The Dalkey Archive features a swimming spot from when it was for gentleman bathers only. It was there that De Selby encountered St Augustine and surrealistic visions of eternity. This was the Vico Swimming Club, a real place I frequented as a child and student. Today, some call it The Ramparts. Others call it the Vico Baths. Yet others call it The Men’s Bathing Place despite today’s gender neutrality.
The Dalkey Archive developed the absurd bicyclosis storyline introduced in The Third Policeman, both books written by Flann O’Brien over twenty years. The pairing of hammer and anvil, buttock and saddle had an atomic exchange in common. Sergeant Fottrell continued the insanity of nicking bicycles with the two-fold benefit of preventing the spread of the disease and reducing people’s ability to travel into misadventures. The bathing place had a magical aura to those of us who’d read The Dalkey Archive and had a sense of the absurd.
Among the important questions posed:
‘Where did you meet Saint Augustine?’
‘Did you ever study the Mollycule Theory when you were a lad?’
‘Did you ever see a bicycle-shaped coffin?’
The recent presence of movie star Matt Damon has made the bathing spot more popular than ever after he became trapped in Dalkey by pandemic travel restrictions. Whoever posted ‘I seen him down the nudist hangout down the Vico’ put the place firmly on the map.
I was down at the bathing place earlier today and for the first time saw the white stones of 7 Eire. These were dug out, repainted and put back on the map by Dalkey Tidy Towns in 2019. What they dug out and restored was once an important coastal marker, emplaced in 1939 to remind any stray airborne combatants in WWII that they were flying over Ireland. Neutral Ireland. It translates as ‘No bombs please, we’re Irish’.
At swim recently, two swimmers, consisting of a long-covid patient who told me of a solitary dolphin that accompanied him. It was the chance of a dolphin sighting that brought me back. I’d spent many hours on the adjacent Killiney Beach back in 2013 hoping to catch good shots of a three member dolphin family. I thought they were bottle-nosed dolphins likely to return to Wales at any moment. I even bought a 70-300 mm lens and a few filters to make it easier to photograph them. I often talked with a particular photographer on the beach who was doing the same, both of us with a tripod and a remote release ready in the pre-dawn light. He even had the same lens, one among many I saw. Then one day he appeared with a different set-up and a sad story. He said his old Volvo was worth less than the gear that had been taken from it. His livelihood had been stolen. An uninsured livelihood.
Sure enough, the dolphins did disappear shortly after his camera gear. And I’ve not seen them, photographer or dolphins for seven years. I theorised that it was the relatively new, must-have, action cameras that drove them away. The word that dolphins were there to see had spread far and wide. From the haze of the dispersion came kayaks and canoes and many curious paddle boarders. Then newspapers and websites began to publish pictures that were up close and dolphin personal, taken from head cameras and the like. It was clear to me that too many people were disrespecting the privilege accorded to the more respectful nature watchers and lovers. Mum and Dad dolphin took the baby away from hazard and I hope it went well for them. Of course if the dolphins have returned to residence, it’ll be drones that drive them away this time.
Today, there were no dolphins. I asked the appropriately dressed swimmers and they all reported having seen a porpoise recently. Of course that could also be a seal. I read a few months ago that a rare Sowerby’s Beaked Whale had stranded and died in Wicklow Harbour. Ingested plastics?
There’s lots to see along this coast once we know how to look.