'DEAR DIRTY DUBLIN': Exploring Ireland's capital through Joyce's modernist masterpiece
June 19, 2013
DUBLIN (June 19, 2013) -- More than 109 years ago, Dubliner James Joyce took Galway-born chambermaid Nora Barnacle on a first date. It was June 16, 1904. The two eloped and left Ireland. Joyce, a singer, poet, playwright, short story writer and novelist, immortalized the 16th of June, 1904, in what is arguably the pinnacle of the modernist literary movement, the novel Ulysses.
The entire book takes place between 8 a.m. June 16, 1904, and twilight in the small hours of June 17. The date is known now as "Bloomsday" in honor of the protagonist of the novel, Leopold Bloom, a middle-age man of Hungarian Jewish descent. The novel mimics and parodies the episodes of Homer's epic The Odyssey as Bloom wanders the streets of Dublin during an ordinary Thursday. Bloom fixes his unfaithful wife breakfast, uses the privy, receives a love letter, attends a Catholic mass, attends a funeral, attempts to submit an ad to a paper, eats, avoids facing his wife's lover in the streets, listens to music, gets into an argument with a Fenian anti-Semite, leers at a woman on the beach, drinks after visiting a maternity hospital, visits the red light district, and takes a fatherly interest in the other main character of the novel, Stephen Dedalus, whose path Bloom crosses several times throughout the day and whom Joyce modeled on himself.
Every June 16, enthusiasts of the novel pop up throughout the city dressed in period costume to walk the paths of the protagonists. Bloom's path bounces from one side of the Liffey, the river that divides Dublin into north and south sides, to the other. Groups perform readings of the novel and act out scenes from the novel at the places they occurred. Hundreds flock to Davy Byrne's Pub, a still extant pub where Bloom eats a gorgonzola cheese sandwich and drinks burgundy. Many visit the James Joyce Centre on the north side of town, where they can see and knock on the door of 7 Eccles Street, where Bloom's home was. Many stroll Sandymount Strand as Stephen Dedalus does in one of the opening chapters of the book.
Following the novel provides a fascinating tour of the city that will take visitors most places therein. Likewise touring the city will elucidate the novel in exciting new ways. The first three chapters follow Dedalus who lives on the south side of the bay. These towns, Sandycove, Dalkey and Sandymount have a resort town feel to them and form a stark contrast to the Bloom chapters of the novel, which take place in Dublin proper. Though Dublin's streets are no longer "paved with dust, horsedung and consumptives' spits," as one character in the novel puts it, there is some poverty and urban blight where much of the novel takes place.
Other places have changed significantly since the beginning of the 20th century. There is still a maternity hospital at the location Bloom visits, but only a plaque indicates its Joycean significance. The hospital is soon to relocate for the sake of gaining more modern facilities. Bloom's home is no longer there. Not all the changes are necessarily negative; the tenements that formed the red light district in Joyce's day have been long since torn down to be replaced by reputable businesses.
The James Joyce Centre, located on North Great George's Street, has several portable guides that show where the characters were in the city throughout the novel. One guide maps out one chapter exclusively and follows Bloom from O'Connell Street, a prominent tourist destination in the city, to Duke Street, another prominent tourist destination. Several plaques in the sidewalk show the text that mentions the locations.
Getting around Dublin to the sites is fairly simple. Most events in the novel occur within easy walking distance of all other events, with the exception of the opening three chapters and two other chapters. The city's DART commuter rail rides out to the bayside villages in the first part of the book and a one-day return ticket costs 5 euros.
Getting to Dublin is slightly more complicated, but not too much so. There are direct flights from München and Stuttgart. Once at Dublin Airport, there is available a multi-day package bus pass that allows users to get to and from the airport as well as the public bus line and one of the buses that travels a route around Dublin to various tourist destinations.
Although the fervor of Joycean tourism settles after June 16, there are still a number of excellent things to do around Dublin. Popular attractions include Phoenix Park, where several Gaelic sports are played, the Guinness Store House and Trinity College, where the Book of Kells, an intricately illuminated book containing the four gospels, is housed.
To learn more about Dublin, visit www.visitdublin.com.
To learn more about Joyce and the James Joyce Centre, visit www.jamesjoyce.ie.
To read Ulysses in its entirety as an ebook, visit www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/4300.
To read most of Joyce's other works, visit www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/author/1039.