16 June 2020

A Bloomsday diversion from
Anna Livia to Mullingar House
and ‘Finnegans Wake’

Mullingar House … the setting for James Joyce’s ‘Finnegans Wake’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Today is Bloomsday and today – at least in their mind’s eyes – many Joycean scholars and fans are going to spend the way retracing Leopold Bloom’s perambulations around Dublin in Ulysses and wishing they could stop off in Davy Byrne’s ‘moral pub’ in Duke Street for a Gorgonzola sandwich and a glass of burgundy, and other closed pubs for refreshments.

Some of the other Dublin pubs associated with James Joyce include Mulligan’s of Poolbeg Street, where the Back Room provides a setting for a scene in The Dead; Kennedy’s pub on Westland Row, mentioned in Ulysses as ‘Conways’ pub, across the road from Sweny’s pharmacy; the Bailey on Duke Street, where the first Bloomsday celebrations began and which for 30 years displayed the door from No 7 Eccles Street, where Leopold Bloom begins his journey; the Lincoln Inn on Lincoln Place, which stands on the site of Finn’s Hotel where Nora Barnacle worked and where she first met James Joyce on the day celebrated as Bloomsday; the ‘Sirens’ episode is set in the bar of the old Ormond Hotel; and there is the nationalistic Citizen holds forth in Barney Kiernan’s of Little Britain Street.

But as I was walking along the banks of the River Liffey between Islandbridge and Chapelizod last week, I was reminded that James Joyce set his last great masterpiece, Finnegans Wake, in Chapelizod.

Mullingar House, a 300-year-old coaching house in the heart of the village, features in Dubliners and more centrally in Finnegans Wake, where the hero, Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, is described as its owner.

Chapelizod is also the place where James Duffy lives in the Dubliners story, ‘A Painful Case,’ which opens: ‘Mr James Duffy lived in Chapelizod because he wished to live as far as possible from the city of which he was a citizen and because he found all the other suburbs of Dublin mean, modern and pretentious.’

The plaque placed by Dublin Tourism on the front of Mullingar House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Dublin Tourism has placed a plaque on the front of Mullingar House that reads: ‘Home of all characters and elements in James Joyce’s novel Finnegans Wake.’ The bridge crossing the Liffey in front of the pub has been named ‘Anna Livia Bridge.’

Joyce finished writing Finnegans Wake on 13 November 1938, and it was published on 4 May 1939 by Faber & Faber in London, and by Viking Press in New York.

Joyce had been working on Finnegans Wake for almost 17 years and this was his final novel. He told the literary critic Eugene Jolas that Finnegans Wake was the story of a Chapelizod family.

Writing in My Friend James Joyce, Jolas recalled how Joyce told him: ‘I might easily have written this story in the traditional manner … But I, after all, am trying to tell the story of this Chapelizod family in a new way. Time and the river and the mountain are the real heroes of my book.’

Most of Book Two of Finnegans Wake takes place in and around a pub, run by Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. Joyce’s father, John Stanislaus Joyce, worked for almost three years 1873-1876 as secretary of a distilling company in Chapelizod and regularly frequented the Mullingar House, then known as the Mullingar Hotel, drinking and playing bowls.

The character of Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, or HCE, was based on the then publican, Robert Broadbent (1826-1896). Joyce says in Finnegans Wake that HCE ‘owns the bulgiest bung-barrel that ever was tip-tapped in the privace of the Mullingar Inn.’

In later years, after he had squandered his inheritance, John Joyce looked back on his days in Chapelizod as a lost golden age.

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s novel, The House by the Churchyard (1862), is set in Chapelizod where his father, the Revd Thomas Philip Le Fanu, was the Rector, and the book is a major source in Finnegans Wake. Many of the scenes take place in a village inn called the Phoenix.

The James Joyce Bistro, beside Mullingar House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

For many years, the Mullingar House was owned by the Keenan family, who were very conscious of the Joycean connection, but it was sold in recent years to a consortium of pub owners. The Mullingar House also has a James Joyce Bistro, although both are closed during the present Covid-19 lockdown.

To celebrate Bloomsday this evening (16 June 2020), the Hellenic Community of Ireland is presenting Ulysses of Dublin online at 7 p.m.: https://www.facebook.com/events/241217513842268/

Paddy Sammon will talk about the Greek influences on Joyce’s Ulysses, Fran O’Rourke will discuss James Joyce’s relationship with music and present some of the songs the writer loved and incorporated into his writings; and Polymnia Drakopoulou will present an extract from ‘The Sirens,’ the most musical episode in Ulysses. This event is in the Greek language.

The River Liffey seen from the Anna Livia Bridge at Chapelizod (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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