Swimming a Long Way Together
2021 – 2023
Curated by Rosie Hermon
Swimming a Long Way Together draws inspiration from pioneering swimmer Mercedes Gleitze as part of its wider celebration of swimming and swimming communities.
As a durational project, it unfolds over the course of the next few years across a series of large-scale live events and exhibitions in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Donaghadee, Brighton, Dover and France. These expansive moments retell some of the story of this incredible woman, and reflect on contemporary experiences of swimming – as a practice of endurance, for wellbeing and as a collective and social pastime.
Mercedes Gleitze undertook many challenging and pioneering swims in the 1920s and ‘30s, across Ireland, Britain and beyond. She was the first British woman to swim the English Channel, the first person to swim the Strait of Gibraltar, and she also completed record-breaking endurance swims of up to 47 hours in public swimming pools. From humble origins Mercedes became celebrated for her swimming achievements, huge audiences would come to cheer her on or to greet her whenever she emerged from the water.
Music played a central role, as an accompaniment and support to Mercedes’ swims, often helping to create a festive atmosphere on the pool deck and raise her spirits as she swam vast stretches of open water. Mercedes swims attracted large audiences, generating a festival atmosphere where music was a key element. This project echoes some of these forms as a way of thinking collectively about watery spaces, bringing history into a dialogue with present-day communities & experiences.
Swimming a Long Way Together was launched on August 20th 2021 in the River Liffey. A group of swimmers, towing large, illuminated sculptures swam up the River Liffey to Temple Bar Galleries. Here they swam in formation around synchronised swimmer Aoife Drumm and Landless sang from a boat ‘As easy stop the sea’ a song that was written by Ruth Clinton for the Swimming a Long Way Together project.
The following day a ‘Swimposium’ event took participants on a day-long journey across Dublin Bay, with swims, talks, sounds and performance along the way. The Swimposium echoed the swimmer’s embodied experience of duration, across time and distance, and investigated the connection with physical and psychological space of the ocean.
The invited speakers straddled the creative, health academic and swimming worlds, opening up a discussion on swimming, its impact on the body and its role in communities.
Here is a PDF introducing the Swimposium speakers’ research subjects: Swimposium Speaker Information
Just a month ago we were in Cork for a 30 hour ‘Endurance Swim’ event at Midleton College swimming pool. In 1930 Mercedes Gleitze swam for 30 hours continuously at the Eglinton Baths in Cork. Mercedes broke the endurance swim record at the time and there was music and entertainment on the pool deck as she swum, thousands of people who came to watch her swim.
Swimming a Long Way Together’s ‘Endurance Swim’ was a reimagining of Mercedes Gleitze’s Cork swim, as a collective and community effort; groups of swimmers were timetabled to swim continually throughout the 30 hours while a rolling program of musicians, storytellers, DJ’s dancers and bands performed on the pool side for the entire duration.
Lyric FM Culture File.
Swimming a Long Way Together is supported by the Arts Council of Ireland Open Call Award.
Photos by Brian Cregan