It was cheaper to fly into London and then to Dublin, and we had a very long layover. In an effort to have a quick adventure in London, we investigated checking our luggage early but were rebuffed by Aer Lingus. In the end, we took it with us and took the Piccadilly line to Gloucester Road. We had a coffee and pastry from Gail’s Bakery and then lunch at a pub we’ve visited before, the Heredsford Arms. Yes, dessert first, then main. Life is unpredictable. The blueberry and custard brioche was worthy of that order. Then back to Heathrow.
We were in Dublin for four nights total. How we organized our time was very much focused on something important to my husband. As a young person he became acquainted, and ultimately obsessed, with the Irish writer, James Joyce. His Masters studies were focused on Joyce and his Masters thesis was about “The Dead,” a short story in Dubliners.
When our youngest child was born almost 22 years ago, we foolishly went to the hospital for a scheduled c section with a too-long list of possible boy’s names and a too-long list of possible girls’ names. After our son’s birth, we were able to throw out one list, but the remaining list had not settled a serious family political issue. My husband had been named for his father, and there was some desire and some pressure to follow suit with our son. (Meanwhile, our 3-1/2 year old daughter told everyone the baby’s name was “Trickely Thomas.”) Looking at our newborn son, we decided he most looked like a James. This was not the multi-generation family name that would have brought the happiest family resolution, but we went forward with it. My mother-in-law had come into town to care for our daughter during the week of the birth. I don’t know whether she really believed this or was simply making peace, but she told the family our son was named after James Joyce. Everyone knew how much my husband loved James Joyce. It was accepted.
James Joyce grew up in Dublin in the late 19th century and though he left Ireland early in life, most of his works were set in Dublin. When he wrote Ulysses, he told an interviewer that it had been his intention for anyone to be able to visually reconstruct Dublin simply by reading his book. His wishes were granted for the people who are able to undergo the effort required to read it, but it is entirely possible that the writing of this celebrated book did truly preserve for the rest of us parts of Dublin that may not have survived. For example, 100 years later, it is still possible to visit a cafe mentioned in the book and buy a Gorgonzola sandwich, just as one of the characters in the book did.
A few months before we left for this trip I tried to read Ulysses, about two men living one day in Dublin. I couldn’t get past the first page. So you get the picture. We were in Dublin, one of us loving James Joyce and understanding Dublin through his literature and one of us knowing very little about him.
Using James Joyce to guide our journey was still a great way to tackle Dublin. We started at the James Joyce Centre associated with Trinity College, where we took a wonderful walking tour to see some of the sites important to James Joyce, the emerging writer, and to plot points in his books. I would guess I was one of the few people on the tour who was not a Joyce lover and what I loved best was seeing my husband with “his people,” including our excellent guide, Josh, who grew up in Buffalo, NY and fell in love with James Joyce and Dublin so much he never left.We also visited a Martello tower along the coast that Joyce lived in for a few days and where he set a scene in Ulysses. My husband was quickly adopted by the volunteer tour guide, Nile, clearly a Joyce fanatic, while I enjoyed the beautiful scenery and watching people swim and laugh in a pool in what looked like a very cold sea—something people had long enjoyed doing, even during the time Joyce found himself there. We also visited the Museum of Literature Ireland, which has a great exhibit on Joyce.
We visited every James Joyce site we could find on the map we had received at the James Joyce Centre by the time we left Dublin. As my husband was taking a picture at one of the sites, he said, wistfully, “I just wish there was someone I could share these pictures with.” The person in his life who had loved James Joyce as much as my husband, Professor James Frakes at Lehigh University, passed away many years ago.
I dedicate these pictures of my experience touring Dublin through the lens of James Joyce to the people in our lives who become captivated by something or someone, changed by it, guided by it. We may not ourselves understand that something or someone, but we can honor it, and love them even more for it.
With no regard for James Joyce at all, we also visited Howth where we hiked along the Cliff walk, visited the Guinness factory which concludes with a pint in a rooftop bar, strolled in St. Stephen’s Green, and visited the General Post Office Museum focused on the Easter uprising of 1916. Highly recommend all four.