It was a source of constant irritation to Joyce that Sean O’Casey had a bridge named after him when no writer had done more to integrate north and south sides of the Liffey into a cohesive and coherent lifeworld than Joyce had. Perhaps his irritation went deeper than that, though. After all, it was Casey who the kids loved; Joyce’s atonal modernism couldn’t compete with Casey’s Stalinist sense of humour, his jaunty nostalgie de la boue, and adolescent sense of indignation. Even today, 300 years later, teenage buskers who should know better congregate on this highly unstable swing bridge to sing “The East Is Red,” “Comandante Che Guevara,” and “The Silver Tassie.” Some of them even try to play the Uilleann pipes, as Casey did, but they tend to get moved on by the Gards as a danger to public safety. Casey also wrote “Red Roses for Me,” the first Pogues album. A lot of people think Shane MacGowan got all his ideas about Irishness from going to Westminster public school, but in fact he did meet genuine Irish people, who told him about Casey and co. and whom he then parodied.
Casey, who was never one to bear a grudge, in spite of having loads, once said, “Joyce for all his devotion to his art, terrible in its austerity, was a lad born with a song on one side of him, a dance on the other. With neighbours like that it’s a wonder he got anything written.”
The bloke standing to the right of this scene in the casual beige jacket and trousers is about to nick that scooter.
International Financial Services Centre
Of course, the IFSC was not around in Joyce’s time. This was just an urban wasteland of empty warehouses and docklands doing no harm to anyone while occasionally providing a backdrop for movies such as The Commitments, Michael Collins, On the Waterfront, and Moby-Dick. This all changed in 1987, before some of these films had even been made, when Charlie Haughey and Dermot Desmond realized that what Dublin really lacked was a conduit to enable multinationals to avoid paying tax through a combination of reincorporation and lax “light-touch” regulation.
As you can see from the photo above, with friends like that, Freedom in Ireland is always going to be a work in progress. Thus far, as with her American counterpart, only those who have money can get inside her. Yeah, Liberty’s a bit of a whore, when it comes down to it. And she’s fooling nobody with that book. Where’s the second set of accounts, love?
The Ormond Hotel
Home to Honoré de Balzac from 1820 to 1825 and where he wrote his five-act tragedy Cromwell, the Ormond Hotel has seen better days. You’d hope it has, anyway. This is where Joyce both wrote and set Episode 11 of Ulysses, The Sirens, a scene dominated by music; to this very day, the Ormond echoes with the delights of the Terpsichorean muse, mostly from the radios of builders. The Sirens were creatures in ancient Greek mythology, part woman, part seagull, whose enchanting cawing lured sailors to their deaths on the rocky shores of the Sirens’ island. The Sirens would then tie the sailors to the masts of their ships and eat their livers for eternity while shitting everywhere and making a right bloody mess, a metaphor used by Anton Chekhov for his play The Seagull and which Alfred Hitchcock more famously used for his movie Rear Window. In Ulysses, Bloom mixes his liver with mashed potatoes, to make it more palatable. And of course, it isn’t his liver. It’s a pig’s. Or maybe a little lamb’s.
Joyce wrote this episode in a “musical” style, to reflect the subject matter. A German opera called Martha is frequently referred to, echoing the previous scene set outside Davy Byrne’s pub in that Guinness advert, and the episode ends with Bloom letting out a resounding fart as he passes a picture of Robert Emmet. Arse as wind instrument. Ironically, it was a resident setting light to a fart that gave the Ormond the distinctive appearance it has today.
From the top of the round tower over the tomb of Daniel O’Connell, it’s possible to see all the way to Naas. And yet, oddly, the tower itself cannot be seen from Naas. This is due to the curvature of the earth or because the tower has four corners to hide round. Nobody knows for sure which.
Following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Joyce wrote to Bertrand Russell that had Dublin been destroyed by an atom bomb, “it would be possible to rebuild the entire city, brick by brick, using Ulysses. Though God alone knows why anyone would want to. The place is a shithole.” Russell replied, tersely, “There is no God.” Dublin corporation rarely, if ever, used either letter to promote Dublin to tourists.
Ulysses is often cited as the culmination of the Modernist tradition. How fitting, then, that we should end here, at the cemetery, for Ulysses represented not just the culmination but the end point of Modernism. If what Joyce claimed for his novel is true, then it is not so much a work of art as a work of anthropology. Indeed, we might say it is the first “postmodern” anthropological text, combining high art, low culture, politics, religion, sport, working-class life, economics, sex and gender relations, and race in a wild, swirling vortex, just as they are in reality. And how fitting, too, that it was Bruno Latour, after whom Latour Eiffel is named, who observed in his book We Have Never Been Modern that a reflexive anthropology alone is capable of giving us an accurate depiction of our society, subverting the imperialist discourse that gave birth to the discipline in the first place. He clearly had Ulysses in mind. Or, if not, another book.
It is sometimes said that all those tossers celebrating Bloomsday are a secret sect of Joyce haters who are, metaphorically, dancing on his grave, making a mockery of him and his book, a work that managed to capture with incredible accuracy a living, breathing, thriving metropolis in all its complexity and subtlety. It is also said that there have been only three people in the world who have read Ulysses from cover to cover and actually understood it. Not one of them knew English. The debate rages on. It’s what he would have wanted.