08 November 2015

Finding relics of Eliot and Joyce
in Dun Laoghaire and Sandycove

Haigh Terrace, Dun Laoghaire … a forgotten connection with TS Eliot by marriage (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

During a presentation on TS Eliot, his poetry and his spirituality, I referred yesterday [7 November 2015] to the Irish background of the family of his wife Vivienne Haigh-Wood, and how some of their wealth came from a terrace of houses in Dun Laoghaire, and I referred also to his friendship with James Joyce, which lasted for the best part of two decades.

It seems natural then, at the end of a long working weekend, after our closing Eucharist and a light lunch, that two of us should spend the afternoon visiting Haigh Terrace in Dun Laoghaire and the Joyce Tower at Sandycove.

On a rainy, wind-swept afternoon, it is possible to miss Haigh Terrace altogether. One side has humdrum modern apartments and a side entrance to the Royal Marine Hotel, the end is closed off with bollards to create an artificial cul-de-sac, and the side lined with the houses built by the Haigh family is better known for the former Kingstown Mariners’ Church, now the National Maritime Museum, at the end of the sloping avenue the looks out to the sea.

Remembering the name of the Haigh-Wood family on a house in Haigh Terrace (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Some of the once-elegant Victorian houses on Haigh Terrace are now divided into flats, with multiple doorbells at the front doors, while others have been spruced up in recent years, and the original name recalling the Haigh family is still carved into the corner of one house.

However, there is nothing to indicate that this terrace has any connections with TS Eliot and Vivienne Haigh-Wood who were married 100 years ago in 1915.

A king for Kingstown? ... a figure at the porch of the former Mariners’ Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

At the end of the terrace, the former Mariners’ Church was built by subscription in 1836, after £1,000 was given as endowment for a church for seafarers to be known as the Protestant Episcopal Mariners’ Church at Kingstown Harbour.

In the 1830s, the town and harbour of Kingstown were growing in social and commercial importance and a need was identified for a church to care for the spiritual needs of officers and sailors.

The church was designed by the architect Joseph Welland (1798-1860) and was consecrated in 1843. The first chaplain, the Revd Richard Sinclair Brooke (1802-1882), described it at the time as “large and gaunt and lofty and ugly a satire on taste, a libel of all ecclesiastical rule, mocking at proportion and symmetry.”

In 1862-1867, the spire designed by Raffles Browne and the lancet windows were added, and the chancel was added in 1884.

There were further renovations in 1870, and again in 1884, under the direction of the architect Thomas Drew (1838-1910). During this work, a plasterer working on the ceiling died when the scaffolding collapsed and his colleague was seriously injured.

The church reopened in 1884, but the congregation dwindled in the last century, and the church for worship at Easter 1972. In 1974 the Maritime Institute signed a lease on the church, and the National Maritime Museum was opened by President Patrick Hillery in 1978.

The Joyce Tower and Museum in Sandycove, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

From Dun Laoghaire, we drove on through Glasthule to Sandycove and parked close to “the Forty Foot” and the little sandy cove that gives this village its name.

This was my first time to visit the James Joyce Tower and Museum, housed in a former Martello Tower built in 1804.

The tower is the location of the opening passage of Ulysses and houses a museum with letters, photographs and many of the personal possessions of James Joyce.

This is Sandycove’s main attraction, and it has survived recent threats of imminent closure. But the ‘Friends of Joyce Tower Society’ were formed and came to rescue. The tower is now open to the public every day, with volunteers on hand. Visitors number around 150-200 a day in summer and 50-60 in the winter season.

A copy of James Joyce’s death mask in Joyce Tower and Museum in Sandycove, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The tower is about 40 ft high with walls 8 ft thick. It was demilitarised in 1904 and put up for rent by the War Department at £8 a year. The first tenant was Oliver St John Gogarty, a medical student and budding poet, who moved in in August and invited the James Joyce, then a 20-year-old to join him.

Joyce arrived at the tower on 9 September, and they were joined by Samuel Chenevix Trench, an Oxford friend of Gogarty’s. But Joyce’s stay was brief. He was chased out of the tower on the night of 14 September and never returned. A month later he left Ireland for a literary career in Europe.

The first chapter of Ulysses, published in 1922, is set in the tower with characters based on himself and his companions and with the implication that he had paid the rent. As a result the tower became his monument despite the fact that Gogarty had been the tenant and had been visited here over the years by many celebrated Irish personalities and literary figures.

The tower was bought in 1954 by the architect Michael Scott. With the help of a gift of money from the filmmaker John Huston, he and his friends set up the James Joyce Museum which was opened on 16 June 1962 by Sylvia Beach, the first publisher of Ulysses.

Over the years the museum collection has grown thanks to the generosity of many donors. In 1978 an exhibition hall was added to the building and a new entrance put in at ground level.

From the top, there are views to Dalkey and Dun Laoghaire, and out across Dublin Bay to Howth.

When we climbed back down, there was a half rainbow in sky, a few swimmers in the water at the Forty Foot, and the sun had come out again, shining across Dun Laoghaire and onto the small sandy cove at Sandycove, below the Joyce Tower and Museum.

Sunset at the sandy cove that gives its name to Sandycove, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

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