A group of about 10 women calling themselves the Dublin City Women’s Invasionary Force invade the Forty Foot, a traditional men only public bathing preserves in Sandycove, Dublin. The bathing place, made famous by James Joyce in Ulysses, had been exclusively male until then and the women were greeted with sexist abuse and male nudity, according to one of the participants.
The character Buck Mulligan took a dip in the waters here. Since the publication of this novel, the Forty Foot became increasingly popular with swimmers. Joyce referred to the men-only bathing here. He wrote, “And down they’d descend the winders into the gentlemen’s bathing place, still raw and long-shadowed.”
For at least 250 years prior to 1974, the Forty Foot was always a men-only bathing spot. Traditionally, it was a naturist (nude) bathing place for men. Signs were dotted about the area signifying this, one of which remains to this day. During the 18th and 19th centuries across much of Europe, swimming was traditionally a male-only sport. At the same time, women are only recorded as being in the water as a way of weeding out witches. A trial by water would determine whether a woman was a witch or not, depending on whether her body floated after drowning.
Early on 24 July, ten women claiming to represent the Dublin City Women’s Invasion Force entered the Forty Foot after discovering there was no legal cause for the exclusion of women. Causing quite the stir, the women were ill-received by male swimmers. Carrying placards that read “out from under and into the swim” and “we’ll fight them on the beaches, we’ll win between the sheets”, the women defiantly changed into bikinis before taking the plunge into the chilly Dublin waters.
Reports suggest that while this group of Irish women protested men-only bathing at the Forty Foot, some of the male swimmers were crude. For example, some waved their genitals at the women while also giving sexist abuse. In some RTÉ archival footage, one male bather said, “No self-respecting woman would be in there anyway.” Despite this, the women persisted with the protest and continued to swim.
Since the protest, women continued to swim at the Forty Foot. Within a couple of weeks, the swimming location was popular with men, women, and children. However, that wasn’t the end of the ban on women here. The ban on women swimming here was effectively lifted in 1974. However, women were still unable to become members of the Sandycove Bathers Association. This is despite the fact that many women who swam here contributed an annual fee to the association for maintenance.
In 2012, some members of the club submitted a petition to change the club’s rules so that women would be allowed to join. However, in this instance, the proposal to allow women to join was rejected. However, in 2014 the same proposal was submitted to the committee. Fortunately, this time the motion passed, and since then, women have been able to become members of the club if they so wish.
Today the Forty Foot is popular with locals and visitors alike. Some swimmers take to the waters here on a daily basis, claiming it is the reason for their good health. Other locals only visit on occasion for a quick dip. The annual Christmas Day swim is the most popular day here, with hundreds of people wearing Santa hats and costumes braving the elements. No doubt, a lot has changed since the ten Irish women protested men-only bathing at the Forty Foot.