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A Ghost Story, & A Symbol of Irish Art

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

"Tell us a story sir, oh do sir, a ghost story," our story begins at Wilde´s front door but ends thousands of miles away in Europe, with a portrait of the artist as a young man, taken through my own mirrored looking glass.

Oscar Wilde and James Joyce were both born in Dublin but never buried there and I wonder if their spirits are as restless as Hamlet´s ghost.

While Wilde proclaimed his genius as far away as Ellis Island, Joyce thought English in Europe for Berlitz and learned languages. Today Wilde and Joyce are translated in every language but in their time, they both travelled extensively in Europe but to my knowledge, neither made it as far as Madrid where this story takes place.

Nobody would be surprised if it happened in Paris where Ulysses was published and Oscar Wilde was buried but this ghost story takes place by Joyce´s drinking buddy´s old haunts, near three of Hemingway´s favourite bars. Hemingway and Joyce drank together in Paris but this story takes place in an Irish bar in Madrid and decades later in the beautiful 200-year-old theatre, El Ateneo when a Bloomsday´s reading brought Joyce to life when Malachy Murphy stepped up to read at the lectern.

Our exiled authors gave us, funerals, wakes and The Dead, ghosts, statues and immortality presented in a single picture.

Wilde wrote about a statue called The Happy Prince but both men have since been happily immortalised with statues of their own.

A very colourful statue of Wilde rests at the corner of Merrion Square where our story begins when James Joyce was stood up by his very own Molly Bloom when he arranged to meet her by Wilde´s front door.

"If Wilde were only alive" to see Joyce waiting there but he was already at peace in Paris by then and it is believed that Bloomsday is based on his first date with Nora Barnacle, a date now celebrated around the world.

Bloomsday is based on Leopold Bloom who travels around Dublin on the 16th of June 1904 and from his first date, Joyce created a literary date that is celebrated on each and every Bloomsday.

Dressed in Edwardian style, we try to recreate Joyce´s Dublin and since he was not allowed to be buried at home, I wonder if the spirit of Joyce is not entirely at rest but very much alive on Bloomsday and when we read Finegan´s Wake, Ulysses and The Dead.

I wanted to photograph Bloomsday with my vintage camera and Bill Dixon from the Bloomsday Society made film for my 1929 camera from Joyce´s lifetime for us to use but what I captured on my digital camera was the the spirit of Joyce, projected on a Wall.

Not to be dismissed, this is something more than just a shadow on a wall, this is like catching Peter Pan´s shadow.

Who dressed us on Bloomsday? Who created this look that we celebrate in mid-June when we remember Joyce´s first date with the love who stood him up at Wilde´s front door.

I myself would have dismissed this picture of James Joyce projected on a wall but in the words of Joyce himself, "It is a symbol of Irish art."

I could not ignore this painting on the wall, because Joyce had dressed Malachy Murphy with that hat and me with rounded spectacles. He had dressed all of us with his pen and this shadow, is the symbol of Irish art.

John Liddy reading on Bloomsday at the El Ateneo

A couple of decades earlier, John Liddy had felt the presence of Joyce while enjoying a Bloomsday breakfast in Kitty O´Shea´s Irish bar that has since been renamed The James Joyce.

The Limerick man had told me before about his experience in the late 1990s when he was leading a reading of Joyce on Bloomsday when he felt unwell and stopped, his head bowed like he was in a trance, he felt a shiver up his spine and looked at the group who all looked to be in a trance like state. He asked the group, “did you feel that?” and the group just nodded in agreement.

The story was significant enough to be repeated to me, years later and when I saw through my own mirrored glass, and the digital image I created, I could see that Joyce was alive and well in Madrid again.

This was no brief exposure from Westmeath, like Joyce´s photogirl, the image was clear enough for me to capture more than once and I reached for my rounded spectacles to truly frame, the spirit of Joyce through the cracked looking glass of a servant.

This was nothing but a stage light and the shadow it created but it was Joyce who dressed us in hats and in his image so "Write down all I said, Tell Tom, Dick and Harry, I rose from the dead" Joyce´s picture more than the immortal image of Dorian Grey was clearly, a symbol of Irish art.

WAKING THE DEAD: Let me check my spectacles, I think I just saw James Joyce.

Supported by

UNESCO City of Literature

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