Joyce, Nora, and Ringsend

by Eoin Meegan

James Joyce

June 16 is just on the horizon and gents, it’s time to don your straw hats, John Lennon glasses, britches and braces, or whatever Edwardian glad rags you have at the ready. And don’t forget your cane! As for the ladies it’s those rufflfled blouses and long dresses. And don’t forget the shawl! Yes, it’s that time of year again when people take to the streets of the capital to celebrate Bloomsday. It is a day of fun, music and merriment, when we not only reenact the fictional lives of Joyce’s famous characters, but also re-live times now passed which have left a fond memory.

Did you know the first Bloomsday commemoration took place in 1954, on the 50th anniversary of the events portrayed in Ulysses? The event was the brainchild of the Irish literati of the day, and saw Patrick Kavanagh, Flann O’ Brien, Anthony Cronin, A.J. Leventhal (registrar Trinity College), John Ryan (editor of the Envoy) and Tom Joyce, a cousin of the authors, attempt to retrace the steps of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus. However, the endeavour got sidetracked somewhat by the many public houses they had to pass (or rather didn’t!) It would be some time in the future before the event became the well curated festival it is today.

However, the role of Ringsend in the whole Bloomsday mythos has been somewhat eclipsed, by some scholars at least. This is a shame as Ringsend is pivotal to the whole Joycean lore. Why? Well, Joyce chose this day in which to set his iconic novel because it was on this specific day, June 16 1904, that he first went out with his muse and partner for life, Nora Barnacle. He had spent the previous night in a house on Shelbourne Road, and the pair met that morning and decided to take a stroll to Ringsend where they shared an intimate moment in Ringsend Park. But if the omission of Raytown is a glaring gap in the otherwise smoothly orchestrated Bloomsday shenanigans then it’s time to rectify this and give Ringsend back the recognition it deserves. The village is mentioned in Hades, Aeolus, Eumaeus, and Ithaca, and neighbouring Sandymount has prominent positions in the novel too, especially Proteus, and Nausicaa.

No. 60 Shelbourne Road
No. 60 Shelbourne Road, the house Joyce stayed in
before embarking on his first date with Nora

The official Bloomsday festival runs this year from June 12 to 18. There will be readings all day at the Tower in Sandycove, and other events taking place across the city. And if you have the stomach for it you can, along the way, sample the inner organs of beasts and fowl, with the ‘fine tang of faintly scented
urine’, or what’s known in layman’s terms as the Bloomsday breakfast. Ok. Perhaps not to everyone’s taste. But enjoy the day whatever way you choose. And don’t forget to dress up.

For local events commemorating Bloomsday see Bloomsday in Dublin 4 (pgs 32-33 of print edition).