Mapping Europe” – Luke Clancy reported on Gary Coyle’s contribution to the Goethe-Institut’s Odysseus: A Quest for Europe project,
for RTE Lyric FM, on April 7th 2007. (Duration: 11 mins)


Monday 5th March 2007. Swim No 2036.
I left the house at 11.40, I cycled the usual route, nothing unusual, the normal dog walkers & people exercising. Spring is definitely threatening, the whole way down I can hear birds chirping loudly, arriving in Sandycove I recognise a few people changing in the shelter of Kavanagh’s wall. Eoin is walking slowly back from the sea in his togs, arms stretched before him, looking like a mummy from horror film. I go on to the Forty Foot, it is very rough off the front & no one is about so I go around to the back, which is safer, Mick Dwane is there as is Bill. I ask where all the regulars are & I am told they have gone on their second trip of the winter to the Canaries, lucky dogs, though have to say I would not walk to the shops with some of them. I change & hop in, the tide is very high & strong, with very little effort I was drawn out 15 metres, I take my photo’s & swim back in. I chat away to Mick & Bill & decline their offer of a cup of tea in the hut & I head off. It starts to rain, something that has been threatening all day, but it has been a few days since I had some proper exercise s o I decide to take a risk & go in spite of the weather.

I head off on a cycle to Dalkey, I take my normal route, a car on Breffni Road passes within inches of me. I see one of the adult seals begging for fish off Bulloch Harbour. It has the head the size of a small cow. I cycle up the hill the road works on Harbour Road, which have been going on for months, have now finally finished & the road signs are so newly painted you can still see their chalk outlines. I pass by a gaggle of school girls outside Loreto School, I turn around in Dalkey & come back, the wind is now behind me & it really makes a difference, I fly down harbour Road, cycle along through Glasthule, spot Dessie Perry coming back from the Off Licence with a full bag of beer, I give him a wave. An aggressive young driver allows me to pass with scarcely concealed disdain before driving past at a ridiculous speed, arsehole. I stop at the Centra store to buy my paper but it is sold out so I cycle on to Dun Kaoghaire, I pass by one of the worst buskers that I have ever heard in my whole life plinking away at a white plastic guitar on the corner of link road. Get to John’s newsagents on the corner of Clarinda park east buy my paper; it starts to rain heavily so I speed home. Just as I am going in my front door, I meet Maureen from one of the flats next door, who tells me that a good friend has just died, of Lung Cancer. She then proceeds to give me a blow by blow account of the unfortunate mans demise, all the while she is frantically puffing away on a cigarette, poor woman, she is very upset. Home at 12.40

Tuesday 6th March 2007, Swim No 2037.
I left the house at 12.43, nice sunny spring day, though rain is threatening. Cycle my usual route; I met Dessie Perry walking along the sea front with his daily ration of beer in a plastic bag. I stop & have a brief chat, I have no change to give him so I apologise & promise to give him some later in the week, when he needs it more. He looks a lot cleaner than normal, his blue Italia jacket has been washed & he has had a shave. We are joined by Paul the cyclist I introduce them, we chat away. Dessie explains why he has left his usual drinking spot behind the wall in the park, waves are crashing over it, and true enough they are. I cycle on, the sun is out in Sandycove & some of the usual suspects are out warming themselves like lizards, in the sun. I go around the corner to the Forty Foot, which is thankfully empty, as I do not feel like talking to anyone. Once again it is too dangerous off the front so I walk around the back, there is no one there. I change & hope in the tide is strong, I spend my usual minute in & then get out, there is no point in taking any unnecessary risks, I am also struck with a fear that for some reason I may encounter the seal, which rarely happens this close to the shore. As I swim in to the steps, the sea suddenly boils up & I have to struggle to get out. When I am dressed I sit down & do & think of nothing for about 5 minutes, just enjoying the moment.

When I go around the front there are 3 fools swimming in the really rough sea. I say to one of them, a young guy with a really crap tattoo on his right shoulder “you should be more careful” he just shrugged, strutted away & jumped in, you can’t take such risks with the sea especially not in the winter. I headed off on my bike up Sandycove Avenue west & along the wind is once again blowing in my face. I am overtaken by a bloke on a bike with huge buttocks & thighs at the top of Harbour road. Work is still ongoing on Coliemore Road, a small army of men are working away digging & excavating. I encounter a Family of German visitors taking photos of Dalkey Island. When I get to Sorrento Terrace I turn back as the wind is too strong, & I cycle back down to Dalkey village. Every other car seems to be a gas guzzling 4-wheel drive. An impatient woman driving a silver Lexus jeep does not want to give way & when I insist on asserting my rights, she put’s on a long sulky face.

I cycle through Dalkey & down Hyde Road, I pass a group of teenage boys wearing St Michael’s shirts & clutching 6 packs of beer. Am passed by a learner driver in a Golf with one of those curious Wertheimer dogs mournfully looking at me out of the back window, I drive along Elton Park & down through Glasthule. I stop at the Punnet to buy some fruit, across the street the world’s worst busker is plying her trade, all she sings is Hallelujah over & over, up to Clarinda park west, where I buy my paper, rain is threatening so I cycle home as quickly as possible. home at 1.40 pm


Monday 12th of March 2007. Swim no 2041.
Raining heavily, so I decided to drive down at 12 noon. Drove my normal route, almost nobody was out & about. I parked by the wall in Sandycove, the tide is very high, nobody is about. As I walked up to the Forty Foot I spot some of the 11 o’clock crowd, sheltering under the open boot of a people carrier, which has been parked up close to a wall. Mick the brush, Christie, & a few more. I say hello as do they, & walk up to the foot, which was been battered by large waves. I went back to Sandycove & sheltered in the lee of Kavanagh’s garage. It didn’t provide much in the way of protection, the ground was soaking wet. I wrapped my clothes in my coat & hopped in. I realised I was been watched by some people in a car who seemed delighted to see some loony jumping into the freezing sea, on a wet Monday morning in March. I felt like an exhibit in a Zoo, or a native on a reservation,

My swim was a quick in & out job, I rushed back to my clothes, I wasn’t getting much protection from the elements, as I got dressed my coat nearly blew into the sea, had to rush after it. I ran back to my car passed a very wet Tommy ambling along in the rain, I said a quick hello. Into the car turned up the heating full blast, Ronan Collins was playing some great music on the radio, I drove home carefully, back to the house via Johns Newsagents, home by 12.30.

Tuesday 13th of March 2007, Swim no 2042.

I got the train out from Dublin at 12.30, it was an uneventful Journey, I read my newspaper, looked at the sea. Some Gypsy Musicians got on at Sydney Parade & proceeded to play. It is the first time I have encountered buskers on a train in Ireland, having encountered them everywhere else, London, Paris, Madrid, Berlin, but never here. I gave them a few coins & carried on reading my paper. I arrived in Sandycove at 12.45 & walked to the house, saw a guy who was in school with me on the street, who had been very badly bullied. He now looks like a homeless person, poor man looks haunted. I chatted to my parents & headed off at 1,10. it was only when I reached the sea did I realise that I had forgotten my cycling helmet I went a slightly different route, via Summerhill & Link Roads, lots of building work in evidence, everywhere you look there are men in hard hat’s , scaffolding, & skips.

Arrived in the foot at 1.25, a large group present, all chirping away. Marie, Mollie, Charlie Tucker, J, D, Byrnes dog. I saw hello & go in and change, I hang my coat up on a rusty peg in the shelter. Maura goes in ahead of me I wait until she gets out, she swims out quite a distance, & is in for a lot longer than I could ever be at this time of the year. In I hop, the tide is quite low, but not too bad I take my photo’s stay in for my winter 60 seconds & out. I chat to Charlie & Margaret, Charlie tells me that the man whom I do not like is claiming that the water temperature has been 48 degrees Fahrenheit (8 centigrade) for the last 6 weeks, I do not know if I believe him, though it is a few degrees warmer than it should be at this time of the year. I talk to Michael, who is sporting a lovely deep tan, about his recent cruise in the Caribbean, get dressed saw goodbye to all present, & cycle home back at about 1.50 pm.

Thursday 22 March 2007, Swim no 2051
Left house at 11.15, usual route, some aggressive driver broke a red light & came within inches of me, which did not make me very happy. A cloudy blustery day. Cycled along the sea front met John the moustached ex swimmer on the way. The 11 o clock gang were in Sandycove, I met Tommy got off my bike & walked with him to the Foot, Brian, Mc Scrum & another bloke who’s mane I don’t know were sitting out front enjoying the sun & of course surprise talking about sport. I went in, the water in The Foot looked very rough so I went around to the back. I met Natalie retuning, unusual as it is still seen as the last male part of what was up to 20 years ago a completely male only. I say hello.

Tommy is getting in for what he tells me is only his 2nd swim since he has retuned from the Canaries, he tells me that the water there was a constant 22 degrees (it never even at the height of summer gets warmer than 16 degrees here) That they never saw a single cloud in the sky. We chat away about this & that, Mc scrum joins us we chat to him about Rome where he was for the rugby the previous weekend. The door to the hut is opened & there sitting on the table is a half finished bottle of Chivas regal. I head off at 11.50 having spent a lot longer than I had intended.

I cycle up to Dalkey, at the top Of Harbour Road, the workmen are applying the finishing touches to their newly laid concrete footpaths, one bloke was smoothing it down while the other was leaning marks on it by dragging the back of a sweeping brush over it, it looked like quite a skilled task, & they seemed to enjoy their work. As I am running late I cannot go on my usual cycle so I turn back at Leslie Avenue & go back through Dalkey. I cycle back down past the Harbour & down to Glasthule, stop off in Spar to buy some yoghurt & a paper. I spot Dessie walking along, I pull over have a quick chat; slip him a few euro, cycle on & home at 12.20.

Friday 23rd of March 2007, Swim no 2052.
Came out of Town on the train, uneventful journey, walked up to the house. Mr Impossible drove by in his car, he beeped his horn at someone would be surprised if it was me, I have not seen him at the 40 foot in an age. I walked up to the house, I have a b rife chat with my parents before I head off in the car at 3.30.On the radio One of those D.J.’s with a really silly mid – Atlantic accents is playing 10 cc’s “I ‘m not in love”, that female voice starts whispering “big boys don’t cry, big boy’s don’t cry” as I turn left onto Corrig Road. I feel like I’ve just been punched in the stomach, I feel like mush, its an awful cheesy song & yet it strips back the years, & suddenly with out warning I am a 12 year old again. It lasts for most of my short journey & I do not want the song to end, finally its over & that clown of a D.J. announces that it is 32 years old. I arrive in Sandycove & several women are having a barbeque on the beach, something that I have never seen before. They have so much stuff that initially I think that they are having a car boot sale. Its overcast & a strong breeze is blowing.

Fr Jim is raring in his car as is Eoin, & that knob T.O. whom I ignore. Its is too rough in the front so I go around the back. Spider man shows up, I say hello, get changed & get in its rather bouncy, any rougher & I would go back to Sandycove, I take my photos with my various camera, & get out. Spider man asks me is it too rough, I say no its fine & if he gets into difficulties I’ll rescue him. He strips off & gets in, I did not realise quite how feeble a swimmer he is, I stand there nervously as he makes tiny ineffectual swimming strokes & stays in way too long for my liking, eventually he struggles his way to the bar & drags himself out, mind you he is not a young man he must easily be in his early 70’s. We chat, he is a nice softly spoken man, whom I do not think is married as I can’t help notice that all his clothes & his towel, well need a very good wash, I suppose at that age you have different priorities, I say goodbye & head back to my car, I wave at Jim & Eoin on the way. I drive home via Glasthule, A very funny sketch is played on the radio, & I find myself laughing uncontrollably as I drive along, I roar laughing 4 or 5 different times, I can see other drivers & pedestrians looking at me suspiciously, no doubt thinking I am simply mad, home at

Saturday 24th March 2007, Swim no 2053.
Came out of town on the train, town full of people going to the football game. Walked up to the house, I got there at 3.10 quick chat with my parents, about Father Dowling my former music teacher, who got a heart attack on a train on Thursday, the passengers did not want their train to be delayed so the dumped his dying body on the platform in Sydney Parade so the train would not be delayed, appalling, apparently it is in yesterdays Evening Herald, they ask me to try & find a copy. I head off on my bike it is a lovely warm afternoon, the sun is shining, the sky is clear. A lot of people are out, I cycle my normal route along the promenade. A lot of young couples are out with their precious off spring, glaring at me with hostility & fear even though I am going at a snail’s pace. I also pass a few very old people being pushed along in wheelchairs swaddled in blankets. Also lots of dog’s being walked. Sandycove is full of people, the beach is very small because the tide is in, its full of small children making sand castles, Kavanaghs wall is full of people soaking up the sun, I recognise a few & wave. I meet Roisin & Carol & we have a conversation about the water temperature, she states that it has been 7 degrees (46 Fahrenheit) & not 8 as others have been claiming. I meet Paul & his wife going he, he tells me its nicer around the back, he always call’s me Gar which for some reason I quite like. The place is full of 15/16-year-old Bourgeois brats showing off in front of one another. Boys in silly haircuts leaping off the rock, flexing their muscles & hurling rugby balls, Girls channelling the OC TV programme speaking in Irish/American hybrid accents. Pretending not to notice what each other are doing. It was ever thus.

I go around the back, the water is choppy, the sun is lovely, I change & get in take photo’s of the bell rock & out. I chat briefly to a man who was there. Back around the front I pass a teenage girl in the shelter, chancing out of her pink Bikini, Gets her friend to theatrically hold up a towel in front of her while 4 boys standing ten feet away pretend not too notice Get on to my bike & go home. One of the brats, with very badly dyed blonde hair pretends to hurl a ball at me; I give him a very hostile glare. I visit the spar in Sandycove looking for yesterdays Evening Herald paper they don’t have it. I cycle back down Ballyghien Avenue, the sea front is even busier, lots of people are out & about, cycle back the way I came. I meet Nicola whom I haven’t seen in ages, we have a chat about our respective lives & how much we like living in Dun Laoghaire,