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James Joyce slept here and Ulysses begins here in Sandycove, County Dublin

Finding myself staying in the Radisson Blu St. Helen’s hotel in South Dublin and several miles from the city centre sights and activity, I spent a day walking from the hotel to Dalkey, about six miles south, through the villages along the Dublin Bay coastline.

Part 1 – Dublin footsteps of Bono, Michael Collins and Oliver Hardy describes the walk from Radisson Blu St. Helen’s Hotel to Dun Laoghaire harbor and the historic Royal Marine Hotel.

Christmas season is apparent in Dublin with small booths set up for seasonal commerce. In London last week, Winter Wonderland Hyde Park offered an extensive amusement park and hundreds of booths for shopping. Dublin and Dun Laoghaire had a similar set-up with small Christmas market cabins.

Christmas Market
Christmas market – Dun Laoghaire, Ireland

South of Dun Laoghaire the coastline development goes upscale. The socioeconomic shift reminds me of what it is like to walk from Monterey to Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach and Carmel in my home base of the Monterey Peninsula, California.

When the pier was built to create a harbor in the early 19th century at Dun Laoghaire, what was then called Kingstown, passenger ferry service created the need for better transportation between Kingstown and Dublin. The railroad soon followed and saw Kingstown develop over the latter part of the 19th century into a Victorian seaside resort.

The Royal Victorian Baths opened in 1843 and provided one of the top locations in Ireland for bathing in seawater and freshwater pools with spa treatment baths. The location in Dun Laoghaire is south of the East Pier and known as Scotsman’s Bay. The town council of Kingstown purchased and renovated the baths in the late 1890s and renovated the pools 1905-1911. The pools were closed in the 1970s when it was discovered dangerous deterioration of the baths were a public hazard. The baths are now gated off beside the Dun Laoghaire Promenade. I found two articles describing the history of the baths at Abandoned Ireland and Archiseek, both with the same historic photo.

Dun Laoghaire baths
Derelict Victorian era baths of Scotsman’s Bay, Dun Laoghaire.

The fenced-off baths on the coast are the last infrastructure eyesore as you head south along the shoreline. The area quickly goes upscale.

Seaside poetry
Sandycove Promenade poetry

“The first faint noise of gently moving water broke the silence, low & faint & whispering.”

The widened walkway along the Sandycove Promenade of Scotsman’s Bay features sea life art sculptures. This is a particularly fine rendition of a sea urchin.

Coast art
Sandycove Promenade at Scotsman’s Bay

The seashore of Scotsman’s Bay is reminiscent of my hometown of Monterey, California with rocks in the bay.

Dun Laoghaire promenade view
Scotsman’s Bay view to Howth

And fine houses by the seaside.

Scotsman's Bay
Sandycove view to Martello Tower James Joyce Museum

There is a striking resemblance for me to the coastline in Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula to Scotsman’s Bay, Ireland. These two shorelines are 6,000 miles apart.

Hopkins Pacific Grove
Hopkins Marine Station (Stanford University Marine Research) at Pacific Grove, California a few miles from my home in Monterey.

James Joyce is a popular figure in Ireland and worldwide with Ulysses being one of the most highly regarded works in the English language. I have never made it past the first 20 pages of the novel myself, but my coast walk in South Dublin inspires me to give the book another try.

James Joyce slept here and Ulysses begins here in Sandycove, County Dublin

The Martello Tower at Sandycove was built in 1804 and James Joyce briefly resided in the tower for a week in 1904. The opening passages of Ulysses describe the tower at Sandycove.

James Joyce stone
James Joyce Centenary Tree and marker

“…he gazed southward over the bay, empty save for the smokeplume of the mailboat vague on the bright skyline, and a sail tacking by the Muglans. – Ulysses

This tree was planted … on 18th May 1983, to mark the centenary of the birth of James Joyce.”

The Martello Tower in the background is now the James Joyce Museum.

James Joyce Museum
James Joyce Museum, Sandycove, County Dublin

I spent about an hour in the James Joyce Museum, most of it talking to the two local volunteers staffing the tower.

While James Joyce (1882-1941) depicted Dublin as the setting for much of his writing, the author left Ireland in 1904 and lived in Italy, France and Switzerland most of his life. Ulysses appeared in serial form in the USA, until it was banned in the USA and Britain for describing bodily functions of urinating and masturbation. The novel was eventually published in Paris in 1922 and the censorship ban was dropped in a U.S. court case in 1934 when Ulysses was ruled literature and not pornographic. In Ireland, the work was not widely available until the 1950s.

The Martello Tower at Sandycove is about 40 feet high with walls eight feet thick. An 18-pound cannon mounted on the top had a range of nearly one mile. In 1897 the tower was demilitarized and in 1904 offered by the War Department as a rental for £8 per year. Oliver St. John Gogarty rented the tower and invited the 22-year old Joyce to share the place. Joyce arrived on September 9 and Samuel Trench, an Oxford friend of Gogarty, also moved into the tower.

The story is James Joyce was chased out of the tower on September 14 when gunshots were fired inside the room. He left Ireland a month later.

The first chapter of Ulysses is set in the tower with characters based on himself and companions. Gogarty lived in the tower for many years. The tower was purchased in 1954 and with the financial assistance of film director John Huston, the James Joyce Museum was opened on June 16, 1962 by Sylvia Beach, the first publisher of Ulysses in 1922. Admission is free.

James Joyce Tower
James Joyce Museum

The entire novel Ulysses describes the events of an ordinary day in Dublin on June 16, 1904. The date is recognized each year as Bloomsday with literary events.

James Joyce
James Joyce death mask

The first floor has memorabilia and a James Joyce death mask cast made in 1941.

The stairway is narrow in the tower to reach the living room space.

Joyce Tower stairs

The second floor has a desk, hammock and stove. When the tower was militarized, there would typically be four to 16 soldiers housed in the small space.

Joyce Tower living space
James Joyce Museum

The opening passages of Ulysses describe how the room is filled with smoke from a breakfast fry being cooked at the stove. The small windows are called barbacans in Ulysses. Their design is to prevent a cannon shot from passing directly through the opening into the room.

Tower barbican
Tower barbacan

“In the gloomy domed livingroom of the tower Buck Mulligan’s gowned form moved briskly to and fro about the hearth, hiding and revealing its yellow glow. Two shafts of soft daylight fell across the flagged floor from the high barbacans: and at the meeting of their rays a cloud of coalsmoke and fumes of fried grease floated, turning.” – Ulysses Chapter 1.

Visitors can walk to the top of the tower and gaze at the view of the Wicklow Mountains and Dublin Bay from the parapet.

Tower parapet
Parapet view to Dublin Mountains

“Solemnly he came forward and mounted the round gunrest. He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding land and the awaking mountains.” – Ulysses Chapter 1.

Tower Howth view
Parapet view to Howth, north side of Dublin Bay.

“A cloud began to cover the sun slowly, wholly, shadowing the bay in deeper green. It lay beneath him, a bowl of bitter waters.” Ulysses – Chapter 1.

I could have talked with the two Irish volunteers at James Joyce Museum until closing time. They were chatty. Dalkey called me onward and the sunset at 4:05pm was my alarm clock ticking away to mark the end of my restful walk.

Dalkey view
Parapet view to Dalkey, County Dublin.

Dalkey is described as the ‘Beverly Hills of Ireland’ in another article I read. Beverly Hills is actually surprisingly open to the public and is not located on the coast. The coastline of Dalkey is more like Pebble Beach, California. Large houses occupy much of the coastline and the sidewalks along the streets have limited views.

Gated Dalkey coast
Dalkey gated house on coastline.

Still, there are quaint public access spots in Dalkey that give it the appearance familiar to so many small coastal villages in Ireland.

Dalkey harbor
Dalkey harbor

Dalkey village has boutique shops and the SuperValu town market offered the best beer selection I have seen in Ireland. I considered visiting a Dalkey pub, but opted for the market food and beer instead and the DART train back to Booterstown.

Dalkey Village
Dalkey Village center with Dalkey Castle from Norman era in distance.

After returning by DART train from Dalkey, I learned that Bono and the celebs live around Sorrento Point in a beach area beneath Killiney Hill. The sunset kept me from walking that final 15 minutes around the coast.

Dalkey DART
Dalkey DART station

After two days rest since this walk from Radisson Blu St. Helen’s to Dalkey, I feel sufficiently energetic to tackle the next stage down the coast. Dawn has arrived in Dublin and the sky appears cloudless. Looks like a lovely day to DART down past Dalkey and make the Bray to Greystones cliff walk in County Wicklow.


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