Updated: Nov 4, 2022
When I lived and worked in Dublin, I was no stranger to Eccles Street and during six months while working as a delivery driver in Dublin 7, I delivered daily to Eccles Street.
Eccles Street is probably most famous for the Mater Hospital but internationally, this stretch of road is recognised as the home of Leopold Bloom which is quite strange considering he is a fictional character.
The Mater opened before Joyce was born and over the years the hospital grounds and facilities would have expanded and consumed Bloom's fictional home.
Taking the time frame of the early 20th Century when Joyce started writing Ulysses to when it was actually published in 1922, we can see that Queen Victoria visited Eccles Street in 1900 and that the Mater Hospital was already x-raying patients by 1906.
Internationally we can see the hospital taking soldiers from the Great War and their doctors and nurses travelling to the front to tend to the injured.
Closer to home and much closer to the frontline on O'Connell Street, The Mater Hospital took care of those wounded in the 1916 Easter Rising and within a decade of the end of World War I, we can see that Insulin was first introduced in Ireland at Eccles Street.
It is a beautiful little street tucked away from the city centre and according to Google maps, it is a twenty minute walk from Bloom's house to the General Post Office on O'Connell Street where much of the fighting of the Easter Rising would have taken place. A 1.6km walk according to the Google maps which sounds more like a mile for Joyce's times.
A golden mile for Joyce's character and I wonder how he managed to write about Edwardian Dublin of 1904 when Ireland was changing so much in 1921 and 1922.
Past O'Connell Street and across the River Liffey onto the South side, General Collins saw the transition of power from the British forces in Ireland to the Irish Free State in 1922 at the site of Dublin Castle. The date was January 16, a full fortnight before Joyce's modernist masterpiece was published in Paris.
A new Ireland was born and being formed as his book was being published but let's take a deeper look inside 7 Eccles Street in the next blog, and what that particular address meant to him in an interesting piece of information shared on Instagram by an account called @allthingsjoyceandwilde
Joyce said, "When I die, Dublin will be written on my heart" and it is interesting that Bloom's hearth (fireplace) went on to become part of the National Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Heart and Lung Transplantation in the heart of the city, and that The Mater Hospital would be the site of many firsts including a blood transfusion in 1935, heart surgery in 1952 and a heart transplant programme started in 1985 and lung transplant in 2005.
There is so much medical history and Irish firsts associated with Eccles Street but then again there is a lot of mention of medical students, medical history and medicine in Joyce's work. While Joyce tried studying medicine, Buck Mulligan, and the real life version of him, Oliver St John Gogarty was one, and in A Portrait Of The Artist As A Jung Man, sorry, as a young man, a little Freudian slip trying to mention young Carl Jung who Joyce would have known personally as he treated his daughter Lucia for schizophrenia.
There are endless twists and turns and connections to be made along this side street and while the Mater Hospital was built before Joyce was born, Eccles Street will always be Bloom's home even though the Mater Hospital housed there has continued to make history.
You can read more about the handover of Dublin Castle here https://www.dublincastle.ie/16-january-1922-remembering-the-handover-of-dublin-castle-to-michael-collins/ and I will have to read up on Lucia Joyce's fascinating life and loves as much of her medical history and correspondence have been destroyed, and she spent decades in a mental health centre.
So much history to think about when you next turn down this quiet little street in Dublin 7.
A very interesting read about The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs in the Irish Times: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/why-was-james-joyce-s-daughter-lucia-written-out-of-history-1.2687082
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