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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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Oliver St. John Gogarty – A man of many talents

5, Rutland Square

5, Rutland Square

Oliver St John Gogarty was a man of many talents and he was born in 5, Rutland Square (now Parnell Square) on 17th August 1878, the eldest of four children. His father, Henry, was a successful physician and his mother Margaret was from Galway. Henry died when Oliver was eight years old and he was sent to school in Mungret College in Limerick. later, he transferred to Stonyhurst College in Lancashire which he described as ‘a religious jail’. He returned to Ireland in 1896 and studied medicine at the Royal University and Trinity College, and graduated in 1907. Afterwards, he went to Vienna to finish his study and specialised in otolaryngology (Ear, Nose & Throat). His consulting rooms were in Ely Place, and he was a member of staff at the Meath Hospital until he went to America.

He was a keen sportsman and enjoyed cricket, football (he played for Bohemians FC) and a fine swimmer who saved four people from drowning. He wrote poetry and his poem Tailteann Ode won a bronze medal at the 1924 Olympics in Paris. And as a member of the Dublin literary community he was friends with the great and good, including WB Yeats, AE Russell, James Stephens and James Joyce. When Gogarty rented the Martello Tower at Sandycove in 1904 he invited Joyce to stay. Joyce, however,  stayed only a few nights but used the place as the opening scene in Ulysses and immortalised Gogarty in his character Buck Mulligan.

Martello Tower, Sandycove

Martello Tower, Sandycove

A close friend of Arthur Griffith he was an early member of Sinn Fein and became a Senator. In 1922 when Griffith died in early August he performed the autopsy, and he did the same for Michael Collins who died less than two weeks later.

Oliver St. John Gogarty

Oliver St. John Gogarty

In 1917 he and his wife Martha Duane, who was from Galway, bought Renvyle, a large house in Connemara. It was burnt down in 1923 during the Irish Civil War, subsequently rebuilt and operates to this day as Renvyle House. Gogarty had been in the USA since the start of World War II, collapsed and died on a street in New York in 1957. His body was returned to Ireland and he was  buried in Moyard, near Renvyle.

 

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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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Seamus Heaney – A brief encounter!

Seamus Heaney at Sandymount Strand

Seamus Heaney at Sandymount Strand

The middle of June and, thankfully for a change, the weather was bright and warm. It was Bloomsday and I decided to sample the atmosphere at the James Joyce Museum in Sandycove. Outside the famed Martello Tower, where Joyce stayed for a short time and which features in the opening pages of Ulysses, was a colourful scene. Many people were dressed in the Edwardian period style, and lively talk, laughter and compliments filled the air. I went inside, bought a few postcards, and asked the assistant if he would put the Museum’s stamp on them, and on my copy of Joyce’s book. He flicked open the cover and with a quick downward push pressed the unique stamp. I was delighted to have my book dated, but sadly not signed, of course, at the ‘the source’.

A little later I was walking home and went into the local shop and surprise, surprise who did I meet but Seamus Heaney who was folding a copy of the Irish Times under his arm. I stuck out my hand. ‘Happy Bloomsday,’ I said and we shook hands. He was on his way to a Bloomsday celebration and noticed my book. I told him about the stamp and when I asked him if he would sign it for me, he smiled and the cover was flicked open, again. He handed it back to me and headed for the door. ‘Happy Bloomsday,’ he said and it most certainly was. Thanks for the memory Seamus.

Heaney1

Ulysses – signed by Seamus Heaney

 

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Let’s Get Together!

Hi there,

And I hope that you had a Merry Christmas and that the new year will be good for you. After all that doom and gloom with the ‘expected’ end of the world  on Dec 21st, it’s time we had a good year and shake off all those ‘negative vibes’ that have been dominating us for too long. As someone said to me the other day in Dublin – ‘Make it be, in One-3’ and I could only smile a response at its simple, poetic rhythm. So that’s my mantra for the next twelve months – it’s certainly better many others out there!

PS – On Christmas Morning I had a brisk walk in Sanycove (Co. Dublin) and it blew away, out into the Irish Sea at least,  any cobwebs that had been hanging on. In the photo (below) is the circular James Joyce Museum where his most famous book Ulysses begins, and is a ‘must see’ for all Joyceans visiting Ireland. The museum was one of many so-called Martello Towers, built in the early 1800s to guard against a possible invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte’s navy which, thankfully, never came. Phew!

Christmas morining - and it's bright & brisk!

Christmas morining – and it’s bright & brisk!

This year is the year of The Gathering, when Irish people from far and wide, are welcomed ‘home’ and there are many, many events planned. It should be a brilliant time and no doubt  ‘it’ll be great craic’. A year is a long time to party, talk and get to know people, and if anyone can do then the Irish can – see you there!

So, you know what to do – ‘Make it be, in One-3’,

Slan

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