I am on posh Grafton Street, kicking myself because I have not read James Joyce. He mentions this street in Dubliners as well as in Ulysses. Cafe Bewley’s is located somewhere around what was his favourite hangout; Samuel Beckett’s too. There is something thrilling about walking down streets that are described in novels.
This one goes back to 1708 and I spot a sign at a place where once the Whytes Academy stood. Its pupils included playwright Sheridan, the Duke of Wellington and poet Thomas Moore (who burned the memoirs of his dear departed friend Lord Byron in order to protect his reputation). George V is said to have strolled down the street named after the illegitimate son of Charles II. And Bono has sung on its cobbled streets many times.
There are a series of 90-minute walks that start from the James Joyce Centre and trace the writer’s own journeys in the city and those of his characters in Dubliners and Ulysses.
I am starry-eyed and wondering which way to head when a poster announcing ‘The Lost Warhols by Karen Bystedt’ draws me into a very fancy store called Brown Thomas (established in 1848). There are 30 Warhol photographs lining the stairway and landing. Karen was a student when she asked Warhol if he would allow her to take his pictures. To her astonishment, he said yes. That was in 1983, and now Karen has taken those photographs and turned them into a collaborative art project where she has invited artists to add to these photographs and make them their own. Irish artists such as Will St Leger, restaurateur Nick Munier and Raine Hozier Byrne are some of them who have. Incidentally, Joyce’s hero Leopold Bloom (in Ulysses), dallied on the outside of this very store and admired the silk stockings displayed in its window!
So much to see
I am in Dublin for 48 hours and there is a problem of plenty. I decide on the highly recommended The Little Museum of Dublin, that is created entirely by public donation. I know from my map it overlooks the historical St Stephen’s Green. The park has a garden for the blind with scented plants that are labelled in Braille. It is dotted with the statues of Irish greats, including war heroes and literary ones like James Joyce. As I walk through the lush park, I see if I can find the spots where witches were burnt and criminals hanged, but there are no traces of that. Stephen’s Green became a gorgeous parkland, accessible only to the rich and famous who lived in the Georgian mansions around it. And I have just stepped into one of those homes, Number 15, that has been standing right there since 1776.
There is no getting away from James Joyce. A big poster of Marilyn Monroe reading Dubliners welcomes visitors. “Now, it is your turn. Read one of the greatest books about Dublin,” urges the poster! I shamefacedly go upstairs and what do I see there, but the first edition of Ulysses. It is open on the last page with a little sign “…so you can say that you have finished reading Ulysses. The other 699 pages can be summarised in 27 words: “While Dubliner Leopold Bloom/Sought solace from thoughts of the tomb/ In Daedalic mazes,/his Moll went to blazes/And dreamed a great yes in her room.”
Feeling better already, I wander around the jewel of a museum. One section has all about Ryanair. In that aviation room, I also learn that the airport was the hangout for the glamorous, and often the venue for dinner dances and wedding brunches.
You can do the museum on your own — it is not that big — but it is always nicer to wait for a guided tour. An air raid siren signals the start of the tour and the guide takes you along Dublin’s history. Stephen’s Green comes up again and the guide tells us that it played a crucial part in the five-day Easter Rising — where the Dubliners rebelled against the English, but unsuccessfully. But both sides respected a ceasefire so that the park keeper could feed the ducks! Then there is an endearing postcard written by Samuel Beckett to John Hughes, a schoolboy, who now lived in the same house where Beckett was born. Beckett shares memories of his room in that house and signs off saying, “If you ever meet my ghost in house or grounds, give it my regards. Wishing you happy years in that old home, I am Yours antiquatedly Sam Beckett”.
I pretend to be the editor of The Irish Times, Bertie Smyllie, as I sit on the editor’s chair and tap on his typewriter in his recreated office. Joyce pops up again. His first article for The Irish Times in 1903 was when he interviewed French race driver, Henri Fournier, and had a heated argument with him about the speed of Fournier’s car, which Joyce thought was ‘appalling’. There is a postscript to this incident: “The man who knew so little about speed would later take 17 years to write Finnegans Wake. Ulysses took seven years.”
(The writer was in Dublin on the invitation of Tourism Ireland)