DUBLIN, Ireland — From self-imposed exile in Trieste, Italy, Dubliner James Joyce penned a tart quatrain to the homeland he rarely visited again:
"This lovely land that always sent
"Her writers and artists to banishment.
"And the spirit of Irish fun
"Betrayed her own leaders, one by one."
Sure, now, it may have been all in fun after all, at least where the exiled writers are concerned. They're all welcome back in Dublin now, welcome as the tourists in May or any other month. They've become more famous now than ever, despite having been scorned, banned and banished for decades by church, state and polite society.
No city in the world makes such a fuss about its writers, notwithstanding how they once were encouraged to take their genius elsewhere.
Joyce, who knew every street in his "dear, dirty Dublin," would be surprised to find himself, a trifle larger than life, squinting out from under a jaunty fedora and leaning on a gentleman's walking stick, right in the heart of the metropolis.
Only a stone's throw away on O'Connell Street, a main thoroughfare clamorous with double-deck buses, Anna Livia, his symbol for the Liffey river in "Finnegan's Wake," seems to be washing her long hair in a fountain that Dublin wits refer to as "The Floozy in the Jacuzzi."
Within another three blocks can be found the James Joyce Centre for serious study of his works and the Writer's Museum, which pays homage to Irish writers by the dozens, going back to William Congreve, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Jonathan Swift, but extending a grand and ironic welcome home to exiles like Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett. The museum restaurant, accusingly named "Chapter One," attracts a steady clientele of procrastinating young writers discussing works that hopefully soon will at least progress to chapter two.
South of the city at Sandycove, another James Joyce museum overlooks Dublin Bay from a Martello tower built to defend against Napoleon's warships, which never arrived. The tower is better known for Buck Mulligan's descent down the staircase in the opening lines of "Ulysses." Scholars flock to this bleak shrine in greater numbers than the circling sea gulls.
Oliver St. John Gogarty once shared digs here with Joyce. The poet and surgeon, who was livid at finding himself the model for the oafish Buck Mulligan, now has a pub, lively with authentic Irish music, named for him in Temple Bar, the heart of the financial district. Every evening in the upstairs restaurant an actor in Edwardian costume impersonates Gogarty with recitations from his witty works, without mentioning Mulligan, his Joycean alter ego who identified Shakespeare as "the chap that writes like Synge."
Of course every June 16, "Bloom's Day," hundreds of citizens and visiting Joyce fans turn out in authentic period attire to follow Leopold Bloom's meanderings about Dublin and read appropriate passages from Joyce's masterwork, "Ulysses." The novel, which most critics deem the most important literary work of the last century, summons up the city street by street, hour by hour, as it stood on a single day: Thursday, June 16, 1904.
True aficionados try to book into Blooms Hotel on Anglesea Street on that historic June day and buy their boutonnieres and corsages at a nearby florist named "Molly Blooms." The literary pilgrim's progress is often refreshed by a cuppa tea in the James Joyce room at Bewley's Oriental Cafe on Grafton Street, or a jar or two at any licensed premises designated "an authentic James Joyce Pub," like Davy Byrnes or The Bailey. Both are mentioned prominently in "Ulysses."
The Bailey displays a genuine literary artifact. Preserved in the hallway is the door of No. 7 Eccles Street, the real house where the fictional Leopold Bloom resided.
A must-stop on a Joycean pub crawl is John Mulligan's on Poolbeg Street, scene of the humiliating arm-wrestling contest in "Counterparts," a short story in the "Dubliners" collection. The story itself is a pub crawl, beginning in the snug at O'Neill's public house and moving onto a couple of other drinking establishments before Mulligan's.
This dingy oasis near the Fire Brigade headquarters was famously visited by a young writer-politician from Boston named John F. Kennedy, who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for his "Profiles in Courage" and also became president of the United States.
In a downstairs lounge called "The Oval Office," Shanahan's public house purports to have "President Kennedy's trademark rocking chair that traveled all over the world with him on Air Force One." Like the prevalence of genuine Hemingway bar stools in Key West and Havana, furniture cloning is suspected here by doubting Dubliners.
Irish-born authors Edmund Burke and Oliver Goldsmith, who did most of their writing in London and were members of Dr. Johnson's Literary Club, stand in granite grandeur on tall pedestals at the gates of Trinity College, their alma mater. Beneath their stony gaze, hundreds of tourists file by toward the campus library, where one page a day the Book of Kells, an eighth-century masterpiece of illuminated script, is viewable under glass.
Across St. Stephen's Green is a chapel devoted to John Henry Newman, leader of the Oxford movement who converted to Catholicism and was later elevated to cardinal. He was the first rector of University College, founded by the Irish bishops on this site. Here Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins taught classical Greek.
In these days of high worship for native talent many Irish writers are memorialized in stained glass— not in chapels like Newman or cathedrals like Dean Swift — but in Dublin's many pubs and hotel bars. At the long bar in Winns Hotel, a venerable hostelry just over the O'Connell Bridge, bibblers can raise a pint to the stained-glass effigies of Wilde, Beckett, O'Flaherty,
O'Casey and a dozen other now-sainted scribes staring back at them. On the opposite side of the wide street, the even longer bar at the Royal Dublin Hotel offers a panoramic poets' corner in leaded glass, like Westminster Abbey's windows, flanked by bottles of spirits substituting for altar candelabra.
The elegant Shelbourne Hotel, famed for its horseshoe bar usually boisterous with horsey and sporting types, also attracts its share of the more sedate literary crowd. In the drawing room beyond the bar, William Butler Yeats used to read his poems aloud to friends before the fire.