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‘Come back to me when you have an idea nobody has ever attempted before’

My five-year-old and I are heading home to Hungary after a weekend visiting family in Lucan. Our bag is full of chocolate and paints

Natalie Forrester: When I started reading Ulysses, the colours kept popping off of the page at me. I decided I must document them.

“Please be under 20kg!” I silently chant to the Ryanair check-in screen at Dublin Airport.

I’m momentarily distracted by Mum theatrically stuffing my son’s backpack with treats. I know my protests will fall on deaf ears as I roll my eyes at Dad. He’s sensibly silent while grinning fondly at his grandson.

Hiding my smirk, I turn to face the screen of possible doom ... 19.8kg. Phew! I don’t have to take any precious paint out.

Wolfe, my five-year-old, and I are heading home to Hungary after a weekend visiting family in Lucan, Co Dublin. I also managed to explore parts of Dublin I’ve read about in James Joyce’s Ulysses, and purchase art supplies.


It’s becoming a regular routine, flying in with a fold-up canvas bag and flying out with it filled to the brim, teeming with paint from an art supply shop, books, Tayto, Barry’s, smoked salmon, a modest Penney’s haul and Jameson for my Hungarian husband, László.

We live in László's hometown of Nyíregyháza-Sóstóhegy, 250km east of Budapest. As I wrote last year in The Irish Times, I love living here, it’s great for kids.

A short cycle brings us to a water park, zoo, playgrounds and a swimming lake for cooling down, as summer regularly surpasses 35 degrees. You may have seen us on RTÉ's Best Place to Be, when Baz Ashmawy visited to find out more about my 20-year Ulysses art project.

Getting engaged to an American was the start of a long immigration journeyOpens in new window ]

I’m creating one original artwork per page of Joyce’s book, Ulysses. With 933 pages in total, the series, Colours of Ulysses, is probably going to take more than two decades to complete. I’ve recently finished #064, the last page of Episode III. Just 869 left to go!


When I started reading Ulysses, the colours kept popping off of the page at me. I decided I must document them. Ulysses keeps me connected with Dublin, plus the strong Hungarian connections are important as I raise my Dublin-born son abroad. Joyce was an expat when he started writing Ulysses in Trieste (Italy), which, back then, was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Like my son, the main fictional character in Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, was Irish Hungarian. His father, Rudolph Bloom, was from Szombathely (west Hungary), born with the family name Virág meaning flower in Hungarian.

When Rudolph Virág moved to Dublin, he changed his name to Bloom. Virág is a Hungarian first and family name, and coincidently the name of my first local art collector, who purchased #034 at my first local exhibition last December.

For Bloomsday 2024, I will exhibit my most recent Ulysses paintings at our local heritage centre, and also in Budapest at the Ambassador of Ireland to Hungary’s residence, for his annual Bloomsday event.

Natalie Forrester with one of her paintings

I look forward to exhibiting in Dublin someday. Until then, I share my progress on Instagram and Facebook and release my latest artworks via email (

With almost half of the originals sold mostly through my website, the art collectors are forming an exclusive network of Irish expats, Joyceans and art lovers alike. A family, as such, with just 933 members, and in turn, each member is creating a heirloom for their own family. Wolfe owns #003, inspired by Joyce’s famous description of the “snot green” Irish Sea.

I get pre-order requests, lucky numbers, birthdays, etc. No surprise #069 has been pre-ordered already, but it’s page #100 that I’m looking forward to creating because on it, Joyce mentions Guinness. Not only am I a fan of the black stuff, but it reminds me of my National College of Art & Design (NCAD) days when the smell of hobs from St James’s Gate wafted through our college campus, while my friend Triona Glennon and I bounced ideas off each other.

Don’t get me wrong, my creativity was sparked at The King’s Hospital School, but it was NCAD where my creative training was so powerful, that it kicked back in almost 20 years later, leading me to start the Colours of Ulysses Series. I can still hear my tutors saying: “Come back to me when you have an idea nobody has ever attempted before.”

As Wolfe and I bid farewell to his beloved grandparents, I refuse to let him see my tears as we traipse, heavy-heartedly, through Dublin Airport security.

I redirect my focus to soaking up the familiar Irish accents and fluent English, as soon I’ll be back in my new home country, whose language is deemed the fifth hardest in the world.

Why? I ask myself in a moment of emotional weakness before admitting to myself the truth, because I, Natalie Forrester, am an addict. I’m addicted to challenges. I close my eyes and repeat my mantra: “If people don’t laugh at your plans, you are not thinking big enough.”

  • Natali Forrester met László, her Hungarian husband, on Merrion Square in Dublin in 2012. Their son Wolfe was born in Ireland in 2018. She is a visual abstract artist and yoga teacher.
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