In a Word . . . Ulysses

We began our day at the Martello Tower in Sandycove where ‘Stately plump, Buck Mulligan’ began ‘Ulysses’

 

Happy Bloomsday, dear reader. In my (humble) opinion this should be a national holiday. Instead of a bank holiday on the first Monday of June I’d switch it to this date. It could be a sort-of St Patrick’s Day with weather (hopefully!)

Imagine it. Ireland, the only country in the world to have a national holiday in honour of a fictional character. How they’d titter. “So very Irish,” they’d say while rushing out in their straw boater hats and Edwardian gear.

In 1988 Dublin celebrated its millennium. To mark it I suggested to then Features Editor at the late Irish Press, Eoghan Corry, that we do something special for Bloomsday.

I proposed we get a well known writer to accompany me to the 19 Dublin locations featured in Joyce’s Ulysses. Eoghan agreed. The writer was the late JP Donleavy. I had enjoyed his Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B in particular.

He accepted the invitation.

We expected lots of humour and erudition. We got neither.

He insisted on a hefty fee and on being put up in the Shelbourne. This was pushing it at the Irish Press where the death rattle was already audible.

June 14th 1988 was glorious in Dublin and we began our day at the Martello Tower in Sandycove where “Stately plump, Buck Mulligan” began Ulysses.

As we journeyed across Dublin on that hot June day it soon dawned on me that Mr Donleavy had probably never read Ulysses or, if he had, he had forgotten it.

I realised it was going to be some conjuring trick to write a decent feature on our day.

We covered most of the locations mentioned in the book, except for Paddy Dignam’s funeral from Sandymount to Glasnevin. But it was at Sandymount I made a remarkable discovery about Mr Donleavy.

As I talked about Gerty McDowell and the way she might look at ya, he marvelled at the great expanse of Sandymount strand extending to the horizon. He said he had never been there before. I barely concealed my astonishment that a man who had lived in Dublin so long had never seen that strand.

Later, I wrestled for hours with grim disappointment as I wrote the article about a tedious day. It appeared on June 16th that year. The experience illustrated for me the wisdom in that saying “. . . never meet your heroes”.

Ulysses, from Greek Odysseus, king of Ithaca.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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