Dublin: In the footsteps of James Joyce


When I came to Dublin the first time in September of 2014 I was still a student of English Literature and therefore I saw it as my duty to follow the footsteps of James Joyce, one of the most famous writers born in Ireland. In that year I had attended a class about his novel Ulysses, which due to his length and (sometimes boring) love for the detail might not be everyone’s favourite reading. But even if you’re not a Joycean I highly recommend to take a look at a summary of Ulysses at least if you are going to visit Dublin – because if you follow the main character’s „odyssey“ you probably might have seen most of the important touristic places in Dublin and maybe even more. The James Joyce Centre even offers walking tours following Leopold Bloom’s footsteps of the famous 16th June 1904, but with a little research and a brief look at the novel or a good summary you can also do the „Bloom’s Walk“ by yourself.

Leopold's Lunch

Davy Byrnes Pub, Duke Street

Leopold Bloom’s Dublin

If you start at Bloom’s house at 7 Eccles Street, head towards O’Conell street and follow it all the way down to O’Connell Bridge, you will have passed Belvedere College (where Joyce and his fictional alter ego Stephen Dedalus went to), the Parnell Monument, the O’Conell Monument, the General Post Office and nowaways you can – what Leopold Bloom of course couldn’t – also visit Dublin Writers Museum and James Joyce Centre on the way. If you follow Leopold’s odyssey in Dublin’s southside you will, amongst other things, pass Trinity College and National Museum. If you really want to smell and taste what Leopold Bloom smells and tasts in the novel, you may want to buy a lemon soap at Sweny’s Pharmacy in Clare Street and have a glass of burgundy and a gorgonzola sandwich at Davy Byrnes Pub in Duke Street.

Sandycove and Martello Tower

But what people tend to forget is that Leopold Bloom is not the only main character in Ulysses and that the novel in fact doesn’t start in Bloom’s house in 7 Eccles Street, but outside of the city in the so-called Martello Tower at the seaside. The young poet Stephen Dedalus and his roommate, a medical student named Buck Mulligan, live in Martello Tower with a beautiful view of the cliffs and the „snot green sea“, as Stephen snidely calls it. Standing on top of the tower Buck Mulligan holds a mirror for Stephen so he can shave, and while doing so, Stephen reflects the severity of life, while Buck Mulligan explains why a real Irishman can’t drink tea without milk as Stephen had suggested („O, damn you and your Paris fads! I want Sandycove milk!“ is Buck’s answer). When I came to Dublin, I really wanted to visit the setting of this absurdly comic scene, and find out how snot green the sea really is. But in contrast to James Joyce Centre and the more central places mentioned in Ulysses, I couldn’t find this location in any common tourist guide. Thus I asked the guy at the cashpoint of James Joyce Centre and he told me that this tower is in Sandycove, a lovely town in South County Dublin.

Martello Tower

“Snot green sea”, Sandycove

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Martello Tower

James Joyce Tower, Sandycove

James Joyce Tower is open every day from 10am until 4pm and its entry is free – this is why you should also go up if you are not exactly a Joycean. It provides a beautiful view, that is, as Stephen Dedalus claims, indeed „snot green“ when it’s cloudy (maybe call it „jade green“ as it’s still beautiful) and dark blue when it’s sunny. Besides, up the tower you’re in the perfect position to observe the swimmers in the „Gents’ Bathing Area“ and their primal screams when they jump into the cold water. For Joyce fans, however, the tower also includes a museum, where you can take a look at a nice collection of photos, paintings, handwritten drafts and other stuff James Joyce might have touched some time. You can also visit the room where Joyce himself once stayed for the night and the dining room where Stephan and Buck probably would have had their breakfast if they had really existed.

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James Joyce’s Ulysses as travel guide

The novel Ulysses expands a plot of not even twenty-four hours to more than a thousand pages. So if you do not have too much time to visit Dublin, take the challenge and follow the footsteps of Leopold and Stephen and you will have seen all of this places in one day only. Stephen even managed his way from Sandycove to different places in the city centre and back within the 16th June although Leopold had offered him a sleepover in Eccles Street. By the way, the 16th of June is still celebrated in Dublin as the famous „Bloomsday“ and there is hardly a place in the city that the Bloomsday Parade does not pass – this should be the irrevocable justification for using Ulysses as a travel guide for Dublin even if you’re not that much into James Joyce or literature in general. The day after your odyssey you can still visit Guinness Storehouse and Old Jameson Distillery!

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