seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Bloomsday, Commemoration & Celebration of Writer James Joyce

Bloomsday is a commemoration and celebration of the life of Irish writer James Joyce, observed annually in Dublin and elsewhere on June 16, the day his novel Ulysses (1922) takes place in 1904, the date of his first outing with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle, and named after its protagonist Leopold Bloom.

The first mention of such a celebration is found in a letter by Joyce to Miss Weaver of June 27, 1924, which refers to “a group of people who observe what they call Bloom’s day – 16 June.”

The day involves a range of cultural activities, including Ulysses readings and dramatisations, pub crawls and other events, some of it hosted by the James Joyce Centre in North Great George’s Street. Enthusiasts often dress in Edwardian costume to celebrate Bloomsday, and retrace Bloom’s route around Dublin via landmarks such as Davy Byrne’s pub. Hard-core devotees have even been known to hold marathon readings of the entire novel, some lasting up to 36 hours.

The James Joyce Tower and Museum at Sandycove, site of the opening chapter of Ulysses, hosts many free activities around Bloomsday including theatrical performances, musical events, tours of the iconic tower and readings from Joyce’s masterpiece.

In 1954, on the 50th anniversary of the events in the novel, artist, critic, publican and founder of Envoy magazine, John Ryan, and the novelist Brian O’Nolan organise what is to be a daylong pilgrimage along the Ulysses route. They are joined by Patrick Kavanagh, Anthony Cronin, Tom Joyce (Joyce’s cousin, representing the family interest) and A. J. Leventhal, a lecturer in French at Trinity College, Dublin. Ryan engages two horse-drawn cabs, of the old-fashioned sort, in which in Ulysses Mr. Bloom and his friends drive to Paddy Dignam’s funeral. The party are assigned roles from the novel. They plan to travel around the city through the day, starting at the Martello tower at Sandycove where the novel begins, visiting in turn the scenes of the novel, ending at night in what had once been the brothel quarter of the city, the area which Joyce called Nighttown. The pilgrimage is abandoned halfway through when the weary pilgrims succumb to inebriation and rancour at the Bailey pub in the city centre, which Ryan owns at the time, and at which in 1967 he installs the door to No. 7 Eccles Street (Leopold Bloom’s front door), having rescued it from demolition. A Bloomsday record of 1954, informally filmed by John Ryan, follows this pilgrimage.

On Bloomsday 1982, the centenary year of Joyce’s birth, Irish state broadcaster RTÉ transmits a continuous 30-hour dramatic performance of the entire text of Ulysses on radio.

A five-month-long festival, ReJoyce Dublin 2004, takes place in Dublin between April 1 and August 31, 2004. On the Sunday before the 100th “anniversary” of the fictional events described in the book, 10,000 people in Dublin are treated to a free, open-air, full Irish breakfast on O’Connell Street consisting of sausages, rashers, toast, beans, and black and white puddings.

The 2006 Bloomsday festivities are cancelled, the day coinciding with the funeral of former Taoiseach Charles Haughey.

(Pictured: Firstbloom (L to R) John Ryan, Anthony Cronin, Brian O’Nolan, Patrick Kavanagh and Tom Joyce (James Joyce’s cousin); Sandymount, 1954)


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Opening of Ireland’s First Passenger Railway

Ireland’s first passenger railway, the Dublin and Kingstown Railway (D&KR), opens on October 9, 1834. It links Westland Row in Dublin with Kingstown Harbour (Dún Laoghaire) in County Dublin. The D&KR is also notable for a number of other achievements besides being Ireland’s first passenger railway. It operates an atmospheric railway for ten years, claims the first use of a passenger tank engine and is the first railway company to build its own locomotives.

Construction begins on a new harbour at Dunleary village in 1817 that soon begins to attract traffic due to silting problems elsewhere around Dublin Bay. Proposals for canal or rail infrastructure links to Dublin are variously proposed through to the 1830s. James Pim takes the initiative and commissions a plan by Alexander Nimmo which is presented as a petition to the House of Commons on February 28, 1831 for a rail line from near Trinity College Dublin to the west pier at the Royal Harbour of Kingstown under a company to be known as the D&KR. A bill is presented and is progressing but is scuppered by a prorogation of parliament and an election. A fresh bill receives Royal assent on September 6, 1831.

A meeting of D&KR subscribers on November 25, 1831 at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce includes the submission of a long report which indicates that Westland Row is to be the Dublin terminus and that the enterprise is initially to focus on passenger traffic with a high train frequency.

The construction contract is awarded to William Dargan, with Charles Blacker Vignoles as engineer. The construction contract is signed on May 7, 1833 and is completed in about 18 months. The railway proves expensive to build with the final cost being a little under £60,000 per mile. Thomas Grierson, the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway (DW&WR) chief engineer comments in a presentation to the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland in 1887 that speed of construction is remarkably short and leads to “many failures in masonry, bridges, etc.”

On October 4, 1834 the first recorded train with invited passengers is hauled by the engine Vauxhall and runs as far as the Williamstown Martello Tower at what is now Blackrock Park before returning. The engine Hibernia on October 9, 1834 hauls another train of invited passengers composed of eight carriages the entire length of the line and back. Plans are made to introduce a service on October 22, 1834 but storms and flooding damage the line including wrecking the bridge over the River Dodder and this leads to delays for repairs. A timetabled regular service is introduced from January 1835.

On June 30, 1856 the Dublin and Wicklow Railway (D&WR) takes over operation of the line from the D&KR with the D&KR continuing to lease out the line. The D&WR had formerly been known as the Waterford, Wicklow, Wexford and Dublin Railway (WWW&DR or 3WS). It changes its name to the Dublin Wicklow and Wexford Railway (DW&WR) in May 1860 and is ultimately renamed the Dublin and South Eastern Railway (D&SER) in 1907, a name which is retained until the amalgamation of the D&KR and D&SER with the Great Southern Railways on January 1, 1925. As of 1974, its independent existence of over 90 years by a railway company is only exceeded in the British Isles by the Great Western Railway and the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway.

(Pictured: Sketch of Second Class Carriage on the Dublin and Kingstown Railway by E. Heyden, with Patent Spiral spring Buffer, as invented by T.F. Bergin)


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The Irish Free State Takes Drogheda

millmount-droghedaA large Irish Free State force takes Drogheda, County Louth, on July 4, 1922, during the Irish Civil War. They defeat Anti-Treaty fighters who are based at Millmount Fort, a large fortified complex situated on a great mound on the south bank of the River Boyne.

Millmount has been fortified in historical times since the early 12th century when invading Normans built a mote and bailey on what was probably originally a neolithic passage grave similar to Newgrange. In Irish cosmology, it is often assumed to be the burial place of Amergin Glúingel, whose name indicates that in ancient Irish mythology he was regarded as the originator of the arts of song, poetry and music.

Hugh de Lacy, one of the Normans who comes to Ireland after Strongbow, builds the original fort circa 1172, having been granted the Kingdom of Meath by Henry II of England. Later a stone castle is built on the site. This castle forms part of the defences of the town during the Siege of Drogheda during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in 1649. The fort’s English defenders attempt to surrender to Parliamentarian troops under Oliver Cromwell but are massacred when they give themselves up on September 11, 1649. The complex is later called Richmond Barracks. Some of the present buildings, in the courtyard, are built circa 1714. After the unrest and rebellions of the 1790s and the Acts of Union 1800 the complex is re-fortified and the Martello tower is built.

The fort suffers considerable damage during the Irish Civil War. It is occupied by Anti-Treaty forces and on July 4, 1922, it becomes the target of shelling by the army of the Irish Free State. The Free State Forces under Michael Collins have been given extensive support by the British Army at the express wish of Winston Churchill who insists that the Republican Forces be crushed. Using the same British Army 18-pounder artillery piece which had shelled the Republican H.Q. in the Four Courts in Dublin some days earlier the Free State Forces bombard Millmount fort for several hours before the Republican garrison retreats. The famous Martello tower is all but destroyed during the shelling.

Today, after being restored in 2000, the complex houses the Millmount Museum which houses a wide variety of artifacts of local and national importance. The complex is Drogheda’s most dominant feature, clearly visible from all parts of the town. The Martello tower is affectionately known as “The Cup and Saucer” by locals. The whole fort is a national monument and has been designated as Drogheda’s Cultural Quarter.