More than 95 years since it was published in Paris and 88 years since the first major celebration of the novel, Bloomsday is an annual global celebration of James Joyce’s seminal work ‘Ulysses’.
Bloomsday celebrates June 16th, the day depicted in Ulysses, and is named after Leopold Bloom, the central character in the novel. Beginning at 8am on June 16th 1904, ‘Ulysses’ follows Bloom throughout Dublin until the early hours of the following morning.
Robert Gogan’s one-man show, ‘Strolling Through Ulysses’, a simplified telling of ‘Ulysses’, attracted a sizeable crowd to Fermoy Library last Saturday, ahead of the 2017 Bloomsday celebrations, with the Bloomdsay Festival taking place between June 11th and 16th.
Fermoy has its own claim to James Joyce, given that his father, John Stanislaus Joyce, was born in Cork and educated for a period in St Colman’s College in the town.
PASSION FOR MUSIC
Born in Cork City on July 4th 1849, John – the only son of an only son of an only son – was enrolled in the newly open St Colman’s College on St Patrick’s Day in 1859. According to Gordan Bowker in his book ‘James Joyce: A Biography’, John remained at the school for less than a year. “The youngest boy in the college, he was said to have been spoiled, and although not much of a scholar, acquired a ready wit and gained a familiarity with the priesthood which later he came to despise.
“He began to imbibe ideas of Fenianism from these men of the cloth and other boys at the college, as well as from those of his relatives prominent in Irish politics. Music and singing, a significant part of college life, became a significant part of John’s life. He had ‘a good treble voice’, it was said, and ‘sang at concerts at an early age’, acquiring a passion for operatic arias and old Irish ballads, a passion communicated to James, the son who took after him most.
“Some of his favourite songs, such as ‘Blarney Castle’, formed part of young James’s repertoire, and ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ became Mina Kennedy’s favourite song in the ‘Sirens’ episode of ‘Ulysses’. John’s stay at St Colman’s was curtailed when he was withdrawn on 19th February, 1860, either because his fees were unpaid, or after a severe attack of rheumatic fever rendered almost lethal by typhoid. After that, most likely he completed his education under private tuition.”
YOUNGEST PUPIL AT ST COLMAN’S COLLEGE
According to Michael Bourke in St Colman’s College, the college archives record a John Joyce of Grange who was one of the first pupils to enrol in 1859. Mr Bourke said his stipend was paid by his father James and the college account books show that he was 10 years old at the time, the youngest pupil in the school.
Young John received special instruction in piano and singing and, even at this young age, he was showing signs of possessing a tenor voice. Joyce also showed signed of being a promising athlete in Fermoy and when he later went to University College Cork, he held the record in that institution for the hop, step and jump.
“His tuition finished in 1860, the reason given is due to ill-health,” according to Mr Bourke. “At the time this would not have been uncommon, many illnesses were contained by ‘quarantine-like’ conditions: isolating the patient to prevent further spread. Indeed the gate-lodge building at St Colman’s (now the Accord office) was used as an infirmary for many years where boys recuperated away from the main student body. The Joyce family came from Cork to Fermoy and resided at Joyce Cottage, Grange Cross, Mallow Road. The house is down the little laneway on the left towards the river.”
On top of John’s connection with Fermoy and County Cork, his son James visited the county on a number of occasions. Speaking to The Avondhu, Dr James Quin from The James Joyce Centre in Dublin said James Joyce’s main connection with Cork was through his father who, in a letter to Joyce in July 1911 (after the death of his daughter Mabel), threatened to abandon Dublin to return to his native county ‘and perhaps never see one of you again’.
Dr Quin said: “Joyce was in Cork with his father during the summer of 1893 when John Joyce was selling off the last of his mortgaged properties there. Joyce would’ve been 11 years old at the time. This visit is recreated in ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’. Joyce also visited Cork on 12 December 1909 to investigate the possibility of opening a cinema there (Joyce was about to open the first cinema in Dublin, the Volta, that same month) but the visit came to nothing.”
“In a letter on December 15th 1909 he says ‘We left for Cork at 8am and arrived at 1 pm. For five rainy dreary hours we were mooning about Cork. At 6pm we left for Dublin…’ Little known is that Joyce wrote a poem in August 1920 about the hunger strike of Cork Mayor Terence McSwiney. The poem is called ‘The Right Heart in the Wrong Place’. It seems Joyce admired McSwiney’s struggle against British authority. According to Frank O’Connor, Joyce had a picture of Cork framed in Cork in flat in Paris!”