16 June 2024

An odyssey before
Bloomsday visiting
Joyce’s early homes
in Dublin and Bray

Terenure in Dublin stakes a claim to James Joyce and his childhood odysseys (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Today is Bloomsday celebrating that day 120 years ago – Thursday 16 June 1904 – celebrated by James Joyce in Ulysses 102 years ago in 1922. The day is named after Leopold Bloom, the principal character in the book as he wanders through the streets of Dublin.

The Bloomsday celebrations this year include readings, performances, re-enactments, tours, exhibitions, lectures, children’s events, a film festival, and many other festivities, with many people dressing, including straw boaters and bowlers.

Bloomsday is unparallelled as an international literary and cultural festival and it is one of the largest festivals in Dublin, with about 100 events throughout the city, attracting thousands of visitors from around the world.

Shakespeare & Co on the Rue de la Bûcherie in Paris … ‘Ulysses’ was first published by Shakespeare & Co in Paris in 1922 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Ulysses was first published by Shakespeare & Co in Paris in 1922, and I visited the successor bookshop on the Left Bank in February. A number of events today would compete for my attention if I were in Dublin today.

‘Joyce and the Jesuits: Bloomsday at St Francis Xavier Church’ is one of those events, from 12:30 to 4 pm. When Ulysses was published 102 years ago, Father George O’Neill, one of Joyce’s Jesuit teachers at Clongowes Wood, said Joyce was enjoying ‘regrettable celebrity’ in Paris. Yet, while Joyce pokes gentle fun at some individual Jesuits, his affection for the Jesuits who educated him runs through his writings.

The main response to Ulysses in Ireland was to attack it on anti-Catholic grounds. But, while Joyce may have had issues with the Irish Catholic Church at the time, his writings were steeped in Church history, philosophy and theology, and his knowledge was often far better than many of the Irish Catholic clergy who denounced him. Gradually, the importance of Joyce in Irish literature became more widely accepted.

The Baptistry in Saint Joseph’s Church, Terenure … James Joyce was baptised on 5 February 1882 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Jesuit Church of Saint Francis Xavier, Gardiner Street, features throughout his work. This afternoon, the actor, writer and broadcaster Gerry McArdle puts together a programme of readings from Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses that highlight Joyce’s Jesuit connections. He is joined by Raphael Kelly, a well-known figure in Irish musical circles, and the singer Suzanne Mangan. The event is hosted and narrated by the RTÉ newscaster Eileen Dunne.

At the same time, the Irish Jewish Museum is presenting two events for Bloomsday about the Jewish history of Dublin during Joyce’s time.

The Joyce Focus Tour is at 1:30. The Irish Jewish Museum is in the heart of what was the Jewish quarter of Portobello, known to many as ‘Little Jerusalem’, and has memories of life in the area as Leopold Bloom might have known it and as Joyce witnessed it in the early 1900s.

This is followed at 3 pm with a screening of Estella, a documentary on the life of Estella Solomons, the Irish landscape and portrait painter and contemporary of James Joyce. Born in Dublin in 1882 and her portraits record three generation of rebels, artists and literary figures who forged the new Ireland. The 52-minutes film, made in 2002, was directed by Steve Woods, who is present at this afternoon’s screening.

Rathgar Bloomsday Festival was celebrated a day before Bloomsday this weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Rathgar, the suburban Dublin village where James Joyce was born in 1882, celebrated Bloomsday a day earlier with the Rathgar Bloomsday Festival yesterday at Rathgar Village Square, sponsored by Dublin City Council and Rathgar Business Association.

The programme included readings from Ulysses, jazz from Razzmajazz, food stalls and face painting.

My friend and colleague Professor Salvador Ryan of Maynooth University is planning a new book on ‘Childhood and the Irish’, following on the success of his recent books on Birth (2021), Marriage (2019), Death (2016) and Christmas (2023) and the Irish. One of the suggestions I have put to him is a chapter on James Joyce’s childhood, and his childhood odyssey across Dublin, between 1882 and 1902.

James Joyce was born at 41 Brighton Square, Rathgar, on 2 February 1882 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

When Charlotte and I were in Bray and Dublin about a week ago, I went in search of some of Joyce’s childhood homes in Rathgar, Rathmines and Bray that were part of that odyssey. During the course of a day, I visited the first three houses that were the childhood homes of James Joyce.

His childhood odyssey began when James Joyce was born at 41 Brighton Square, Rathgar, on 2 February 1882, and baptised on 5 February 1882 in the temporary church on the site of Saint Joseph’s Church, Terenure, just a few steps away from the Eagle Tavern, where his mother May (Murray) Joyce was born.

Over the next 20 years, Joyce’s father moved the family to 14 different addresses in Dublin and neighbouring areas. The family moved in 1884 to 23 Castlewood Avenue, Rathmines, where he lived until 1887. A plaque on the house says he lived there from the age of two to five, ‘and wrote his first words here.’

James Joyce ‘wrote his first words’ at 23 Castlewood Avenue in Rathmines (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Joyce family then moved to No 1 Martello Terrace in Bray in 1887, and lived there until 1892. A modest plaque is on the façade of the house, facing the Promenade and Bray Head, and a short stroll from the Martello Hotel, where Charlotte and I were staying for two nights. Appropriately, Ulysses is the name of a former guesthouse nearby on Strand Road, that has recently been converted into apartments.

When Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan stand ‘looking towards the blunt cape of Bray Head that lay on the water like the snout of a sleeping whale,’ it actually physically impossible for them see Bray Head from the tower in Sandycove. This is surprising, because Joyce was familiar with Bray Head as a child, and Bray Head is praised as one of the glories of Ireland in ‘Cyclops’. Bray is where Stephen Dedalus grew up, and it is where Molly and Leopold Bloom once took a rowboat out on the waves.

Joyce’s childhood home in Bray is represented in A Portrait of the Artist, in the Christmas dinner scene in which Simon Dedalus squares off against Dante O’Riordain over the tragic death of Charles Stewart Parnell. One of Joyce's memories from those days also surfaces in ‘Calypso,’ when Bloom mentally recites a little love poem to his daughter.

The Joyce family moved to No 1 Martello Terrace, Bray, in 1887 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

In ‘Penelope,’ Molly Bloom recalls a nearly disastrous rowing outing off the coast in Bray: ‘Id never again in this life get into a boat with him after him at Bray telling the boatman he knew how to row if anyone asked could he ride the steeplechase for the gold cup hed say yes then it came on to get rough the old thing crookeding about and the weight all down my side telling me pull the right reins now pull the left and the tide all swamping in floods in through the bottom and his oar slipping out of the stirrup its a mercy we werent all drowned he can swim of course me no theres no danger whatsoever keep yourself calm in his flannel trousers Id like to have tattered them down off him before all the people and give him what that one calls flagellate till he was black and blue do him all the good in the world.’

Bray Rowing Club continues to keep seagoing rowing boats on the beach in Bray to this day, and the boats were on the beach as Charolotte strolled along the seafront towards Bray Head at dusk in the late evening.

Bray Rowing Club continues to keep rowing boats on the beach in Bray (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

From Bray, the Joyce family moved regularly, evading and escaping debt collectors and bailiffs at addresses in Blackrock (1892), Fitzgibbon Street (1893), Hardwicke Street (1894), Millbourne Avenue (1894), North Richmond Street (1895), Windsor Avenue (1896), Convent Avenue (1899), Richmond Avenue (1899), Royal Terrace (1900), Glengariff Parade (1902), and Saint Peter’s Terrace (1902).

The family continued to move after James Joyce moved to Paris in 1902, with at least six more identifiable and known addresses.

Perhaps this childhood and teenage odyssey, criss-crossing Dublin, influenced the greatest odyssey in modern Irish literature, the wanderings of Leopold Bloom 120 years ago on Bloomsday, 16 June 1904.

Ulysses on Strand Road in Bray … recently converted into apartments (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Ordinary Time 2024:
38, 16 June 2024, Trinity III

The altar and the holy gifts seen through the central doors of the iconostasis in Stony Stratford, open during the Divine Liturgy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

This is the Third Sunday after Trinity (Trinity III, 16 June 2024) and Father’s Day – and in Dublin today is also being celebrated as Bloomsday, one of the great literary festivals in the English-speaking world. Later this morning I hope to sing with the choir at the Parish Eucharist in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church in Stony Stratford.

Before today begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a reflection on the icons in the new iconostasis or icon stand in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford.

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

4, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

The lower, first tier of the iconostasis in Stony Stratford, with the central doors open during the Divine Liturgy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Mark 4: 24-37 (NRSVUE):

26 He [Jesus] also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle because the harvest has come.”

30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

A circular icon of the Archangel Gabriel in the central doors of the iconostasis in Stony Stratford, one of two icons depicting the Annunciation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Stony Stratford iconostasis 1: The Doors

At the Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Church, the Symbol of Faith or the Creed is traditionally introduced with the exclamation: ‘The Doors! The Doors! In wisdom, let us attend!’

However, the doors referred to here are the doors of the church building, and not the doors of the iconostasis as many think. This is a call to ensure that all catechumens and non-communicants have left, and that no-one enters or leave the liturgical assembly. The historical liturgical expectation was that the Creed would be said only by those who had already officially pronounced it at baptism, and continued to confess it within the life of the Church.

Of course, visitors are now allowed to remain in the church and, because the bread and wine of the liturgy have been brought though the doors of the iconostasis, many people now believe that these are the doors referred to in the call: ‘The Doors! The Doors! In wisdom, let us attend!’

Over the last few weeks, I have been watching the building and installation of the new iconostasis or icon screen in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford. In my prayer diary this morning and over the next few weeks, I am reflecting on this new iconostasis, and the theological meaning and liturgical significance of its icons and decorations.

The lower, first tier of a traditional iconostasis is sometimes called Sovereign. On the right side of the Beautiful Gates facing forward is an icon of Christ, often as the Pantokrator, representing his second coming, and on the left is an icon of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary), symbolising the incarnation. It is another way of saying all things take place between Christ’s first coming and his second coming.

Other icons on this tier usually include depictions of the patron saint or feast day of the church, Saint John the Baptist, one or more of the Four Evangelists, and so on.

The central doors of the iconostasis in Stony Stratford have two round or circular icons, one of the Archangel Gabriel and the other of the Virgin Mary.

When the doors are open during the liturgy, all can seen the altar and above it an iconic representation of the Crucifixion, with images on each side of it of the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Theologian or Saint John the Evangelist.

I am thinking this morning of how many people find the doors of the church are closed to them, and how often we fail to bring Christ out of the church and into the world. Bishop Rosemarie Mallett, in her reflections for the USPG Prayer Diary this morning, also discusses how many in the Windrush generation looked for welcome and hospitality from their Christian brothers and sisters but were turned away from church doors. Who else finds the doors of the church are closed to them?

A circular icon of the Virgin Mary in the central doors of the iconostasis in Stony Stratford, one of two icons depicting the Annunciation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Today’s Prayers (Sunday 16 June 2024, Trinity III):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Windrush Day.’ This theme is introduced today with reflections by the Right Revd Dr Rosemarie Mallett, Bishop of Croydon:

‘On Windrush Day, we remember the Caribbean migrants who, in the same year that Windrush Day was inaugurated (2018), faced deportation. Despite arriving in the UK with British passports and living here for decades, they were told they did not belong and had no right to be in the country.

‘That sense of ‘unbelonging’ and the hostile environment of racism and rejection are felt by many of the original generation and their descendants. There can be no Caribbean-diaspora person who has not personally faced or known someone who has faced overt racism, unconscious bias, and racialised arrogance due to skin colour and cultural differences from white UK society. This was no different for those who looked for welcome and hospitality from Christian brothers and sisters and were turned away from church doors. Thankfully, this did not stop that generation of migrants from envisioning a place for themselves in whatever aspect of society they wished to succeed in.

‘On this and every Windrush Day, we give thanks to those early pioneers, celebrating the successes of those individuals who believed in their talent and skills, and most often, their God. Who often worked hard to overcome prejudice and advance themselves, their families, and their community. Today, we can see the flourishing of leadership and representation of people of colour and those of Caribbean heritage and descent in all aspects of life in this country. However, though much has changed, there is still a way to go before people can truly feel welcome and accepted and that they fully belong.’

The USPG Prayer Diary today (16 June 2024, Trinity III) invites us to reflect on these words:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands (Revelation 7: 9).

The Collect:

Almighty God,
you have broken the tyranny of sin
and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts
whereby we call you Father:
give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service,
that we and all creation may be brought
to the glorious liberty of the children of God;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

O God, whose beauty is beyond our imagining
and whose power we cannot comprehend:
show us your glory as far as we can grasp it,
and shield us from knowing more than we can bear
until we may look upon you without fear;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Additional Collect:

God our saviour,
look on this wounded world
in pity and in power;
hold us fast to your promises of peace
won for us by your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Yesterday’s introduction to the Stony Stratford iconostasis

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

I have watched the iconostasis being built and put in place in Stony Stratford in recent weeks (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition copyright © 2021, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.