Bailey, Duke Street, Dublin City
In James Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses, set in Dublin in 1904, No. 7 Eccles Street is home to Leopold and Molly Bloom. As such the location has always had particular resonance for Joyceans and, although it was demolished in 1982, the Bailey has played an important role in supporting the renown of one of world literature’s most significant addresses. This is the story of James Joyce, the door and the public house…
No. 7 Eccles St. and the Bailey
Joyce’s first encounter with No. 7 Eccles Street came when he returned to Dublin in 1909 for a visit with his son Giorgio. At the time, Joyce was living in Trieste with Nora Barnacle, the four-year-old Giorgio and their two-year-old daughter Lucia. On Wednesday 4 August 1909, Joyce and Giorgio called on his friend John Francis Byrne who lived at No. 7 Eccles Street.
Later during his visit Joyce met his friend Vincent Cosgrave who claimed to have been involved romantically with Nora at the same time as Joyce in 1904. Thrown into a jealous rage, Joyce sent a number of accusatory letters to Nora in Trieste. On Sunday 8 August 1909, Joyce called on Byrne at No. 7 Eccles Street who reassured him that Cosgrave’s claims were untrue. Joyce, now sufficiently reassured about Nora’s fidelity, had supper with Byrne and stayed overnight in the house, leaving after breakfast the next morning.
Before returning to the continent, Joyce again called on Byrne at Eccles Street and they took a long walk around the city together, during the course of which Joyce suggested that Byrne weigh himself at a weighing machine outside a pharmacy. Arriving back at No. 7 Eccles Street, Byrne discovered he had forgotten his latch key and Joyce witnessed him climbing over the front railings to enter the house through the basement kitchen door.
These actions, although of no apparent significance, were worked by Joyce into the texture of Ulysses: Bloom is bestowed with the same height and weight as Byrne (5ft 9 and ½ inches, 10 stone and 4lbs) and, like Byrne, Bloom is made to forget his latch key and must climb over the railings to enter the house at the close of the book. Indeed Joyce’s initial conception for Ulysses while in Rome in 1906 was to tell a tale of one Dubliner’s act of hospitality toward another, and in this way it seems likely that Byrne’s hospitality and his reassurances of Nora’s fidelity led Joyce to subsequently choose No. 7 Eccles Street as the home of the Blooms. Certainly for Joyce the novel is inextricably linked to the address, as he refers to it in Finnegans Wake as his “usylessly unreadable Blue Book of Eccles….”
In the mid-1960s, some of the houses on Eccles Street, including No. 7, were partly demolished to prepare the site for the construction of a new wing of the Mater Private Hospital. Although admirers of Joyce were at this time few, one of them, John Francis Ryan, recognised the significance of the address and set about preserving of it what he could. Ryan was a man of many hues: painter, writer, publisher and editor, broadcaster, supporter of the arts, and owner of The Bailey, Dublin’s central literary haunt.
With the support of poet Patrick Kavanagh, novelist Flann O’Brien and others, Ryan entered into negotiations to purchase the door of the house from the nuns who owned the land on which No. 7 was located. His friend Leslie Mallory, present at this meeting, later recalled that these negotiations almost collapsed when the Reverend Mother learned of the building’s association with “that pagan writer”. Fortunately Ryan was able to defuse the situation with a flash of his chequebook and the door found a new home.
The door was installed in The Bailey, where Patrick Kavanagh declared it officially “shut” on Bloomsday, 16 June 1967. Here it remained for the next thirty years until being reunited with its original stone surround at the James Joyce Centre, 35 North Great George’s Street, where it continues to attract visitors from all over the world to this day.
The Bailey pub, formerly The Maltings, had always been a hub of literary and political activity. Prior to John Ryan’s acquiring it, it had welcomed international artists such as Evelyn Waugh, John Betjeman, and Charles Chaplin, as well as being popular with local figures like Oliver St. John Gogarty, Pádraig Colum and Thomas Kettle. Charles Stuart Parnell, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, frequently met with his supports here, and Arthur Griffith, founder of Sinn Féin, spent his evenings in the pub after long days at the nearby National Library on Kildare Street.
Under John Ryan’s direction the pub again became fertile ground for artists and writers in the 1950s and 60s. Ryan maintained close relationships with all of the significant figures of this period, such as Patrick Kavanagh, Samuel Beckett, Brendan Behan, Brian O’Nolan and J. P. Donleavy, many of whom he also supported financially.
It was in this context that Bloomsday, a celebration of Joyce’s Ulysses, first emerged. Ryan arranged for two horse drawn carriages to take participants from the Martello Tower in Sandycove, where the novel begins, across the city, following in the footsteps of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Daedalus. Present were Kavanagh and O’Nolan, as well as the architect Michael Scott, critic Anthony Cronin and Joyce’s cousin Tom Joyce. As they progressed through their journey the cortege stopped frequently at pubs and by the time they reached the city centre, exhausted and inebriated, they abandoned the expedition for welcoming warmth of The Bailey.
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