James Joyce Tower, Dublin, Ireland
I have never read Ulysses. It’s a rather daunting thought, to begin a book that you know has 265,000 words in it. The author, James Joyce, was certainly not known for his brevity, just as I am not known for my patience. I’m not sure Ulysses and I would be a good fit.
But the book does intrigue me (and maybe there’ll be a time when I’ll tackle it). What I find most interesting is the idea that all of those words describe just one single day in Dublin – 16 June 1904, to be exact. They focus mainly on the character of Leopold Bloom but, of course, there is plenty of room for others. And I think it would be remiss not to quickly mention Stephen Dedalus.
If you’ve ever tried to get through Ulysses yourself, you’ll know the character of Stephen Dedalus. (Even if you didn’t finish reading the book, you’ll know him – he appears in the first chapter!) James Joyce based Dedalus on himself and there are quite a few ways to interpret the autobiographical parallels. The easiest is through the very first scene where we find Dedalus staying in a stone tower on the Irish coast just near Dublin.
This tower is real. It actually exists. And I know this because I have been inside it. And in 1904, James Joyce stayed here as well.
Joyce’s stay in the tower was short. He apparently had a bit of a disagreement with the other occupants and chose to leave. But it must have left an impression for him to use the experience as inspiration for the start of his greatest creation.
The little details he describes in Ulysses ring true when you walk through the structure yourself. You can easily place the room where they all slept. And at the top of the tower, where the famous scene takes place with Buck Mulligan performing a mock mass with his shaving bowl, you don’t need to close your eyes to see it.
The tower is one of many known as ‘Martello Towers’. They were built along the coast of Ireland in the early 1800s as a defensive system against Napoleon. The British thought the French would try to take Ireland so they could attack England from both sides but, although the towers had cannons and were constantly manned, the invasion never came.
Eventually some of the towers – like this one – were put up for rent. Another writer, Oliver St John Gogarty, based himself here and invited Joyce to stay for a bit – which is how he came to spend the short time in the tower. (Gogarty was the inspiration for the Buck Mulligan character, by the way.)
Today, the building is known as James Joyce Tower and it has been turned into a small and free museum. On the ground floor are some exhibits about James Joyce, his works, and his time in the tower.
When you go up a floor, you’ll see the main sleeping room recreated as it would have been in 1904 – complete with a hammock and a cot. There’s also a black jaguar in the fireplace (ask about why it’s there – I won’t ruin the story by telling you myself now!). Then, at the top, is a fantastic panoramic view across Dublin Bay and down the coast.
It’s actually the coastline that brought me to the tower in the first place. I don’t mean that I drove along the coast (although I did). What I mean is that I wanted to explore this stretch of nature that extends out from Dublin.
I’ve been to Dublin a couple of times before – always briefly – and I’ve always thought of it as a city, full of the kind of things you would expect to find in a city. Just with more Guinness and Irish whiskey. I had never, until now, thought of it as a base to explore nature. It turns out it is perfect for that.
It only takes ten minutes or so to drive out of Dublin, towards the southeast, until you hit the coast. Little beaches along the way are great spots to stop. Even in November there are people swimming off the rocky points or in the small coves. The Irish are built tougher than me!
If the sun is out, the water shimmers and the bay looks truly glorious. At some point the Dublin suburbs disappear and are replaced with small towns with not much more to offer than a cafe and a general store. Oh, and a whole lot of charm.
From the top of the Martello Tower that James Joyce stayed in, you can see it all. 360 degrees of view from Dublin, down the coast, across the water and up to the hills. The tower may have inspired the start of Ulysses but everything you can see from here also plays a part in the novel. Dublin is far more complex than you might think at first glance.
Where is James Joyce Tower?
James Joyce Tower is located at Sandycove Point, Sandycove, Co. Dublin, Ireland. You can see it on a map here.
When is James Joyce Tower open?
The tower and museum are open every day of the year at the following times:
Summer: 1000 – 1800
Winter: 1000 – 1600
How much is entry to James Joyce Tower?
Entry to the tower and museum is free although there is a voluntary donation box.
How do you get to James Joyce Tower?
To get to James Joyce Tower by public transport, there are a few options:
DART: Take the DART to Sandycove and Glasthule station and then walk for about 10 minutes along the coast.
Aircoach: Catch the Aircoach to St Joseph’s Church and then walk for about 10 minutes along the coast.
Dublin Bus: Take the Dublin Bus number 59 to St Joseph’s Church and then walk for about 10 minutes along the coast.
Make sure you get a bit of a guided tour or have a chat to the people working at the tower to get the full story about its history and connection with James Joyce.