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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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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 had to help James out financially, as the eldest sibling was very impecunious, a talent that he, no doubt, had inherited from his father.

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 in 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 did get around,’ said Brendan.

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

Mulligans, Poolbeg Street

Mulligans, Poolbeg Street

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