Tag Archives: Ulysses

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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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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Footsteps – a short story

It was while walking by the sea that the idea came to me. I have often found that having the water rippling beside me helps in the formation of ideas, or maybe it’s just coincidental. A friend said that it had to do with our make-up of over 97% water, and he might just have something there. Whatever, a stroll along the beach, with the bubbling water a constant companion, has always been a place for reflection, imagination and quiet.

And, of course, relaxation.

Sandymount Strand - on a clear day....

Sandymount Strand – on a clear day….

Some time ago, on a beautiful spring morning, I was walking on Sandymount Strand when an idea floated into my mind, just like a wave top coming ashore. It is one of my favourite places in Dublin to go and ‘be alone with my thoughts’, such is the openness and calm to be found there, especially in the early morning. As I walked slowly along the sandy beach towards Ringsend, I gazed over to Howth and the almost mirror-still water that stretched to the horizon. How often had other people looked out at this scene from where I was now standing, I thought, and breathed another lungful of clear, tangy air?

And then it came to me.

People had been coming here for years, since time immemorial, gazing out over the very scene that was mine to behold. For just in front of me was a line of footsteps in the sand, an image that had not changed since the first person left similar marks so very long ago. The French have a saying for this: ‘Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose’ which translates as ‘the more it changes, the more they it stays the same.’ That seemed about right as I watched a wave rush in and cover the footsteps in its watery embrace, removing them so completely as to leave no sign of their brief existence.

James Joyce

James Joyce

As the water receded, smoothing the sand into a new canvas awaiting its next mark, I remembered that James Joyce had a fondness for this place and included it in his most famous book, Ulysses. In chapter three, the young hero, Stephen Dedalus, walks along the strand and wonders about imagination, thought and sensation. The feel of the words is meant, in Joyce’s hand, to be fluid, hence the setting by the sea, where all things move from birth to death and, finally, renewal. This transience can lead to something permanent, and it is this cycle of renewal that really got a hold of me as I stepped quietly into the cold waters. I immediately left a mark that was just as quickly erased. The thought that there are things that could not be changed had a strange, comforting feeling. Joyce understood this better than most and allowed Stephen ask the question ‘Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount Strand?’ It was not something that I could answer, but I liked the idea that he, like all of us who walked on the strand, had ‘our moment.’ We all leave a mark, but as to whether it will last into eternity, well, that is for others to say. In the meantime, I keep walking on the strand, not so much in the hope of seeing Stephen Dedalus, but in anticipation of the soothing, dreamy rhythm of the gurgling water.

...on the seashore

…on the seashore

 

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The National Library – Fountain of Knowledge

National Library

National Library

As a nation in love with words and writing, the National Library of Ireland is the vault where all the treasure is kept. Irish writers have made a significant and profound contribution to the world for centuries, and much of their original works are safeguarded in the building on Kildare Street that opened its doors in September 1890. It was designed by the architect Thomas Deane and proved to be very popular from the start.

The library traces its history from the Royal Dublin Society which was founded in 1731 ‘..for improving husbandry, manufactures and other useful arts and sciences’. A Royal Charter, which included an annual allowance, was granted in 1749. In 1836 a Select Committee recommended that the library should not just be accessible to a select few but opened as a National Library. At that time most of the library’s books were of a scientific nature, and future acquisitions included books with a more general nature and, of course, those with an Irish interest. In 1840 one of its earliest purchases was the collection of 17th century Irish pamphlets which was bought from the London bookseller Thomas Thorpe.

The library is open to one and all and is for reference purposes only – you cannot borrow books! The building’s main space, The Reading Room, is spectacular and definitely worth a visit. In recent years with the surge of public interest in tracing Family History, the Genealogy Department has become an important part in the search.

Reading Room

Reading Room

With such a large amount of material available the library holds many exhibitions and lectures. The WB Yeats exhibition is permanent affording the visitor a ‘comprehensive view of the great poet’. The library also holds many important papers belonging to James Joyce (early workings of Ulysses) and those of Roddy Doyle, Seamus Heaney, Colm Toibin and Brian Friel.

The library also holds the National Photographic Archive which is based in Meeting House Square, Temple Bar. Over 20,000 negatives have now been digitised and they are available online.

WB Yeats Exhibition

WB Yeats Exhibition

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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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