Category Archives: James Joyce

Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) – it’s molificent!

 

MoLI - Newman House

MoLI – Newman House

MoLI is the latest addition to Dublin’s literary map, and a splendid place it is too. It is situated in Newman House (86, St Stephen’s Green), a wonderful building that has been splendidly revamped, and there are exhibits on different floors. This reimaging of the grand, old house’s purpose has been, no doubt, well considered, and deftly achieved.
The museum is a collaboration between University College Dublin (UCD) and the National Library of Ireland (NLI) with the latter supplying many of the exhibits including, most famously, the first copy of James Joyce’s greatest work Ulysses. Joyce signed the first hundred copies (of the original one thousand print run) and the first one he gave to Harriet Shaw -Weaver, the English political activist and magazine editor (The Egoist), who had supported the writer financially for many years.

Some of our literary greats

Some of our literary greats

Early in the exhibition homage is paid to the multitude of Irish writers whose works have entertained, provoked and, no doubt, encouraged others to put pen to paper. For a small island our contribution to world literature is impressive, and undeniable when you see the list of famous names.

A Riverrun of Language shows, through various media, the development and history of Irish writers. Then the Dear Dirty Dublin exhibition (Bayeaux Tapestry-like), which was proving very popular, takes you on a tour of Joyce’s life and writing. The city model, with streets and buildings highlighting scenes from his books, was of particular interest and very informative. It shows Dublin, the muse that he loved but had to leave, when he observed (in An Encounter, Dubliners) ‘I wanted real adventure to happen to myself. But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.’

Dear Dirty Dublin

Dear Dirty Dublin

Upstairs there are items from the lives of George Bernard Shaw and WB Yeats, with the telegram informing the poet of his Nobel Prize award. With the extensive archives of both UCD and, particularly, NLI to draw from, exhibitions will change to showcase the collections and the works of Irish writers. So there will be plenty to see for years to come, and of that you can be certain!

Even the statue has a book!

Even the statue has a book!

The garden at the back of the museum is easy on the eye, and an oasis of calm in the heart of the city. With access directly from the restaurant I can see it being a popular place when the weather permits.

The building itself is a treat and dates from the early 1730s. It was once owned by William ‘Buck’ Whaley, a Member of Parliament, a renowned bon vivant and gambler. It was bought in 1854 for the Catholic University of Dublin (now UCD), and is where Joyce and many other famous Irish writers like Flann O’Brien, Maeve Binchy and Mary Lavin attended.
There is much to see and enjoy here, and I’ll finish with a comment that I overheard as I was looking at one of Joyce’s much-corrected notebooks.
First Voice: So,  what do you think?
Second Voice: Well, if you must know, I’m suitably…mollified.’
I had to smile, and I knew that Joyce would be happy that the Dublin wit he so appreciated was alive and well. Oh yes, it’s a wordy place!

A place for quiet reflection

A place for quiet reflection

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Joyce and Stream of Consciousness – kind of!

 

Sandymount Strand

Sandymount Strand

Arguing with the guy you know who can beat you – I had never thought of it like that before but it makes sense, especially now as I am walking on Sandymount Strand with nobody within two hundred yards, and I can hear words go back and forth inside my head as the argument carries on. And I am nervous because I feel that I might just lose. How crazy is that? Very, I thought, and I wondered which one of those arguing had responded. I stopped, looked around making sure that I was still out of earshot of any beach walkers, and said ‘What’s going?’ There was a long silence and I heard nothing as both voices seemed to have, well, lost their…you know. It was a weird moment and I remembered that James Joyce, a keen stroller and habitué of the strand where I now stood, was fond of using stream of consciousness in his writing, a literary device that awakened the world to its subtleties in his most famous work Ulysses, a book that is considered a difficult read by many who pick it up and one of the greatest ever written by countless others. That such a difference of opinion should exist is partially a response to Joyce’s idiosyncratic style with his referencing of mythological and historical characters; differing chapter layouts where various rhythms reflect the story being told at that point and his use of the stream of consciousness technique that permitted the reader to be ‘inside the character’s head’ and in the story like never before. This was a new and radical approach that did not win favour at first, except with a small number who saw the liberating aspect that he had revealed. Being ‘inside the character’s head’ was not only interesting and revelatory but, as many readers found out to their surprise, an uncomfortable place to be, as much for its unexpectedness as its lack of familiarity, and the not-knowingness of what was coming a step too close to a reality they thought they had left behind, if only for a little while.

Joyce's magnum opus

Ulysses – book for thought

Yes, Jimmy, my man, you have managed deliberately, of course, to ‘get under the skin’ and show normal life in all its simple and twisted moments; a life that happens more surprisingly that we ever imagined; where what we see is not always what we think it is and where the opposite is equally true, and where stream of consciousness, although a wonderful addition to the writer’s quiver of literary techniques is above all, to put it simply and something that I suspect Jimmy recognised because he was such a sharp observer, about thinking people thinking as they move through the day, as they have since the dawn of time.

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Footsteps

Sandymount Strand

Sandymount Strand

It was while walking by the sea that the idea came. I have often found that having water rippling quietly beside me helps in the formation of ideas, or maybe it’s just coincidental. A friend suggested that it has to do with our being made of over 97% water – and he might just have something there! A stroll along the beach, with the bubbling water a constant companion, has always been a place of reflection and solitude. And, of course, a place for the mind to wander and let the creative juices flow.

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Some time ago, on a beautiful spring morning, I was walking on Sandymount Strand when an idea floated into my mind, like a wave coming to the shore. It is one of my favourite places in Dublin to go ‘and be alone’ with my thoughts, such is the openness and calm of the wide beach, especially in the early morning. As I walked along the sandy beach towards Ringsend, I gazed over to Howth across the mirror-like water and beyond to the horizon. How often had other people looked out at this same scene, I thought, and let their ideas slip away like the spray from a breaking wave?

And then it came.

People had been coming here for years, since time immemorial no doubt, and gazed out over the very scene that was now mine to behold. For just in front of me was a line of footsteps in the sand, an image that had not changed since the first person left similar marks so very long ago. The French have a saying ‘Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose’, which translates as ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same.’ That seemed about right to me as I watched the waves rush in and cover the footsteps in their gurgling embrace, removing them so completely as to leave no sign of their short existence.

James Joyce - a strand fan

James Joyce – a strand fan

As the water receded, smoothing the sand to leave a blank canvas awaiting its next mark, I remembered that James Joyce had a fondness for this place and included it in his most famous book, Ulysses. In chapter three, the young hero, Stephen Dedalus, walks along the strand and ponders the difficult and complex topics of imagination, sensation and thought itself. The feel of the words is meant, in Joyce’s hand, to be fluid, hence the setting by the sea, portraying the move from birth to death, and finally, renewal. Transience leads to something permanent and new, and it is this cycle of renewal that held me as I stepped tentatively into the cold waters, making my own mark that was just as quickly erased.

The thought that there are things that cannot be changed had a strange but comforting feeling. Joyce understood this better than most and through Stephen asks the question, ‘Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount Strand?’ This is not something that I can answer, but I like the idea that he and all of us who walk on the strand have ‘our moment.’ We left a mark – and as to whether it will last until eternity – that will be for others to say. In the meantime, I keep walking on the strand, not so much in the hope of seeing Stephen Dedalus, but in anticipation and comfort of its soothing power and timeless, dreamy rhythm.

Timesless...

Timesless…

 

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Bloomsday – James Joyce’s Great Gift

From its humble beginning in June 1954, the annual celebration of James Joyce’s greatest work has grown exponentially, and the day will be celebrated in cities across the world.  Joyce, who strived for so long with his financial position always a worry, would no doubt love to see such acclaim, something that he could never really have expected. And now it’s that time of the year again and I hope wherever you are that you enjoy the atmosphere, music, conversation and craic that are so much part of the day. Cheers, Jimmy

Bloomsday – The Beginning  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On the radio

A few days ago I was delighted to be a guest on The History Show on Limerick City Community Radio, hosted by John O’Carroll. The two topics I talked about were:

  • The publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922 (95th anniversary) and the growth in popularity of Bloomsday; and
  • The premiere of GF Handel’s Messiah in 1742 (275th anniversary) and his time in Dublin.

 

Link (click to listen): The History Show

James Joyce

James Joyce

GF Handel

GF Handel

 

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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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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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