DUBLIN, Ireland -- Stately? Not really.
Peter Fullam, that's me, came from the staircase on top of the Martello tower at Sandycove bearing camcorder and a map.
I reverently tip-toed around the stone gun platform on top of the tower to take in the view.
It was a sight I had dreamed of for years.
Wind-driven whitecaps marched across Dublin Bay, and a cold wind sprang up, buffeting my nylon Red Sox jacket behind me.
More than 100 years after my grandmother and great-grandfather left Ireland to come to the United States, I came back.
They emigrated in 1891 and 1907, respectively, to escape the grinding poverty and evictions that plagued the Irish people in the 19 th and 20 th centuries.
Now, at last, I was in Ireland, fresh off the plane, standing on the site where the opening lines are spoken in my hero James Joyce's landmark novel "Ulysses."
"Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the staircase bearing a bowl on which a mirror and razor lay crossed," the novel begins.
The novel's action takes place on June 16, 1904 -- "Bloomsday," is what Joyce fans call it, after the central character Leopold Bloom.
But some things never change, I observed to myself as I took in the scene.
The gulls over Dublin Bay darted between the waves, expertly navigating the gusty winds. A distant ferry silently made its way toward Dublin Harbor, silhouetted against the Hill of Howth, which rises at the end of a peninsula, the middle of which is out of sight, like an island north of Dublin Bay.
The Forty Foot
On the stone quay at the water's edge below the tower, bathers in Speedos or bikinis and swimming goggles braved the cold water, if only for a few strokes. The place is called The Forty Foot, formerly a men-only nude bathing spot and the site in "Ulysses" where Stephen Dedalus (read: James Joyce) declines Buck Mulligan's invitation to bathe.
In the novel, they
"Isn't this the day for your monthly wash ...?" Mulligan says to Stephen in "Ulysses."
But standing on the tower, I thought, "No wonder he wouldn't go in. It's too ... cold!"
With me on the tower were my mother and cousin Dervila, of County Wicklow. They were getting cold, too, and wanted to go downstairs to view the living quarters and the museum.
Dervila's grandfather and my great-grandfather were brothers.
The tower was exactly as I had imagined. Except the "narrow winding staircase," which for
The British built 15 Martello towers between Dublin and Bray in 1804 -- in case Napoleon got any ideas about invasion. The "narrow winding stairway" is actually enclosed within the tower's 8-foot-thick walls.
Narrow is the operative word. Plump was a squeeze.
In Dublin town
From Sandycove, it's a quick drive into Dublin center. We decided to catch one of the open-deck City Tour buses. For 15 euros, you can get on and off at any of its 23 stops at Dublin's historic and cultural points of interest -- all day.
Later, Dervila took us to the famous Bewley's Oriental Cafe on Grafton Street. Poet Brendan Kennelly described Bewley's
After a week in Dublin, it was time to head out into the countryside.
First, we drove to the Rock of Cashel, an imposing fortresslike ruin with an ancient history, documented since the fourth century. St. Patrick converted the local King Aenghus here in the fifth century. And Brian Boru was crowned king of Ireland in the early 11 th century.
From Cashel we drove to Killarney and took a tour bus around the Ring of Kerry. Then it was up to Galway, the home of Joyce's wife,
On our last day, we got adventurous and drove into Irish-speaking Connemara. We followed the coast of Galway Bay to the town of Rossaveal, where we caught the ferry to the Aran Islands.
The pipes are calling
The "Hades" chapter of "Ulysses" describes the procession for Paddy Dignam's funeral at Glasnevin Cemetery on Dublin's north side.
There was something funereal about my own visit there.
In Naas, a town just outside Dublin, we met Dervila's brother, another Peter Fullam, who took us to the site where once stood the village of Clongorey in Mouds Bog, County Kildare. My ancestors made a subsistence living in Clongorey from farming and cutting turf. Ironically, the turf was sold to the occupying British army.
In November 1886, the River Liffey flooded. There were no crops and no turf. In 1887, there was drought, which meant no turf again.
The tenants could not pay the rent.
The families of Clongorey were evicted by the foreign owners of the land in military-style operations led by the police. In many cases, their homes were burned.
My great-grandfather and three of his brothers came to America.
Peter took us a short distance from Clongorey to the cemetery next to the Liffey in Barretstown. There, in the dappled sunlight under the canopy of trees that shade the small graveyard, I found the place where my great-great grandfather, my great-great-great grandfather and their families are lying.
And I knelt and said an "Ave" there for them, and my tears flowed to the Liffey.
IF YOU GO
PARTICULARS: Winter is an ideal time to travel in Ireland. You'll be rubbing shoulders with the Irish, not other tourists, as you do in summer. Accommodations range from sumptuous castles to modern boutique hotels to cozy bed-and-breakfasts. Tourism Ireland: www.discoverireland.com, (800) 742-6762.
JOYCE FANS:The James Joyce Cultural Center, 35 N. Great George's St., Dublin, is a meeting place for Joyce enthusiasts. The Cafe Ulysses, which serves coffee, tea, cakes, salads and sandwiches, is located in the center's Maginni Room, which once was the dance academy of Professor Denis J. Maginni, who appears in Joyce's "Ulysses." The center's book shop sells posters, mugs, films, T-shirts, umbrellas and postcards as well as books. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is 5 euros.
DRIVE CAUTIOUSLY ON IRISH ROADS
In Connemara and other Irish-speaking parts of Ireland, the road signs are in Irish only.
"Go Mall," said one. Hmmmm?
Suddenly, I was slamming on the brakes as the road fell away into a hairpin turn around a cliff.
Now I know the Irish word for slow.
Vehicles are driven on the left side of the road. Visitors may find the experience challenging, even dangerous. Many streets and roads in Ireland are very narrow, and in the country they're lined with hedges and walls, so that sharing the road with oncoming traffic requires skill and slow speeds.
A convenient alternative is to use the extensive bus and train services. Trains are the fastest means of transportation from Dublin to cities such as Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Galway. But there are gaps: Donegal, for example, has no train service.
To explore the west of Ireland, you'll have to take the bus. Bus Eireann serves all cities and most towns. There are also a number of private bus companies.
— Peter Fullam