James Joyce Centre celebrates the life and times of Ireland’s most famous and enigmatic writer.
For anyone who has struggled to read his opus, Ulysses, it can be an insurmountable mountain to climb. But I came to Ireland to learn about Joyce’s early life. The natural place to start was this museum located at 35 N. Great George’s Street.
James Joyce Centre aims to be “the focal point for the worldwide celebration of James Joyce and as a destination for literary tourism, access to Georgian Dublin, and culture in Dublin city.”
Table of Contents
I didn’t need to buy a United flight from Washington Dulles Airport to Dublin Airport to see James Joyce’s world.
Dublin is a world that readers of his novels know well. Whether it is the school steps that Stephen Dedalus bounds up in his Catholic secondary school in The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man or the turnabout that George Bloom crosses in front of St. George’s Church in Ulysses, Joyce paints an intimate portrait of the Dubliners who lived here in the 1900s.
But walking these actual Dublin streets could help me appreciate his writing in a new way as a writer.
Joyce’s Dublin Walking Tour
So I booked the “Introducing Joyce’s Dublin” walking tour during my December trip to Dublin. Organized by the James Joyce Centre, it costs 15 curos for adults and 12 for students and seniors.
I learned that Joyce attended a Catholic school in the neighborhood and roamed these streets with his boyhood friends.
Dublin was designated the 4th UNESCO City of Literature in 2010.
The 90-minute tour takes participants through North Central Dublin, which is the setting where much of Joyce’s work is based. According to the Centre, “it is a historic and bustling part of the city that Joyce was intimately familiar with.”
SIDE NOTE: I am a huge fan of walking tours whenever I travel. Some of my favorite tours were in Vancouver, Savannah, Biltmore Village, and Black Mountain, North Carolina. I also regularly taking walking tours in Washington DC. (Check out my Tour Guides’ 11 Secret Places to Visit in Washington DC.)
James Joyce Centre
The museum describes itself as “an educational charity, museum, and cultural institution which promotes the life, literature, and legacy of one of the world’s greatest writers, James Joyce.”
“Situated in a stunning Georgian townhouse in Dublin’s North Inner City, the Centre offers visitors historical and biographical information about James Joyce and his influence upon the literary world.”James Joyce Centre
During James’ childhood, the Grant family ran a dancing academy out of the mansion. Other Georgian mansions were turned into tenements, such as 14 Henrietta Street (which now operates as a museum).
The house became derelict. Josh said “Joycians” stepped in to save the house. They bought it in 1982. The city gave money. Today the James Joyce Centre operates as “a global hub for the world-wide celebration of writer James Joyce and to the promotion of an understanding of his life, literature, and legacy.”
Our tour begins in the drawing room of the Georgian mansion. We can lounge in the comfy sofas while a cracking fire burns. Bitter winter winds rattle the windows. The high-ceiling room also features a bookcase packed with early 20th century books.
North Central Dublin
Our guide Dr. Josh Newman describes this section of Dublin as “central” to Joyce’s writing. The author spent his formative years in North Central Dublin. (He moved here at eight years old.) A great chunk of his work takes place here.
Northside Dublin is located north of the Livvy River. The neighborhood was built in the 18th century for the aristocracy.
Architect Luke Gardiner, an Irish property develope, designed many of these town houses, including 14 Henrietta Street. Gardner Street bears his name. Georgian architecture derives its name from the line of British kings named George.
In the 18th century, Dublin was one of the two biggest cities in Europe and was considered Britain’s second capital. But the failed 1790 rebellion against the British State (and modeled after the American Revolution and French Revolution) resulted in the two kingdoms being combined.
Although Ireland had its own parliament from the medieval ages to the 18th century, it was dissolved. “It drained all the residents who went back to London for the power and prestige. It had a devastating effect on the economy,” explained Newman.
In less than a century, North Central Dublin went from the prestige address of the British aristocracy to the home of Irish slums (tenements).
After Josh sets the stage for the dramatic transformation of the neighborhood, our group departs the James Joyce Centre. It is a quick walk up the street to Belvedere College.
There were 10 children in Joyce’s family. At age 6, he was sent to a Jesuit boarding school in county Kildaire. His family was well-to-do. “His father lost his job when Joyce was eight . . .They could only afford the north side,” said Josh.
Joyce attended this private Catholic secondary school on a scholarship from age 11 to 16. His parents were too poor to pay the tuition. But like Stephen in The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Joyce’s autobiographical novel), his father convinces the provincial of the order to help his son attend this school.
“ . . . let him stick to the Jesuits in God’s name since he began with them. Those are the fellows that can get you a position.”Mr. Dedalus (The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)
Joyce doesn’t even bother to change the school’s name in his novel. He frequently incorporated his Dublin neighbors, friends, and acquaintances in his writings.
Michael Cusak Plaque
For instance, the founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association, Michael Cusack finds his way into the pages of Ulysses as a bully.
“He is very aggressive, brutish, and insults Bloom a lot. It demonstrates his distaste for the Irish Nationals in Ulysses. It is one reason why Joyce left Ireland,” said Josh.
We stop to see a plaque honoring him on the wall of the Dergvale Hotel in Gardiner Place where Cusack wrote the letter which led to the first meeting of the GAA in Thurles in 1884.
The building previously served as a teaching academy for civil exams in the 1900s.
Ciosag agitated for independence from Britain. He wanted Ireland to promote its sports, such as hurling, rugby, and football. Irish kids should play Irish sports, not British sports (like cricket).
St. George’s Church
We continue down the road to see the Anglican Church. St. George’s Church was designed by Francis Johnston, it is considered to be one of his finest works
Joyce lived across the street in 1893. He incorporates the church into Ulysses. The passage describes Bloom’s trip home after spending the night at a brothel.
“Approaching, disparate, at relaxed walking pace they crossed both the circus before George’s church . . .”James Joyce (Ulysses)
Josh recites two passages from Ulysses—Calypso and Ithaca. Each incorporated the actual geographic location where we now stand. James is drawing us a map of where he once lived.
7 Eccles Street
From the church, we proceed to the home of the Bloom family. His wife Molly will serve him a meal of grilled organs—liver and gizzards—which Leo will eat with gusto.
In 1909, his friend John Frances Byrne lives at 7 Eccles Street. Joyce visits with his son Giorgio when he travels from Trieste, Italy to Dublin. James is devestated by his friend Vincent Cosgrave’s accusation that his wife Nora has been unfaithful. But Byrne told him the claims were untrue. Joyce stayed at his house overnight.
In Ulysses, Bloom finds the door is locked so he must find a different entry. Joyce gives a very accurate description of how Bloom must climb over the fence and drop down to the ground.
“He writes a letter to his Aunt Josephine about one of his characters having to climb over the railing and lower himself. He relied a lot on his memory, maps, and letters to friends. The vigilant sense of detail is a Joyce trademark,” reported Josh.
Other Tour Stops
I am not going to describe our other tour stops in detail because Joyce fans need to visit the James Joyce Centre and take this walking tour.
But I will mention that Leo Bloom’s butcher, his family’s Hardwick Street boarding house, and the Parnell Monument on O’Connell Street are also visited.
Josh effortlessly weaves information about Joyce the man as well as the writer as our group ramble down the street. I find myself transported back to the early 1900s.
James Joyce Statue
When we stand in front of the James Joyce statue off O’Connell Street, I think of the ordinary “Dubs” (present-day nickname for residents of the city) who pass by it every day on their way to work or school.
Although Joyce choose not to live in Ireland as an adult, Dublin remained an obsession in all his novels.
“When I die Dublin will be written on my heart.”James Joyce
I might add that James Joyce is written on Dubliners’ hearts through his detailed and evocative novels.
About the Centre
The James Joyce Centre features the famous No. 7 Eccles Street from Ulysses, a recreation of his living quarters in Paris, clothes, books, letters, an original copy of Ulysses, and art exhibitions “to bring the author and his works to life.”
There are multiple portraits and sculptures of James Joyce, as well as a stunning painting of his wife Nora Barnacle. According to the James Joyce Centre, “we believe that the first day on which they went out together was Thursday 16 June 1904, the day commemorated in Joyce’s novel Ulysses and now known as Bloomsday.
On a wintery day, it would be nice to wrap in a quilt and sit outside in the conservatory at the James Joyce Centre. This brick room features grafitti, paintings and wall art. You can also view the wooden door from 7 Eccles Street where Leo Bloom lives.