Monthly Archives: June 2017

Bloomsday – Joyce’s Memorable Gift

Sweny's Chemist

Sweny’s Chemist

When he wrote Ulysses James Joyce said: ‘I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.’ He may well have succeeded in that as the interest and industry in all things Joyce continues to grow; but having a date in the calendar proclaimed in honour of his book is something else entirely. Such acknowledgement, worldwide and sustained, would have been a great source of pride and, no doubt, brought a smile to his steely countenance. Well done, Jimmy.

A few years ago I wrote a short story, The Bloomsday Boys, and was fortunate enough to have it read by the actor Shane Egan, on the fateful day, outside Sweny’s Chemist (where Leopold Bloom buys a bar of lemon soap in the Lotuseaters episode (No. 5) of Ulysses).

 

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London – City of Glass

Tate Modern Extension

Tate Modern Extension

Thankfully the weather forecaster had got it right and the day was bright and sunny as my cousin and I walked towards Blackfriars  Bridge. It was early afternoon and the breeze blowing down the Thames was warm and steady. London in early summer, especially along the river, can be very pleasant and I knew that I had timed my visit just right.
I was in London for a few days and one of the things that I wanted to do was visit the recently opened Tate Modern Extension on the South Bank. There had been much in the news about it and, after a look around some of the exhibitions on the lower floors, we took the lift to the top of the building from where the views were fantastic. The outdoor gallery that surrounds the top floor offers unique views across the city, with those looking at the City and the Thames favourites with snappers. I took a few photographs, stepped back and panned from the London Eye, the Palace of Westminster to St Paul’s Cathedral and the sparkling skyscrapers to the east. They were enticing and we agreed it was time to get walking again.

The London Eye

The London Eye

St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral

The Millennium Bridge that looks directly across the river to St Paul’s Cathedral was once known as the ‘bouncy bridge’. On the day of its opening the bridge started to move about as people crossed it, and it had to be, rather embarrassingly, closed. After much head scratching and technical work giant dampers were added, and now the bridge is steady and a great place to view the river from.
St Paul’s is impressive, and I wondered how magnificent it must have appeared when it was completed in 1697, a little over thirty years since its predecessor had been consumed in the Great Fire of London. It is Sir Christopher Wren’s greatest achievement, and now more than three centuries later and surrounded by taller buildings it still casts a shadow of classic permanence.
We headed east along the wonderfully named Cheapside, onto Poultry, where the buildings really began to climb into the clouds. This was The City, the driver of so much of the British economy, where skyscrapers owned by international corporations sparkled in the afternoon sunshine. ‘That’s the Cheesegrater,’ my cousin said ‘and that, of course, is the Gherkin,’ he added pointing at the magically shaped, green-glassed tower. I clicked off a few shots, straining my neck as I tried to frame the uniquely shaped building that made me smile.

The Gherkin

The Gherkin

The Walkie-Talkie

The Walkie-Talkie

‘And this is the Walkie-Talkie,’ he commented as we stood below the curving, five-hundred foot tall wall of glass. My neck was hurting now, but gazing up at what looked like a gigantic, frozen wave I wondered what Wren would have thought. No doubt he would have been impressed with the design and construction, but as to whether the glass on view will be in place in three hundred years is, I suspect, unlikely. This does not take from the beauty of the building that is appreciated from both close-up and the other side of the river where the tallest of all the skyscrapers, the Shard, looks down. The ninety-five storey giant climbs to 1,016 feet making it the tallest building in the UK and the fourth tallest in Europe. There is a 360 degree viewing gallery on Level 69 where, on a clear day, the viewer can see up to 40 miles. That is definitely on my ‘To do’ list.

The Shard

The Shard

The skyscrapers are a barometer of economic activity of London, and their humorous nicknames (soon they will be joined by the Scalpel and the Stanley Knife!) makes them engaging and less threatening than tall buildings are often viewed. All in all, these peaks in the veritable range of glass mountains, gave the place a fantasy feel as they sparkled and shimmered in the sunshine.

The City & Thames from Tate Modern Extension

The City & Thames from Tate Modern Extension

 

 

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Bloomsday Hero

James Joyce Museum

James Joyce Museum

They say that you should never meet your heroes, but I suspect sometimes they are wrong. I know this, because when I, fortunately, met one of mine, it was a brief, but beautiful, moment.

It was on Bloomsday, a few years ago, and I went to Sandycove to sample the atmosphere and get my copy of Ulysses date-stamped in  the James Joyce Museum in the old Martello Tower. The place was alive, with many people dressed in Edwardian-era attire and lively chat filled the sea air. James Joyce look-alikes were everywhere, and a few, very attractive Molly Blooms caught the eye. ‘Yes, yes,’ one said in a sultry voice, like her famous namesake, and the crowd laughed and cheered.

James Joyce

James Joyce

Inside, the curator stamped the postcards that I was going to send to friends who were Joyce fans. Then she flicked open the cover of my book, put ink on the date-stamp and pressed down hard. I was delighted, and eased my way past the colourful crowds overlooking swimmers in the nearby Forty Foot, and headed home.

I got off the train at Booterstown and headed up the road, book and postcards safely tucked under my arm. I had only recently finished reading the great book after numerous false starts, and had decided to get it stamped on Bloomsday as a reminder of my long-delayed achievement. Yes, I had finally finished it, and it seemed like a good idea to get it stamped in the place where the story begins, and also to enjoy the merriment at Sandycove.  It was a good decision, and a few photographs and a luscious ice cream helped make the day.

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney

As I neared the local shops and thinking about finding a proper place for the book on a shelf at home I looked up, and stopped dead in  my tracks. I had to be seeing things, I thought, and quickly headed to the newsagents where none other than Seamus Heaney was buying a copy of the Irish Times. I waited at the door, heart beating fast, and when he stepped outside I stuck out my hand. ‘Happy Bloomsday,’ I said.

‘And a very Happy Bloomsday to you, too,’ he replied, giving me a firm and friendly handshake.

He noticed my book. ‘Good day for it,’ he said, smiling.

‘Yes,’ I managed ‘and I’ve just been to Sandycove to have it date-stamped.’

‘Good idea,’ he said ‘and a nice reminder of the day.’

I nodded. ‘Yes….and I wonder if you would be so good as to sign it. That would be terrific.’

So standing in the sunshine I handed my book to the great man and the cover was flicked open again. Moments later he handed the book back and again bid me a ‘Happy Bloomsday’. Then he pushed his spectacles up his nose, fixed the newspaper under his arm and walked to his car. He gave a final, friendly wave and was gone.

I stood there for a few moments looking at my book, a smile as broad as Dublin Bay on my face. It had indeed been the briefest of encounters, but I was very happy to have met my hero.

A little treasure!

A little treasure!

 

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East Pier – A Walk On The Windy Side!

Generations of people have been taking a ‘walk on the pier’ and it is something that I have always enjoyed. Whether the day is warm with a gentle breeze blowing or you are wrapped up against a bracing wind, ‘taking the air’ is a real pleasure. The sharp, salty air never fails to clear a stuffy head, and the long walk is a favourite for thousands of people.

East Pier, across to Howth, in all its glory

East Pier, with Howth beyond, in all its glory

The waters in Dublin Bay often silted up making it difficult for ships to land, and they would have to stay moored off-shore for days. A small pier was opened in 1767 (Coal Harbour Pier) but it soon became obsolete. After two disasters in November 1807 when the HMS Prince of Wales and The Rochdale sank just off shore, with the loss of 400 people, there was an outcry for ‘something to be done’.  In 1815 an Act of Parliament was passed for the construction of ‘a harbour for ships to the eastward of Dunleary’, and the (East Pier) foundation stone was laid in May 1817 by Earl Whitworth, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The granite used in building the pier was quarried in nearby Dalkey and transported by a funicular railway that later became the Atmospheric Railway. By 1820 the original plan was amended by engineer John Rennie to add a second pier – and the West Pier was completed in 1827, four years after the East Pier.

Samuel Beckett's plaque

Samuel Beckett’s plaque

The East Pier Lighthouse (red for port) is 1.3 KM from the road, while a walk to the West Pier Lighthouse (green for starboard) is slightly longer at 1.5 KM. The area enclosed between the piers is a 250 acre harbour and the gap between the lighthouses is 232 metres. The East Pier is the more popular with walkers and has a bandstand (built 1890s) where, weather permitting, music concerts take place. There is also a memorial to Captain Boyd and his brave crew who drowned in 1861 during a rescue. And below it you can see a plaque in honour of Samuel Beckett who often cycled down from his home in Foxrock as he liked to ‘walk the pier’. He, no doubt, had many Happy Days doing just that.

Analemmatic Sundial

Analemmatic Sundial

The council have carried out much work on the pier in recent times and the smooth surface is now certainly safer and more enjoyable to walk. The ice cream van is a popular attraction and, if the weather is nice,  you’ll have to join a long queue. Close-by is the new Analemmatic Sundial that, sadly, without some sunshine wasn’t very useful. But I look forward to going back on a sunny day and finding out how it works!

King George IV obelisk

King George IV obelisk

Royal footmarks

Royal footmarks

President Michael D O’Higgins attended the 200th anniversary of the opening of the East Pier (31st May), held  in the shadow of the King George IV obelisk. This was erected opposite the point where the king embarked on 3rd September 1821 for his return to London. (Note: There is also a memorial to his arrival, at Howth on the 12th August. The royal footmarks were measured by local stonemason Robert Campbell who then captured them in a giant granite stone at the end of the West Pier.)

President O'Higgins - opening ceremony

President O’Higgins – opening ceremony

After the speeches there was a noisy and well-received  21-gun salute from the roof of the East Pier lighthouse. And even the sun made  brief appearance as it joined in the festivities!

Salute from East Pier lighthouse

Salute from East Pier lighthouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

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