Wednesday 21 November 2018

Bloomin' typical

Tomorrow is Bloomsday -- and to celebrate, Joe Kennedy decided to find out what happened to the 'Ulysses' pubs. Many are no longer there, but he did manage to get a decent glass of burgundy in Davy Byrne's

Joe Kennedy in Davy Byrne's Duke St enjoying a glass of red wine and gorgonzola sandwich. Photo: Ronan Lang
Joe Kennedy in Davy Byrne's Duke St enjoying a glass of red wine and gorgonzola sandwich. Photo: Ronan Lang

One might wonder if James Joyce had ever dreamed that an unpleasant incident in a Dublin bar in 1904 that he had put down on paper while remembering his native city in exile could be as chillingly relevant more than 100 years later.

The scene is set in Barney Kiernan's Court of Appeal, a pub popular with lawyers and litigants in Little Britain St (Number 9, now long gone). An advertising salesman, Leopold Bloom, is the butt of general racist remarks motivated by a customer named The Citizen (loosely based on Michael Cusack, founder of the GAA) who is an archetypal nationalist extremist -- he speaks Irish to his dog, Garryowen.

It is late afternoon on the day of the Gold Cup race at Ascot and the loud-mouthed Citizen, who hates all foreigners, especially Jews, is getting the attention of the regulars. Bloom, a Jewish Dubliner of Hungarian descent, bears up quietly but finally responds as he leaves the bar to get into a cab outside: "Jesus was a Jew. Your Saviour was a Jew... Your God..."

The Citizen is apoplectic: "By Jesus, I'll brain that bloody Jewman for using the Holy Name. By Jesus, I'll crucify him, so I will. Give me that biscuit box there. Where is he till I murder him."

At the doorway passers-by stop to watch the commotion. Drinkers spill out from the bar. Then the cab lurches off, the horse startled by the biscuit box clattering on the cobbles and the yelps of Garryowen. "After him, Garry, after him", howls the demented and drink-soaked Citizen.

The whole scene is both hilarious and darkly grim.

There is a disturbing sense of reality. Could it be reprised in the Dublin of 2009? Only the racial origins would differ. In the 20th century Jews fleeing from persecution in Eastern Europe were easy targets for xenophobics.

James Joyce's great boast was that if Dublin was wiped out it could be rebuilt accurately from the pages of his book. This includes the pubs.

The best known is Davy Byrne's in Duke St where Bloom has his famous lunch of a gorgonzola cheese sandwich and a glass of burgundy, costing seven pence. But, being something of a trencherman who savoured the inner organs of beasts and fowls, he first looked into The Burton (now The Bailey) but found it too crowded.

The snack in Davy's is the most famous in literary history and has attracted thousands of visiting Joyceans, keeping the tills ringing over the years.

Bloom then crossed the river to the Ormond Hotel (before going to Barney Kiernan's) where the delightful Misses Kennedy and Douce were behind the bar. Alas, the Ormond is now chained and shuttered, awaiting renovation.

Meanwhile, his young companion of that longest day of Dublin wandering, Stephen Dedalus, had been having a lunchtime drink in Mooney's of Abbey St (Mooneys-en-ville), now a branch of Permanent TSB and its Mooney companion on Eden Quay (Mooneys-sur-mer) which has traded under several names since the middle of the last century.

I ate and drank in both when neither had changed much since Joyce's time. The Eden Quay pub is now a restaurant called the Garden of India.

Contrary to an assumption widely held, neither Bloom nor Stephen drank in Mulligans of Poolbeg St where Joyce set his grim story from Dubliners, Counterparts.

Bloom passes the Cross Guns and Brian Boru on the way to Paddy Dignam's funeral but the mourners don't call in on their return from Glasnevin.

After some late night scoops, with medical students in Holles St hospital, drinking continues across in Burke's (now a shop) on the corner of Fenian St with Stephen calling for absinthe, a lethal potion (which one will not get in a Dublin pub these days), Guinness and whiskey for the students but just a ginger cordial for Bloom. One wonders where the money came from!

In Abbey St also was The Ship, where Stephen's companions, Mulligan and Haines, awaited him. This has also gone and was not the original of the excellent Flowing Tide, the manager there assured me.

Other pubs on the Bloomsday wanderings include: the remarkable Oval in Middle Abbey St which sometime in the 1950s lost its unique oval-shaped bar; the Dock Tavern -- now Kate's Cottage -- in Store Street; Conways of Westland Row (Kennedy's, a favourite haunt of Sam Beckett in his Trinity days); O'Neill's, now Faringtons of Temple Bar; the Brazen Head in Bridge St; and the Moira Hotel in Trinity St, where I had many a liquid lunch, and which is also gone. Stephen also visited Larchet's Hotel in College Green, long swallowed into the space of the Central Bank.

The Brazen Head has been selling food and drink since 1613 and, in Ulysses, Corley tells Stephen and Bloom that there "you got a decent enough 'do'... for a bob".

As an impoverished student in Dublin, James Joyce had little money to spend on drink, unlike his father, a gregarious Cork flaneur, who effortlessly poured family homes and inheritances down his throat, but when he went away with Nora Barnacle to Trieste, Pola, Zurich and Paris, especially when he found a wealthy patron to support his work, he was wont to waltz his way home to a fretting Nora in the small hours.

His favourite drink was a Swiss white wine called Fondant which can usually be found at this time in some wine merchants. In past years I have seen bottles displayed complete with J Joyce labels so look out for it. It is excellent.

Joyce was not a day-time tippler and preferred to wait until regular evening visits to restaurants with his family -- the "whole Celtic crew of them" as a young and cash-strapped journalist Ernest Hemingway called the Joyces as he watched them, through a window, peruse a menu in an expensive Paris restaurant.

Richard Ellmann, in his biography of the master, quotes Joyce as saying to Padraig Colum: " What is better than to sit at the end of the day and drink wine with friends? I say end of the day for I would not drink wine until the sun goes down." Sensible advice.

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