Tuesday, 2 March 2010

A walk along the beach at Sandymount Strand

Looking across Dublin Bay from Sandymount Strand towards Howth Head (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.

Stateley, plump Buck Mulligan is the first character to make an appearance in James Joyce’s Ulysses, as he ascends the steps of the Martello Tower in Sandymount, where Mulligan and Stephen Dedalus share their living quarters with Mulligan’s visiting friend from Oxford, Haines.

Buck Mulligan is an avid classicist who espouses the belief that Ireland ought to be “Hellenised.” He is based in part on Oliver St John Gogarty, who actually lived in the Martello Tower in Sandymount. Stephen Dedalus is Joyce’s literary alter ego. Haines was based on Dermot (Samuel) Chenevix Trench, a grandson of Archbishop Richard Chenevix Trench of Dublin.

In Ulysses, Buck Mulligan and Stephen Dedalus paid the Secretary of State for War £12 rent a year for the Martello Tower in Sandymount. When Mulligan, Dedalus and Haines go for a walk down towards the water, Haines asks Stephen about his Hamlet theory, and explains that their Martello Tower reminds him of Hamlet’s Elsinore.

After visiting Portrane and Stella’s Castle on Sunday afternoon, I headed across through the city to Sandymount, with the intention of visiting a friend’s mother in the Brabazon. However, the poor woman was not well enough to receive visitors, and I strolled down to Joyce’s Tower and went for a walk on the beach at Sandymount Strand.

A pink car outside a pink house in a terrace of period houses facing Sandymount Strand (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Sandymount Strand is part of the South Bull – which mirrors the North Bull sandbank – and, although the view is blighted by the twin towers of the pigeon House, there are panoramic views from Sandymount Strand across Dublin Bay towards peninsula of Howth Head on one side, and the piers of Dun Laoghaire on the other.

Despite Buck Mulligan going for a swim at Sandymount, I can hardly imagine it is an ideal place for swimming. Apart from fears about pollution, the gradual slope of the beach must make the water too shallow for swimming near the shoreline.

But I had missed my opportunity for a full-length beach walk at the Burrow in Portrane, and so – as I looked out at the ships in Dublin Bay – I took the opportunity for a walk along the beach at Sandymount, before turning around and walking back along the promenade towards the Martello Tower.

The setting sun behind Saint John’s Church at the top of Saint John’s Road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

At the junction with Saint John’s Road, I could see the sun setting in the west behind Saint John’s Church at the other end of the road. How often I have enjoyed visiting this church over the years, to preside at the Eucharist and to preach.

In the setting sun, the terraced houses, and their chimneys and trees, appeared to be casting shadows like the spires of cathedrals out across the sand (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

In the setting sun, the terraced houses, and their chimneys and trees, appeared to be casting shadows like the spires of cathedrals out across the sand.

However, Joyce’s Tower is bricked up and locked away from public access. It looks as sad, as lonely and as neglected as Stella’s Tower in Portrane did earlier in the afternoon. Any efforts to run a restaurant Joyce’s Tower seem to have fallen on hard times. Were they caught, perhaps, on the Wandering Rocks or deadened by the Sirens?

Joyce’s Tower in Sandymount looked as sad, as lonely and as neglected as Stella’s Tower in Portrane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

In recent months, most of my beach walks have been along shorelines in north Co Dublin. They have boosted my attitude as I continue to try to find energy and strength as I live with the symptoms of sarcoidosis.

The news was good a few weeks ago when my consultant told me that there has been no deterioration in my condition. He hopes remission may begin to kick in within the coming months. But I hope to continue with my beach walks.