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Picturing Ulysses Naked

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

I don't normally post nudes but I'll make an exception for New York artist Spencer Tunick.

Written back in 2008 and published in the Westmeath Independent at the time, I thought it would be fun to look back at this memorial time that Irish Ferries MV Ulysses arrived in Dublin Bay to see the sight of 3000 naked people looking at it.

As much as I love this picture of thousands of naked Irish people freezing by Poolbeg Lighthouse and I really do love this picture which I received a copy of from Spencer Tunick for participating in his Dublin "installation" but sometimes I would love to have been on MV Ulysses as it arrived at the break of dawn to see the image onboard Ulysses and to see the reaction of the passengers and crew to this naked awakening. Can you picture it?

I don't think Joyce could ever have imagined Pigeon House Road and Poolbeg Lighthouse surrounded by naked Irish men and women or that his book would inspire the naming of an Irish Ferries vessel.

Considering the fact that James Joyce loved Dublin so much and wrote extensively about Sandycove, Pigeon House Road, the Martello tower and the Forty Foot yet spent so much of his life abroad, it is interesting to see a ferry named after his book and to see Poolbeg Lighthouse surrounded by thousands and thousands of naked people.

As an emigrant, I think Poolbeg must be such a welcoming sight as you approach Dublin Bay by boat or fly into Dublin.

It's location is kind of like the epicentre of Dublin Bay as you can see in the map and Great South Wall was the largest wall of its kind in the world when it was built in 1767.

I believe Poolbeg Lighthouse was originally powered by candlelight up until 1786.


Westmeath Independent July 2008

While most of us get naked at least once a day. A day or morning naked is another thing.

Doing it publicly and to be photographed and filmed with up to three thousand others, entirely different.

You could ask how does it feel to strip down naked amongst hundreds of people for an art project and to spend your morning pocketless, and the honest answer would be that it feels very cold.

I have always considered myself open-minded, unconventional and comfortable in my own skin. Standing on a Dublin pier at 3 AM on Saturday, June 21st I surprised myself by being the only person to dress up before the big unveiling. As I said it was slightly chilly and my sincere thanks to my barber friend Rob who lent me a hoody while we waited.

Arriving for the first bus at 2.30AM it would be six hours before returning home.

In my opinion, life is about waiting. Whether a bus, a wedding or for our lives to change, we wait. Waiting is something we all do and I believe we should get used to it and learn to enjoy it. While waiting for the next Celtic Boom to take off and explode, why not enjoy the quality of our lives as they are now? Let’s look at the things that we are rich in. Friends, family and free events offering something different from our daily routine.

What can we fit into our lives while we wait and what can we fit into a day? Excuse the pun but when it came to Saturday 21st June 2008 and Spencer Tunick’s naked art installation; I made sure I had nothing on.

New York artist, Spencer Tunick whose mother was a painter and his father a photographer has shot in many cities worldwide, shaping landscapes with nude people. Not models but real people.

Volunteers drawn to his art. A canvas woven of people, each an individual with different circumstances, upbringings and motives.

To me, this project or installation as Tunick describes it was a unique opportunity not to be missed. Ireland’s Woodstock is the way I would describe it. A time that will be remembered by all who were present. A historical event all the more memorable when we look back on Irish Society’s strict cultural attitudes. A country more used to inhibition than any kind of exhibition.

A country where you were born naked and didn’t do so again until your honeymoon.

Due to Ireland’s climate, wearing your birthday suit was as likely as putting on a bathing suit on any Irish beach for most of the summer. As warned, come rain or shine, we would be asked to get naked for Tunick’s latest art piece. Being Ireland, it rained, a lot.

After a lengthy wait. It was time to bare our souls, amongst other things. There was little point in being shy after spending over two hours waiting but we were all slow to strip down. Partly due to the extreme cold that I was certainly starting to feel.

Who would be the first person to get naked and start the naked craze? I started to unbuckle my jeans in an early attempt but found myself buttoning up my boxers for fear of accidentally exposing myself while undressing. Strange.

Being naked in such a large group was not as strange as you might think. Running around a beach at 7 AM with no clothes on as it rained down was in fact fun. What is strange is the pleasure you find in socks and finally putting on underwear after a cold hour or two naked. Stranger still is seeing a person who has not yet found their clothes and thinking, Oh my god, there is a naked woman walking around. Forgive me for being so judgmental.

The only painting I can do is with a roller so I rely on photography as my art form. Despite my interest in capturing a moment through the lens of my camera, I still haven’t decided if Spencer Tunick’s work is portraiture or landscape. Who has ever heard of a nude landscape?

A bunch of naked people photographed motion-less is actually quite a sickening image. There is no art, in recreating a mass grave or holocaust image but Spencer Tunick’s installation I hope will reflect the amazing image of hundreds of people, naked against a suitable striking backdrop such as Poolbeg Lighthouse.

Several times throughout the first photograph shot along by Pigeon House Road on Dublin Dockland’s South Wall I got to starting a Mexican wave going in the crowd, this I presume is a sight to behold from Spencer Tunick’s crane or from the passing early morning ferries. The ultimate Cead Mile Failte which appropriately translates as a hundred, thousand welcomes.

Before you start thinking that hundreds of naked people waving at in-coming ferries will improve tourism, remember that we are not talking about a slick airbrushed ad selling a sexed up image on some product that we may or may not need and despite a very young age group mostly between 20 and 40 years of age, we were after all tired, natural and ordinary people on a cold and wet day in Ireland.

In summing up the experience of a lifetime you have to ask the question, would you do it again?

My answer would be, when and where?

Supported by

UNESCO City of Literature

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