Tag Archives: dubliners

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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Pigeon House – Refuge from the storm

Pigeon House

Pigeon House

By the mid-1750s entry to and from Dublin Bay was a hazardous operation and the city governors decided something drastic needed to be done to improve the situation. So a plan was drawn up to construct a wall into the bay that would stop the silting up of channels and provide a safe place for passengers to board.

Great South Wall

Great South Wall

This work to build the Great South Wall took over thirty years and was complete in 1795 with safer passage for travellers and an improvement in trade. During the lengthy construction John Pidgeon was the caretaker of the storehouse for the equipment used during the building, and he began selling refreshments to travellers who often waited for days until the weather improved to travel. As a smart businessman he also offered trips around the long wall which was one of the longest in the world when completed.

Twin Towers

Twin Towers

Business improved and Pidgeon (the ‘d’ in his name was dropped a long time ago) built a small hotel to cater for the needs of the growing number of travellers. In 1793, years after John Pidgeon had died, a new building was erected and operated for many years. This building still stands and lies in the shadow of the twin towers of the Poolbeg Station. Not long afterwards with the whiff of revolution in the air and the 1798 Rebellion a recent memory a fort was constructed near the hotel and it became known as the Pigeon House Fort. Today, the canon guns outside the entrance to the ESB power station were originally facing out to sea anticipating a possible French invasion that never came.

The place also made its literary mark on a young James Joyce. In his first great work Dubliners he tells of two boys playing truant (no doubt he was one of them!) as they went to the exotic building and the long wall that stretched seemingly forever into the bay in his short story An Encounter:

We arranged to go along the Wharf Road until we came to the ships, then to cross in the ferryboat and walk out to see the Pigeon House.

The guns stayed silent

The guns stayed silent

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James Joyce – A Native Son

41, Brighton Square

41, Brighton Square

Although his native city features in all his writing, the relationship between the two was not easy. Joyce left Dublin when he was twenty-two years old and only returned for a few short visits. He lived in Trieste, Paris and died in Switzerland in 1941, aged fifty-nine, recognised as one of the major writers of the twentieth century. His influence on Modern writing is undeniable, and his native city is at the centre of his work.

He was born on 2nd February 1882 in 41, Brighton Square, Rathgar, which at the time was a recently laid out middle-class suburb. Joyce was the eldest of ten siblings born to John Stanislaus Joyce and Mary Jane Murray from whom he inherited his musical love and good voice, as she was an accomplished   pianist. His father frittered away his inheritance on different business ventures, and over the years the family sank into poverty making many late night departures from one house to another. The nomadic life was something Joyce understood, and during the years on the Continent moving house happened often.

JJ in St Stephen's Green

JJ in St Stephen’s Green

Joyce found the conservative religious atmosphere and the changing political landscape in Ireland too oppressive for creative thinking, and left for Paris. In this most cosmopolitan city, a place of tolerance in all areas, Joyce could grow as a writer and human being and encounter ‘the reality of experience’. It was the environment he needed, and even though his financial position did not noticeably improve, the freedom to think and write was paramount.

It is interesting that Joyce, although ‘exiled’ from the city that he disliked for its shortcomings and conservative mindset, still chose to use it as the canvas on which he wrote. From his earliest work Dubliners (1914), the hugely popular collection of short stories to his most famous works, Ulysses (1922) and Finnegans Wake (1939), the city is a ’character’ in its own right, adding to the colour, sound and feel of the stories. He said that if the city was destroyed it could be rebuilt, brick by brick, using Ulysses as a model. He may, indeed, have left Dublin but it certainly never left him.

Martello Tower, Sandycove - Ulysses begins

Martello Tower, Sandycove – Ulysses begins

 

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Bewleys Cafe – a flavour of Dublin

Even as it approaches its ninetieth year, Bewleys Café is as familiar as a best friend and a place I have always enjoyed. From the moment you approach the shop, depending of course on the direction of the wind, the aroma of fine coffee is enticing. It’s unique, and is appreciated by the patrons who daily pack the quirky, old building.

Egyptian-inspired decoration

Egyptian-inspired decoration

 

Famous pupils

Famous pupils

It opened for business in 1927 after extensive refurbishment, and was inspired by the great Paris and Vienna cafes.   The exterior Egyptian decoration reflects the contemporary discovery of Tutankhamen’s Tomb in 1922. The stained glass windows that Harry Clarke created are the highlight of the café, and are really appreciated when lit by strong sunlight. In the late 18th century the building housed Whyte’s Academy, the school where Arthur Wellesley (future Duke of  Wellington) and Thomas Moore attended. Robert Emmet, from St Stephen’s Green, a scone’s throw away, was another famous pupil.

Harry Clarke's wonderful windows

Harry Clarke’s wonderful windows

Originally a supplier of tea Bewleys later developed its coffee business, and it is now the biggest café and restaurant in Ireland with a million customers annually. It’s coffee (Arabica beans) is all Fairtrade sourced. The green beans, from Central and South America, are roasted on the premises and soon produce the familiar aroma and flavour. Add this to the in-house made bread, cakes, pizzas and salads and it is easy to see why it is has been Dublin’s favourite restaurant since it opened. It has also been one of Dubliner’s most popular meeting places, and is mentioned in James Joyce’s Dubliners. Other literary figures like Sean O’Casey and Samuel Beckett liked to sit and watch the world go by. That hasn’t changed, and with the hum of lively conversation in my ears, I feel it’s not likely to happen…for a long, long time!

Beans, means.....great coffee!

Beans, means…..great coffee!

 

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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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Night of the living Dead!

There are many ways to bring in the New Year, and celebrating James Joyce’s famous novella The Dead is a fine way indeed. The story takes place on the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan 6), and the gathering that was organised by the good folks of Sweny’s Pharmacy was memorable and true to the great man’s work.

The bar in the Teacher’s Club was thronged with excited diners who were dressed in period-style attire, men in dark suits and ladies in long, stylish dresses. Quite a few wore pretty hats, and there much netting on show. All were ready for the feast, and the large room was soon full and bubbling in excited anticipation. The room itself with its high, decorative ceiling, large gilded mirror, tall windows and subdued lighting was the perfect setting, something that even Joyce would have approved of. The dinner, in which the goose was cooked (wonderfully!) was sumptuous and led to much animated discussion. Unlike Mary Jane in the story who says’…when we are hungry we are all very quarrelsome,’ there was nothing like that heard as diners happily tucked into the tasty food. 

'Dead' centre!

‘Dead’ centre!

'Gabriel Conroy'

‘Gabriel Conroy’

After dinner, with diners enjoying port and chocolates, the actor Shane Egan delivered a faithful rendering of  Gabriel Conroy’s speech which went down a treat. There were a few ‘Here, here,’ and ‘Well done,’ shouted out as he proceeded and nods of approval when he said ‘..not the first time that we have been recipients, or perhaps, I had better say, the victims, of the hospitality of certain good ladies.’ This got the biggest cheer, and we all realised that being a victim felt, well, really good!

After that the room was buzzing with noisy chatter as we waited for the evening’s entertainment to begin. The pianist introduced the singers who sang The Lass of Aughrim; Yes, Let Me Like a Soldier Fall, and many others to rapturous applause. I knew that Joyce had been an accomplished singer, but was completely unprepared for what one of my table guests said between songs. ‘Did you know that Joyce took singing lessons from a teacher, one Dr. Vincent O’Brien, in this very room.’ I and my fellow diners were gobsmacked. ‘And he immortalised O’Brien, by name, who conducts a large choir in the singing of the chorus from Handel’s Messiah, in the Circe episode in Ulysses.’  Well, how about that, I thought, as I turned around to take in the space where Joyce once sang. Now that was really something – an epiphany maybe – and a memorable start to the year. Cheers!

Let the entertainment begin!

Let the entertainment begin!

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