It seemed as we walked around the town we were constantly running into Joycean references – if not a statue or citation then a place or event mentioned in one of his books. Such was the case on our first full day in town. We had gone across the river to the Southside for a visit to Trinity Collage including the Book of Kells and the magnificent library. After being caught in the what was to be the first of many showers over the next two weeks we decided that a lunch of some sort was in order. Serendipity had us turning off Grafton Street with its smart shops and on to Duke St and gazing at the menu in front of a fine looking pub. Of course had I ever read Leo Bloom’s odyssey the name Davy Byrnes would have meant something. As it was the place just looked inviting and the neatly-attired white haired gentleman who stood in the door way was welcoming and led us to a little table at one side of a pleasantly eclectic room.
The menu was fairly traditional and again if we knew our Joyce the Gorgonzola sandwich would have been the obvious choice but we settled for some lovely starters and then two big bowls of Irish stew* with glasses of burgundy (well at least we got that right) to compliment them. And of course such a comfort meal on a rainy day deserved a comfort sweet to end it – apple tart with cream. As our meal progressed the room began to fill with both regulars and tourists including a lovely group of Australians who engaged us in conversation that add to the already congenial atmosphere. It was only looking outside and seeing the rain had stopped (for a while) and the knowledge that there was city to see out there that budged us from our comfortable little corner. We left agreeing with Mr. Bloom that indeed it was a “Moral pub.”
*My friend Michelle, rather tartly I might add, suggested that if it was “stew” and I was in “Ireland” then of course it would be “Irish stew” – hmmm I knew her when things were not always so literally taken.
A thinly disguised Joyce in the person of Stephan Dedalus ironically refers to it as “my green” but then so do most Dubliners; and St Stephen’s Green has been “theirs” except for one brief period since 1664. In that year the Dublin City Council set aside the swampy pasture as a public park in which citizens could “take the open aire”, and then designated the surrounding acreage for residential development. The area was enclosed by a wall and each tenant (the lots were leasehold) was required to plant six sycamore trees near the wall to ensure privacy. It soon became both a fashionable area in which to live and to be seen promenading on one of the pathways which bore such wonderful names as Beaux, French, and Monk’s Walks. By the early 1800s the Green had fallen into a state of decay and the tenants took over ownership and it became open to key holders only. It was to remain a private park until the generosity of one man made it once again available to the people of Dublin.
Sir Arthur Guinness (Baron Ardilaun) had grown up on the Green and in 1877, in an act of philanthropy typical of the man, purchased it from the leaseholders. He set about having it landscaped and returning it to the people of his beloved Dublin. He had a private members bill passed through Parliament that gave the care of the Green to the Commissioners of Public Works. St Stephen’s Green reopened to the public on July 27, 1880 and has been at their (and thankfully our) disposal since. Sir Arthur and his brother Edward and their fine beverage are apotheosized** in Ulysses and though I have yet to try a Guinness I’ve been assured it is indeed a fine “ebon ale”.
As well as it’s appearance in Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, an incident at St Stephen’s during a low point in Joyce ‘s life inspired a passage in the Circe episode of Ulysses. Stephen Dedalus has words with Private Carr, a British soldier, and is punch by the enraged man. Bloom tends to Dedalus and eventually takes him home to Eccles Street to tend to his wounds. In 1904 Joyce had taken to “the drink” and at one point in June of that year had collapsed dead drunk at a rehearsal of the National Theatre Society. Several nights later (June 22) he was out with Vincent Cosgrave, an old university friend, and started chatting with a young woman on the Green. He hadn’t realized that she was accompanied and when her gentleman friend appeared he took exception to Joyce’s attentions and roughed him up. Cosgrave gave no assistance but Joyce was dusted off and taken home by Alfred Hunter, a casual acquaintance of his father. It was rumoured that Hunter was a Jew who had converted to Christianity and that his wife was unfaithful; he would serve as one of the models for Leopold Bloom. On June 23 Joyce wrote to his friend Constantine Curran describing his injuries as a black eye, sprained wrist and ankle, and cut on his chin and hand. He signed the letter ‘Stephen Daedalus’.
**Terence O’Ryan heard him and straightway brought him a crystal cup full of the foamy ebon ale which the noble twin brothers Bungiveagh and Bungardilaun brew ever in their divine alevats, cunning as the sons of deathless Leda. For they garner the succulent berries of the hop and mass and sift and bruise and brew them and they mix therewith sour juices and bring the must to the sacred fire and cease not night or day from their toil, those cunning brothers, lords of the vat.
Perhaps the strangest piece of Joycean ephemera we happened upon was in the 12th century crypt of Christ Church Cathedral. The recently restored undercroft holds many of the church treasures liturgical and secular but perhaps the strangest is its Cat and Rat. Or at least the mummified remains of its cat and rat.
According to the story – and the Irish do love stories – at some point in the mid-1800s the cathedral cat chased a rat into the pipe organ and they both became stuck. Over time their remains became mummified and during work on the organ “Tom and Jerry” were discovered and their tale (tails???) immortalized by Joyce in Finnegan’s Wake where he tells us that someone is: as as stuck as that cat to that mouse in that tube of that Christchurch organ.
And on that rather macabre note our unintentional pilgrimage ended. However I must note that both the visits to the shrines and my own curiosity has caused me to drop into one of our local used book sellers; there I picked up a copy of the master of the oblique phrase’s magnum opus this past week. It appears there are many words between “Stately, plump Buck Milligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.” and “yes I said yes I will Yes.” Wish me luck!
On this day in 1929: The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council overrules the Supreme Court of Canada in Edwards v. Canada when it declares that women are considered “Persons” under Canadian law.