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).
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’
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
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
Of all the areas of Dublin mentioned by James Joyce in Ulysses, Sandymount
Paddy Dignam’s House
features prominently. He was familiar with the neighbourhood having lived there for a short time on Strand Road and nearby Shelbourne Road. At a recent lecture, that was part of National Heritage Week (sponsored by Sandymount Tidy Towns committee), Rodney Devitt, an erudite and entertaining host, put ‘flesh on the bones’ about the area’s appearance within the book with readings and appropriate photographs. His delivery was clear and his interest and passion for the topic made it all the more enjoyable. After the lecture we set off on a walk that took in the various places of interest. Firstly, we came to 9, Newbridge Avenue where Paddy Dignam lived. He has died due to alcoholic excess and Leopold Bloom and other mourners board a carriage and head for Glasnevin Cemetary (Episode 6, Hades). Further on we came to Sandymount Strand which features twice. In Episode 3, Proteus, Stephen Dedalus walks on the beach and ponders life and much more besides. When we pass many people are doing something similar on this pleasant evening, and out to sea the sun is a magnificent, giant orange ball slowly sinking into Dublin Bay. Later in the book (Episode 13, Nausicaa) Bloom finds himself sitting on rocks observing a young woman, Gertie McDowell, and fantasises about her. This scene caused great controversy, particularly in America, where the editors of The Little Review were convicted of obscenity. It was not until 1932, ten years after its release, that a US court delared Ulyssesnon-obscene. No such shenaniagns took place as we walked by, phew, but two boys did get quite excited when they got their colourful kite flying high. I wonder what Mr Bloom would have thought?
Sandymount Strand in the sunshine – beautiful!
I was in Sweny’s Chemist recently and the smell of lemon soap was strong and wonderful. In James Joyce’s most famous book, Ulysses, the main character, Leopold Bloom, enters the old shop and buys a bar of lemon soap and carries it in his pocket like a talisman throughout the day (now celebrated worldwide as Bloomsday, June 16). Although no longer a chemist shop, you can still buy a bar of lemon soap and sample the atmosphere that Joyce and his contemporaries were familiar with. The shop is unchanged and is a ‘must see’ for all Joycean fans. And for those not so literary specific it is a great chance to open the front door and step back in time. The fittings, glass jars and many uncollected prescriptions give the place an air of authenticity that is unique and memorable. Readings of Joyce’s books are held each week and are free and open to visitors – enjoy!