Dublin for a Day: the James Joyce edition

As enthusiastic readers of James Joyce (or at least aspiring to be so), we began with a shot of Jameson’s Irish Whisky before our obscenely early flight to Dublin. With just one day to soak up the culture, we had to start as we meant to go on!

A ridiculously short flight later and we hopped straight on a DART train out of the city. Through many stations that we couldn’t pronounce (several with Joycean claims to fame to excite us) we began our day as Ulysses begins: at the Martello tower in Sandycove, where Joyce, and his characters, lived. Now converted into a miniature museum, this impressive collection boasts of first editions, private letters, Matisse illustrations and even a plaster cast of Joyce’s dead face. Up some unsettlingly steep and narrow stairs, the rooftop gun deck quite literally blows you away, with high winds and lovely views to boot.

Back at ground level, we did some seaside rock clambering, as a wimpy substitute for plunging into the Irish sea at ‘Forty Foot Bathing Place’. Even an octogenarian, with a fag on, put us to shame.

A quick, small town breakfast, and it was back to the big smoke. This is where the ‘Alternative Tour’ of Dublin truly began. Following in the footsteps of Joyce’s plot lines (and a wonderfully enthusiastic academic) we nipped into the ornate and Latinate All Hallow’s church- through the back door of course.

If reading dense literature in situ isn’t entirely your thing, but you still fancy some James Joyce culture, there is nowhere more fitting than Sweny’s Chemist. Still decked out like the old-fashioned Candy Man’s shop in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and staffed by a man bearing an uncanny resemblance to Doc Brown, in a long white coat, this former chemist (where soap was dramatically purchased in Ulysses) is now dedicated to keeping literature alive. The proprietor is undoubtedly the highlight; the most eccentric man in Dublin, maybe the world. He’ll regale you with anecdotes of his life, show off about the number of times he’s read Ulysses and how many languages he speaks (37 and 6, respectively) and, if you’re truly lucky, he’ll serenade you in Gaelic. Who knew such a tiny shop could be so full of utterly bizarre delights?!

Through the dramatic and imposing grounds of Trinity College Dublin, down the Irish equivalent of Bond Street, and we reached ‘Davy Byrne’ bar and restaurant. Whilst I can only apologise for my incessant comparisons, this historical haunt struck me as a cosier version of ‘Cafe Tortoni’ in Buenos Aires (see previous blogs for my Argentine adoration.) Here we sipped our first Guinness, split a gorgonzola sandwich and ruminated on just how literary we were being.

Next stop: The National Library of Ireland. Almost entirely decked out in various shades of green, the domed reading room just oozes intelligence. Couple that with the poshest toilets I’ve ever encountered in a public building and we were onto a winner.

This was where we experience the first instance of our lecturer’s silver tongue. Determined to visit the exact locations described in the book, we somehow blagged our way into the librarian’s private office. Nice vaulted ceilings, but otherwise, an office.

Having caught the ‘we can get away with anything’ bug, the next stop was obvious: the National Maternity Hospital! Bearing around 10,000 babies a year, this is a popular, but far from touristic site. However, our need to see the brand board room, where Joyce’s characters enjoy a late night drinking session, was paramount. I was almost consumed by embarrassment as the hospital staff considered the bizarre request, but I confess, I never would have pictured such a grand dining hall whilst reading. A long way from hospital sterility, this room felt literary.

From here we walked all the way up into North Dublin, beginning to feel the aches that I can only assume Leopold Bloom was plagued with. The wonderfully photographic O’Connell Street splices the city, across the river, as only a monumental boulevard can. Unfortunately, Dublin is currently plagued with unsightly (and inconvenient) roadworks, so we once more took refuge in an atmospheric Irish pub.

Another Guinness later and we realised both the James Joyce Cultural Centre and the Writers Museum had closed whilst we were chatting. Thus we moseyed a little, past numerous cookie-cutter Georgian houses, the Jesuit schoolhouse of Joyce’s early life and up to Eccles Street, where a hospital (admittedly with a Ulysses plaque) stands in place of Bloom’s house. After a long day, we made it back to the beginning of the book; in empathy with our character, we came “home”.

To truly feel the journey of the book, we circumnavigated Dublin entirely on foot. Attempting to recreate a modern epic in just a day is perhaps an impossible task, but, with day-return flights from Leeds for less than twenty quid, it seemed rude note to! And, now that I know I can go on holiday in less time than it takes to get the train home, I’ll no doubt be back to sample the delicacies of the Temple Bar.


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