The return of the Dublin Book Festival this weekend reminds one of Dublin’s most famous novel, Ulysses, and its iconic landmark. James Joyce only stayed there for five and a half nights, yet no other home has become so synonymous with the writer. The good news for tourists and literati alike is that the James Joyce Tower and Museum, closed for several months late last year and this year, has re-opened.
Situated in Sandycove by the Forty Foot inlet, Joyce’s tower was one of twenty six Martello towers built from 1804 to defend Ireland against the threat of Napoleonic invasion. One hundred years later, the tower was demilitarised and soon inhabited by Oliver St John Gogarty, Joyce’s friend. Joyce was invited to move in some months before he eventually did in September, by which time relations between the two had cooled. On Joyce’s sixth night, high drama involving a firearm, Gogarty, and Samuel Chenevix Trench, Gogarty’s friend who was also staying at the tower, led Joyce to flee. A month later, the young writer would be gone from Ireland forever.
St John Gogarty received many famous literary visitors at the tower of many years. Yet when the granite tower was bought by the architect Michael Scott in the 1950s, fans of Joyce collaborated to turn it into a monument dedicated to the writer. It was opened in 1962.
It’s not because the opening scene of Ulysses is set in the tower that makes this place interesting. It’s more the quirky collection of Joycean memorabilia and letters, combined with clear, informative text about his writing of the world famous novel and his life. The paintings, photos, the two plaster death masks and a plaster bust of Joyce all provide intriguing snapshots of a unique looking man at various stages of his life.
A walk through the museum and tower can take little more than half an hour. It’s run entirely by volunteers, financed by donations. On a fine day the view from the roof’s circular gun deck is spectacular: the proximate but distant brown mound of Howth, the hearty swimmers nearby plunging into the ice cold Irish Sea, the coastline of south Dublin and the broad Dublin Bay – sights and sounds that Joyce returned to again and again in his works about the city. Even plump Buck Mulligan, or the tower’s tenant on whom the character is based, might be pleased.