The past few Fridays I’ve been walking amidst the blooms of Grandville and Delorde’s animated flowers. However June 16 is Bloomsday, a day for a different type of walk for many people as they follow Leo Bloom’s day-long journey through Dublin. I suggested to our friends Nora and Cathleen, who are currently there, that they go to Davy Byrnes Pub today completely forgetting that it will be packed with the faithful enjoying their Gorgonzola sandwich with a glass of burgundy. I am still making my own pilgrimage through Ulysses itself – a journey that started last fall and seems to be taking more than a day – but I thought I’d have a mini-Bloomsday celebration.
Perhaps the most famous passage in the entire 265,000 word pilgrimage through the streets of Dublin and the minds of Leo Bloom and company is Molly Bloom’s rambling stream of consciousness that ends the journey. I was hoping to find a reading of it by the great Siobhan McKenna but came up empty-handed.
Here is Angeline Ball in Bloom, a 2004 adaptation of the novel, in the last portion of the monologue recalling how Leo Bloom proposed to her.
And should you wish to listen to the full passage Barbara Jefford performed it in the first movie version of Ulysses made in 1967.
On this day in 1911: IBM founded as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company in Endicott, New York.
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 Wakewhere 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.
It is difficult – if not downright impossible – to avoid the ghosts of Irish writers in Dublin. How could it be otherwise when you begin to list the masters of the English language who were born and often scribbled their tales on Hibernian shores. While on a birdwalk* through Dublin’s streets it is not unusual to come upon a plaque, bust or full-blown statue of one of her writers. I have a feeling they outnumber even those to the heroes of the fight for Independence. Sheridan, Swift, Wilde, Shaw, Behan, Beckett, O’Casey, Yeats,and Joyce – all are amongst those commemorated or celebrated on the walls and walks of the city.
Perhaps only Sean O’Casey has written more of Dublin and her citizens but it is the myopic Joyce that is the most visible presence about town. I can’t say that he is amongst my favourite authors and I will confess that, though I enjoy his short stories, absently holding a paperback copy of Ulysses at a used-book stall is the closest I’ve come to approaching his masterpiece. However I’ve been told that the ways and byways of Dublin are almost a living thing in Bloom’s homeward journey. I know that there are walking tours and pilgrimages to the places that are referenced particularly every June 16th to celebrate Bloomsday.
Again I am not a Joycean but I must confess that a pilgrimage of sorts figured in our trip. One of the greatest short stories in the English language, and one of my favourites, is The Dead the final vignette in The Dubliners. As I am in a confessional mood I will freely admit that my introduction to this heart-breaking study of lives in limbo was through John Huston’s film adaptation**. That in turn led to my reading and re-reading over the years the Joyce original and eventually to my booking The Gresham Hotel for our stay in Dublin as a mini-tribute to Joyce.
Why the Gresham? Once a premier hotel on one of the most fashionable streets in Dublin, it is the setting for the final passage in the story. After the Morkan ladies’ Epiphany celebration Gabriel and his wife Greta confront their ghosts past and present in the room they have booked there for the night. It is a sign of financial and social success that they have left the quayside middle-class Catholic enclave of the party to cross the river for the more prosperous and respectable Sackville (O’Connell) Street.
Now, despite visible vestiges of that prosperity, it is apparent that the street has seen better times. On our way into town our taxi driver, with a touch of ruefulness, told us that it’s become a street of fast food outlets, entertainment arcades and souvenir shops. Allowing for a touch of Gaelic hyperbole he wasn’t far wrong. The statues that Gretta and Gabriel’s horse drawn cab take them passed have been replaced by new worthies, the General Post Office still dominates majestically but Clery’s and the other shops of distinction are no more. The grandeur of O’Connell Street has faded into the past. As indeed has at least one of the five stars once awarded The Gresham itself. The facade continues to impress, the public rooms are inviting, and the service warm and attentive. Unfortunately the rooms are shabby but sadly without the chic.
The hotel was opened in 1817 by Thomas Gresham, a former butler, who turned several town houses into a lodging establishment for wealthy families and pied-à-terres for MPs who commuted between Dublin and London. In 1865 it was taken over by group of business men who gave the building a unified and elegant facade. Much of the hotel along with its archives were destroyed during the Battle of Dublin in 1922. It was rebuilt in 1926 and reopened in its present state in 1927. The public rooms were much remarked upon as were its dining options and it became a very popular hotel with off-duty servicemen during the Second World War. Dining options may have changed to more popular gastro-pub fare but afternoon tea and cocktails or a night cap a bit later in the day in the Writer’s Lounge are a pleasant end to a day of walking about town.
Throughout the week it had been my intention to visit the “dark, gaunt house” where the annual Epiphany celebration that sits at the heart of The Dead takes place. I had planned to trace the walk that the Connollys and company made that snowy morning in 1904 – though chances of catching a carriage at Winetavern Street would have been slim. And as I mentioned many of the landmarks in that area have long since disappeared either in acts of violence – King Billy’s statue in College Green in 1928 and Nelson’s Pillar in 1966 – or through, often misguided, urban renewal. Unfortunately we just became caught up in too many things and too little time to do the walk however on our way to the nearby Heuston Station to board the train we travelled along Usher’s Quay and caught a glimpse of it.
15 Usher’s Island was a house that Joyce knew well – his great aunts Ellen and Julia lived there for a time and many family gatherings were held there. Like the Misses Morkan Joyce’s aunts rented the top floors from the corn merchant who’s business was on the ground floor. It was close to Arthur Guinness’s Brewery (the largest employer in Dublin at the time with over 2500 employees some who lived in tenements in the area) and therefore less than fashionable – it is suggested that the ladies have come down in the world. The area still has an air of slightly decaying gentility about it but is on its way to being gentrified. The house was restored in 2004 by a Joyce enthusiast and is used for conferences and recreations of the Misses Morkans’ Epiphany celebration.
There is a fascinating (to me at least) series of podcasts from University College on how the locations of The Dead reflect the political and social atmosphere of the times and Joyce’s grasp of the history of his city and country. The six episodes can be accessed here.
*A word coined by my friend Larry to denote an unplanned, at times almost aimless, walk through a neighbourhood where the route is often determined by distractions along the way. ** A superb piece filled with brilliant characterizations by some of greats of Irish theatre of the time and stunning central performances from Angelica Huston and Donal McCann, it led me to read The Dubliners. ***Dubliners have a fondness for giving their statues nicknames – dedicated on Bloomsday in 1990 it was very quickly rechristened The Prick with the Stick.
Dedicated to the history of Charlottetown Harbour and yachting on Northumberland Strait on Canada's East Coast. Winner of the Heritage Award from the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation and a Heritage Preservation Award from the City of Charlottetown