DUBLIN—Sandymount Strand would definitely not be the first thing you’d imagine when you think of Dublin. It is everything a America tourist’s idea of Dublin is not: There are no cobbled streets, an utter absence of pubs, no dreary sidewalks with brogue-bearing men, and instead of the River Liffey cutting across the horizon, there is the vast Irish Sea. Sandymout Strand is not an American’s Dublin; it is James Joyce’s Dublin.
Joyce wrote his famously unreadable novel “Ulysses” to take place in and around Dublin on one day, June 16. I found myself in this achingly lonely expanse with a group of Irish retirees on June 16—Bloomsday, as it is called—precisely because a few chapters in “Ulysses” occur on this very strand.
Bloomsday has become somewhat of a national—or at least municipal—holiday. Many of the women and men in our group were dressed in Edwardian-era garb. The women, most of them my grandmother’s age, boasted long skirts and gaudy hats while the men donned suspenders and bowler hats.
A novel that was once viewed as crude, offensive, and base has become a point of pride amongst Dubliners. From the time that “Ulysses” was published in 1922 up until the 1970s, the book was almost impossible to find in Ireland. I listened as my fellow walkers described their first encounters with the novel; often it was while abroad that they found and read the book, and even then the voices of strict nuns and righteous teachers rang disapprovingly in their heads. For them it was an act of rebellion to read the descriptions of sex, drinking, and debauchery. It wasn’t until 2012, when “Ulysses” was released from copyright, that traditions such as this one became widespread and legal.
I found that my companions that Bloomsday morning were eager to show me the trees that remain in Sandymount just as they stood in the novel and the exact location on the strand where Leopold Bloom spies on three young women. We ate a celebratory Bloomsday breakfast of kidney, eggs, fried tomato, and blood pudding, and then walked the path that Stephen Dedalus strolls. As we stood looking out over the strand we listened to Rodney, a Sandymount native and our Joyce guide, read an excerpt from “Ulysses”:
“Stephen closed his eyes to hear his boots crush crackling wrack and shells. Open your eyes a stride at a time. Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount Strand?”
I heard the wind rustle the ladies’ long skirts like a sigh yawning out over the sea. Joyce’s Dublin is here amid the waves and held in the minds of these once rebels.
Virginia R. Marshall ‘15, a Crimson arts editor, is an English concentrator in Dunster House.