Pub's last orders close door on literary legend

Alan Murdoch on a Dublin redevelopment plan that disrupts the resting p lace of James Joyce relic

Saturday 14 January 1995 00:02

Early on 16 June 1904 the advertising salesman Leopold Bloom, aged 38, set out from his front door at No. 7 Eccles Street in Dublin with kidneys on his mind.

Leaving behind the "ample bedwarmed flesh" of his wife Molly, his meandering day, beginning with the purchase for 3d of a "moist tender" pork gland that "oozed bloodguts" and "gave to his palate the fine tang of faintly scented urine", became, as James Joyce's Ulysses, the literary event of the century.

Now, almost 90 years on, his front door may be about to resume his wanderings. The cause is the imminent demolition of The Bailey pub and restaurant in Dublin's Duke Street, current home of the celebrated Eccles Street door.

When the house was flattened in 1967, the door was allegedly rescued by the sharp-witted John Ryan, whose Forties magazine Envoy helped launch Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh and JP Dunleavy.

In 1962 Ryan had reinvented Bloomsday as a surreal annual celebration of a national figure who never actually existed.

He installed his newly-acquired literary monument within The Bailey, which he then owned. The door became famous with visitors on the city's organised literary pub crawl, which starts in the pub.

Planning permission for the redevelopment of the Brown Thomas department store complex, within which The Bailey is located, insists that the door be reinstated in a suitable place, but it is still to be decided where in Dublin its new home will be.

Claims that the door was fake were dismissed yesterday by Ryan's old friend Leslie Mallory, a retired television producer. He attended the negotiations for the purchase of the door between Ryan and the nuns who owned the Eccles Street building before demolition. These almost collapsed when the Reverend Mother, after learning that it "had associations" with Joyce, inquired in arctic tones: "Is that the pagan writer?"

The subsequent painful silence, Mallory recalls, was interrupted by the appearance of Ryan's chequebook from his inside jacket pocket as he inquired: "I suppose the Order is having a hard time in the mission field these days?" No figure was discussed butthe nuns were satisfied with the donation that followed, and Ryan left delighted with his door.

Unfortunately, many citizens never came to terms with Bloom's fictional status. Joyce was banned in Ireland until the Seventies, so relatively few of his compatriots until then had actually read him.

This became clear when a plaque marking Bloom's supposed birthplace was being unveiled some years ago. A local pensioner complained it was in the wrong place - local Jews, he said, lived in Lower, not Upper, Clanbrassil Street, where the ceremony was taking place.

"Not that I recall him [Bloom] very well," he said earnestly to Joycean scholar David Norris. "But me sister used to light the fire of a Saturday for his mother, she being religious and all. Oh, very devoted to the Ma was Mr Bloom."

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