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“I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book.” - James Joyce
The 16th of June is Bloomsday, Dublin’s celebration of the novel that defined the city, Ulysses. It is named after the lead character Leopold Bloom. Joyce is said to have chosen the date 16th June 1904 as it marks the first time he went out with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle.
For those of you fortunate enough to experience being in town on that date – or during the Bloomsday festival in the week before - you’ll find there are readings from Ulysses, people dressed in period costume and lots of people following a circuit of places associated with Joyce and his best-known novel.
However, whenever, and wherever you go in Dublin you’ll find literary references. Indeed, it is said that when a workman applying for a Dublin building job was asked if he knew the difference between a joist and a girder replied, “Well, sure anyone would know that. Joist wrote Ulysses and Girder wrote Faust.”
Beautiful Trinity College houses the illuminated Book of Kells in the Old Library but it is also where Jonathan Swift studied before going on to be the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral and to write the novel Gulliver’s Travels. George Bernard Shaw’s mum used to regularly take him to the National Gallery in Merion Square where you’ll also find a statue of Oscar Wilde.
Even if you have no interest in literature, it is still worth a visit to Dublin Writers Museum in Parnell Square to eat at Chapter One, the Michelin-starred French restaurant in the basement.
It’s certainly quicker to follow the Bloomsday trail around Dublin than it is to read the full 265,000 words of Ulysses. Highlights include the Joyce Tower and Museum, Sandycove. Joyce spent six nights in this Martello tower in 1904 and it featured in the opening chapter of Ulysses. Incidentally Fort Denison in Sydney Harbour is Australia’s only Martello Tower.
The Bailey Bar, Duke St is where the first Bloomsday was celebrated in 1954. It was also the pub where Bloom and his friend abandoned their cross-city expedition in favour of the comfort of the bar. Today it serves a James Joyce cocktail on Bloomsday as well as hourly readings from 1-4pm.
Sweny’s Pharmacy, Lincoln Place is no longer a chemist but is an important location in Ulysses. These days it is a gathering place for Joyce enthusiasts and has an interesting collection of secondhand books.
The National Library, Kildare St was frequented by Joyce and was the scene for the Scylla and Charybdis episode of Ulysses. James Joyce House, Usher’s Quay is where Joyce’s aunts lived and is the setting for his short story The Dead. If you’d like to replicate Leopold Bloom’s food options you could seek out thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, stuffed roast heart and liver fried with crust.
More palatably, you can pop into what Joyce described as that “moral pub” Davy Byrne’s at 21 Duke St for an afternoon gorgonzola sandwich and a glass of Burgundy just like Bloom. While now described as a gastropub with an emphasis on seafood the lunch menu still lists the gorgonzola sandwich.
For a comic look at the masterpiece, catch Robert Gogan’s one-man Strolling through Ulysses show. Gogan, in a service to comprehensibility has published his own edition of Ulysses that has added some much-needed punctuation but otherwise kept the text unchanged.
An alternative way of appreciating the book is to listen to it. Brendan Kilty, owner of the James Joyce House on Usher’s Quay, can provide an audiobook version that lets the beauty of the language flow over you as you walk the streets of Dublin.
If you have even the slightest literary interest it’s worth checking out what is on at the Abbey Theatre, founded by Lady Gregory and WB Yeats in 1904. It is also where JM Synge’s Playboy of the Western World was first staged. There are hosted talks and lectures as well as full theatrical productions.
To combine two of Ireland’s great contributions to society, take the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl that takes in four bars and four drinks with a couple of professional actors who read and perform a variety of Irish literary works. While Bloomsday turns the literary spotlight on Dublin, this is a city where the love of language shines through.
If you are visiting Ireland then why not pop over to Bath to see more history first-hand? Read more here.
Image source: Doyle Collection
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