In the footsteps of giants: the ultimate Ulysses walk around Dublin | Dublin holidays

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Ulysses, by Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company. It’s also James Joyce’s birthday; he was born on 2 February 1882 – 140 years ago.

Ulysses is contemporary with the Irish Free State, established on 6 December 1922; historians love to pore over its dense, riddling text for clues about the national psyche at the time. The novel and the year have come to be seen as key turning points in Modernism; T.S. Eliot, whose The Waste Land appeared in December 1922, called Ulysses “a book to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can escape”.

Joyce signed off his text with the words, “Trieste-Zurich-Paris, 1914-1921”. But it is to Dublin we best go if we want to celebrate Ulysses, which put the Irish capital on the map of the premier cities of the imagination – beside the likes of Paris and London – and offered readers a detailed plan of the Irish capital in its perambulating plot, which unfolds over a single day.

Since 1929, Joyce fans have celebrated Bloomsday on 16 June – the fictional date on which the novel’s events take place, in 1904 – with readings, talks, breakfasts, singing, jigs, reels and fancy dress. In 2020 and 2021, the event, forced to go virtual, was dubbed Zoomsday. This year there will no doubt be a bigger than usual Bloomsday – new films and radio productions are already in train and a themed film festival (bloomsdayfestival.ie) returns for a third time – but there’s also a lot happening in the build-up.

There are many ways of taking a Joycean tour around the city. Close readers who like a challenge and a wander set off to trace the book’s clues, shadowing the route taken by protagonist Leopold Bloom, despite the fact many buildings and even entire streets have been demolished. Others follow actual maps prepared by others, tag along behind seasoned tour guides or take bus and bike tours. Some have even taken up Bloom’s challenge: “Good puzzle would be cross Dublin without passing a pub.”

There are 14 brass plaques – laid in the pavement in 1988 – marking out the walk taken by Bloom during the course of the novel; there’s a geocache linked to these. But the other central character, Stephen Dedalus – Joyce’s alter ego – also spends much of the book walking, and the suggested stops below contain some of his route.

The Martello Tower, Sandycove

Sandycove, with James Joyce Tower Museum.
Sandycove, with James Joyce Tower Museum. Photograph: Alamy

Ireland’s 50 or so Martello towers, likely named after a tower at Cape Martella in Corsica, were built by the British during the Napoleonic wars. This tower, now a Joyce museum, appears on the first page of Ulysses, with Buck Mulligan having a wet shave while testing his banter on Stephen. The opening lines of the novel are repeated over and over in the film Opening Ulysses, created by Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Museum of Literature Ireland in collaboration with 40 Irish embassies and consulates – a project that perhaps acknowledges many readers don’t get much further than the enigmatic opening.

Sandymount strand

Sandymount strand
Photograph: Reuters/Alamy

“Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount strand?” wonders Stephen in one of the early stream-of-consciousness sections. Later the same day, Bloom masturbates from the prom while ogling young Gerty MacDowell. This long, broad beach is a place to clear your head before plunging into the labyrinthine novel/city.

James Joyce Centre

In the early 1900s this fine Georgian townhouse at 35 North Great George’s Street gave home to a dance academy run by Prof Denis J Maginni, a character who turns up a few times in Ulysses. The building was saved from the wrecking ball by a Joyce scholar. Leopold Bloom’s fictional house at 7 Eccles Street wasn’t so lucky, but the front door of the property is on display here. Due to Covid-19, the center is currently closed; reopening date tbc.

A pub

No need to choose too carefully; Ulysses allows plenty of scope for “arsing around from one pub to another”. None of the pubs mentioned in the novel looks anything like they would have done back in the day. Davy Byrnes, which Leopold Bloom deems a “moral pub”, is OK for a pint, though the menu doesn’t feature the gorgonzola sandwich he enjoys with a “good glass of burgundy”. Kennedys on Westland Row, formerly Conways, has hosted Bloomsdays, and claims associations with Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett, as well as Joyce. The Oval feels kind of time-honoured and lived-in — though the original was destroyed in the 1916 Easter Rising.

O’Connell Bridge

O'Connell bridge
Photograph: David Soanes/Getty Images

This famous bridge over the River Liffey – built between 1791 and 1794 as Carlisle Bridge and renamed in 1882 after Irish political leader Daniel O’Connell – has a starring role in The Dead, the long, final story in Joyce’s Dubliners. The character Gabriel has an epiphany here, realising he must embrace his country’s quest for independence. In Ulysses, Bloom pauses on the bridge to feed seagulls Banbury cakes (currant-filled pastries similar to Eccles cakes).

National Library of Ireland

The Reading Room at the National Library of Ireland.
Photograph: John Warburton-Lee /Alamy

This classical building on Kildare Street, designed by Cork-born Thomas Newenham Deane, dates from 1877. In the Scylla and Charybdis episode, Stephen – who has just given some scholars a lecture on his “biographical” theory about Shakespeare’s Hamlet – and Bloom almost meet in the library entrance. The coffered ceiling of the main reading room, stained glass, reliefs and mosaic floor are worth a look.

Museum of Literature Ireland

Museum of Literature: James Joyce
Photograph: Ilpo Musto/Alamy

Branded MoLI for 2022 in homage to Molly Bloom, Joyce’s heroine in Ulysses, and recently reopened to the public, the museum is hosting Love, Says Bloom (2 Feb-3 Jul), an exhibition curated by Nuala O’Connor dedicated to Joyce’s relationship with his wife, Nora Barnacle, their children, Lucia and Giorgio, and grandson Stephen. Until June 2022, the museum is also hosting Suzanne Freeman’s Ulysses, a Treasure Hunt: the episodes of the novel are depicted in a series of small wooden cases dotted around the museum. Copy No. 1 of Ulysses is kept here. Full details of all events can be found at ulysses100.ie.

Booksupstairs

You can’t pay homage to Joyce without popping into a bookseller’s; This independent bookshop at 17 D’Olier Street has itself gone walkabout since opening in 1978, passing from a site above a furrier’s on South King Street, George’s Street Market Arcade and 36 College Green – opposite Trinity College – before settling here. The shop stocks new and secondhand editions of Joyce’s works and has a cafe. Consuming Joyce (Bloomsbury), a new book by John McCourt, analyses, among other things, why we go on pilgrimages instead of reading James Joyce.

Glasnevin cemetery

The Round Tower, commemorating the death of Daniel O'Connell in Glasnevin Cemetery.
The Round Tower, commemorating the death of Daniel O’Connell. Photograph: George Munday/Alamy

Death is a key motif in Ulysses. Stephen is mourning his mother’s passing. Bloom is on the way to Paddy Dignam’s funeral at this large cemetery north west of the city centre. The tomb of drowning victim Matthew F Kane says he was the “model for Patrick Dignam” and four other people in the novel. While Joyce was writing Ulysses, the great influenza pandemic of 1918-1920 was slaying millions. In the Hades episode of the novel, Bloom muses: “Whooping cough … Only measles … Scarlatina, influenza epidemics. Canvassing for death. Don’t miss this chance.” Thinking as an advertising agent, he imagines the rival plagues as traveling salesmen, bidding for business (ie bodies).

Howth Head

Howth Head with Baily Lighthouse.
Howth Head with Baily Lighthouse. Photograph: Getty Images

This beautiful peninsula to the north east of Dublin has special significance in Ulysses. Bloom proposed to Molly here. Howth is also a prompt in Molly’s final soliloquy, when she recalls why she loves him (“yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes”). Dublin is where Bloom is forced to confront the fact he is a cuckold. For hope and faith, you have to leave the metropolis behind, go to the edge, study the sea.

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