Tag Archives: Bloomsday

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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Bloomsday – Where It All Begins

June 16th is unique in literature in that it actually has a day named after it. Bloomsday is named after the main character Leopold Bloom in James Joyce’s most famous work Ulysses. And the date was deliberately chosen by the author as it was on this day in 1904 that he and Nora Barnacle, his future lover and wife, went on their first date. By that October she would leave Dublin and accompany him to France, where they struggled until his eventual breakthrough and international recognition.

Martello Tower, Sandycove - where it all began

Martello Tower, Sandycove – where it all begins

Joyce had stayed in the Martello Tower, in Sandycove, with his friend Oliver St Gogarty (who had rented the building) for a short time before leaving hurriedly after a gun was fired late one night. However, he chose to set the opening scene of his book in the building and Gogarty is immortalised in the first line:

Stately, plumb Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.

A view north from the roof

A view north, to Dublin city, from the roof

The tower was one of many erected along the coast in preparation for an invasion by Napoleon’s forces. However, after Admiral Horatio Nelson (he of Nelson’s Pillar fame) defeated the French navy at the Battle of Trafalgar on the 21st October 1805, the threat was extinguished. Many of the towers were subsequently sold off while others were left unattended and remain derelict to this day. The tower at Sandycove was maintained in good condition when Gogarty rented it in the summer of 1904. Today, it houses the James Joyce Tower & Museum which is a ‘must-see’ for all Joycean fans and those interested in literary history. There is a fabulous collection of items, including; an original copy of Ulysses, many of Joyce’s notebooks and a vinyl recording of his voice! Up the narrow stairs the space has been remodelled with table, chairs and various contemporaneous items showing the living space as Gogarty and Joyce would have known it. Outside, there is Joyce’s death mask  and a guitar that he was fond of playing. Up the last flight of steps to the roof (from the stairhead..) you have the wonderful panorama of Dublin Bay, the coast northwards to Dublin City, leading you around to the mountains to the south-west. On a clear day it is spectacular and, not surprisingly, very popular with photographers.

Main Room - 1904 style

Main Room – 1904 style

Celebrating Bloomsday has become big business and events are now held in many cities around the world bringing a new audience to Joyce’s works. However, the original Bloomsday (in 1954 – the 50th anniversary) celebrations were rather prosaic by today’s standards and involved a number of Dublin’s literati and two horse-drawn carriages. The group: John Ryan (owner of The Bailey pub and founder of Envoy art magazine), Flann O’Brien, Anthony Cronin, Patrick Kavanagh, Tom Joyce (a cousin) and AJ Leventhal (Registrar of Trinity College) had planned a ‘pilgrimage’ along the circuitous route set out in the book. However, after a number of stops for ‘refreshments’ the adventure was abandoned due to ‘inebriation and rancour’ and they retired to The Bailey (on Duke Street).

Bloomsday's first Pilgrims: JR, AC, FO'B, PK, TJ

Bloomsday’s first Pilgrims: JR, AC, FO’B, PK, TJ

You may very well see some horse-drawn carriages on the big day but as to whether they will be ferrying such an illustrious group, well, I guess that’ll be another story. Happy Bloomsday!

 

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Sweny’s – A final Bloomsday?

Joyce - weighing things up....

Joyce – weighing things up….

It’s that time of the year again when the bespectacled figure of James Joyce appears in many shop windows as fans and  visitors celebrate Bloomsday on 16th June. Interest in the great man’s work has increased in recent years, and there is now a weeklong programme of events that caters for all interests. On an international scale, celebrations are now held in many major cities, which eventually lead to more tourist interest and the growing opportunities for local actors, writers, musicians to play a part.

And, as this year is the 100th anniversary of Joyce’s collection of short stories Dubliners there is any amount of events to attend. The big day begins at the Martello Tower in Sandycove and continues in many different venues until late. Traditional breakfasts will be served in Caviston’s and Davy Byrne’s, and readings from the book can be heard during walking tours. Many people will be dressed in Edwardian period clothes that adds to the colourful atmosphere. Around the town there is plenty to do with plays, films, sketches, street theatre and much singing to enjoy.

'Sweet lemony wax'

‘Sweet lemony wax’

But for one group of volunteers this Bloomsday may be their last. They have maintained Sweny’s Pharmacy (Lincoln Place) for a number of years, but the future looks uncertain. The shop, which dates from 1847, was made famous by James Joyce in his book Ulysses. In the story, Leopold Bloom steps inside and buys a bar of lemon soap and carries it with him for the rest of the day – a lucky talisman. Amazingly, the shop is just as it was in Joyce’s day, an instant reminder of a different time and a living connection to one of the greatest books ever written. Sadly, the shop, a literary, historical and cultural landmark may be forced to close due to the imposition of commercial rates. I wonder what Joyce would have to say! SOS – Save Old Sweny’s.

A packed Sweny's listening to a reading on Bloomsday 2013

A packed Sweny’s listening to a reading on Bloomsday 2013

The video below was taken by Brendan Hayes on Bloomsday 2013. The actor, Shane Egan, was reading The Bloomsday Boys, a longish short story that I had written about Joyce and other famous Dublin writers as they went on their annual pub crawl. I hope that we have more opportunities for such readings and fun gaterings in Swenys in the future. SOS

 

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Birthday Boy

41 Brighton Square, Rathgar

41 Brighton Square, Rathgar

I pointed at the house and said to my friend Brendan ‘And this is where it all began,’ as we stood outside 41 Brighton Square, Rathgar. It was 2nd Feb, James Joyce’s birthday (b. 1882), and this was the first stop on our little tour, or odyssey, of houses that the great man had lived in before leaving permanently for Europe. Brendan was in town for a few days and was  looking forward to visiting the  places where Joyce once walked and used in his stories. And believe me, there are plenty of places to go to!

Joyce was only a year old when the family (of three) moved to a larger property at 23 Castlewood Avenue, in nearby Rathmines.  Three more of Joyce’s siblings were born here, including Stanislaus, who was to become his big ‘brother’s keeper’ and loyal supporter. Also, he often helped James out financially, a state that JJ, sadly, was very familiar with.

23 Castlewood Avenue, Rathmines

23 Castlewood Avenue, Rathmines

1 Martello Terrace, Bray

1 Martello Terrace, Bray

Before he was six James and the growing family moved once more. This time they went to 1 Martello Terrace in Bray, County Wicklow. The house is right next to the sea, and provides uninterrupted views of the bay, the colourful  esplanade and Bray Head to the south. On the first floor, two adjoining rooms with their polished marble fireplaces and decorative ceiling is where the Christmas dinner scene from A Portait of the Artist as a Young Man takes place.

60 Shelbourne Road, Ballsbridge

60 Shelbourne Road, Ballsbridge

Visiting all Joyce’s houses is a labour of love and made easy and interesting if the ‘pilgrim’ carries a copy of Vivien Igoe’s book James Joyce’s Dublin Houses – which is also a great help in understanding the setting of many of his stories. Our last house was 60 Shelbourne Road, Ballsbridge which is only a stone’s throw from Lansdowne Road (AVIVA Stadium). Joyce rented a large upstairs  room in April 1904, just six months before he left Ireland. And it was from here, on 16th June 1904, that he got ready for his first date with Nora Barnacle, the love of his life and the muse in many of his stories; most famously as Molly Bloom in Ulysses. That day was so important to Joyce that he used it as the canvas on which he wrote his greatest work, a day that is now celebrated around the world as Bloomsday.

After all the touring about Brendan and I went to Mulligans pub on Poolbeg Street and downed a few cold drinks. By now it was no surprise to Brendan when I told him that the place, a Dublin treasure, featured in Counterparts, a story in Joyce’s most accessible book Dubliners.

‘He really get around,’ said Brendan.

‘Yeah, he sure did. And happy birthday, Jimmy.’

Mulligans, Poolbeg Street

Mulligans, Poolbeg Street

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Joyce’s Bloomsday Crawl!

The weather obliged, thankfully, permitting many to dress in Edwardian-period clothes  and brighten up events. From early on people gathered for a breakfast of mutton kidneys in various restaurants and pubs, before starting to make their way along the route set-out in James Joyce’s Ulysses. The celebration of one of the most famous days in literature has grown from a tiny beginning in 1954 to become a worldwide event. From Auckland to Arklow, Sydney to Skibbereen and New York to Nenagh groups arranged events to remember the great writer, something that is growing with each passing year.

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Outside Sweny’s Pharmacy

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Hats, hats, everywhere…

Around one o’clock I met a few friends and we made our way to Sweny’s Pharmacy on Lincoln Place.  The place was packed with a babel of accents filling the tiny, time-warped pharmacy. The strong smell of lemon soap wafted onto the street where a large crowd gathered to hear  Shane Egan reading The Bloomsday Boys. Having written the short story, I was delighted to see and hear it performed in Dublin on the big day, and Shane certainly did it justice. His strong, clear projection brought the story to life as he moved about the packed pavement.  He was dressed in a black suit, white shirt, black tie and, of course, a black bowler hat – his image neat and convincing. The crowd listened in rapt attention as Shane began; then laughed at the antics of the characters in the story, before breaking into a rousing  version of Cockles & Mussels  at the end. I was absolutely thrilled with the performance, and  I’d like to think that JJ himself would have approved, and  tipped his hat in acknowledgement. It was, indeed, a great Blooming day!

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Me & Shane

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Bloomsday revellers

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Dublin – Walking With Words 2

Hi there,

Well, after much effort my book is finally finished. Needless to say there were some issues that had to be addressed, and, thankfully, they are all now resolved. The finishing process  just never seemed to end – it was quite an eye-opener.  Click on the image below for a preview of the ebook.

Now it’s time for the next project.

Bloomsday: The city is gearing up for the annual celebration of all things Joycean. There are many events on around the place, and we’re all hoping for some good weather. The James Joyce Centre has plenty on offer, as does Sweny’s Pharmacy which is always lively and well worth a visit.  And don’t forget to buy a bar of the famous lemon soap! But whatever you’re doing, have a great day and raise a glass to Jimmy.

Happy Bloomsday!

Walking With Words  - front cover

Trinity College – front gate

Check out the video below for a quick look at some of the places and people featured in the ebook.

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