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Crosshaven & Ringabella – The James Joyce Ulysses Connection

This is a short piece by local writer Pauline Murphy, written to coincide with Bloomsday this Friday (June 16th), a day which celebrates James Joyce’s most famous work Ulysses. It may be set in Dublin but, there is a small Cork connection – Crosshaven and Ringabella get a mention in the book! 

Crosshaven & Ringabella – The James Joyce Ulysses Connection By Pauline Murphy

Bloomsday is the annual celebration of James Joyce’s bumper book Ulysses. Every year on June 16th fans flock to Dublin to recreate the journey of fictitious character Leopold Bloom through the streets of the capital city but, it’s not all about Dublin you know! We here in Cork can claim a connection to the famous book and its author.

Ulysses is a colossal work to get through, so many characters and settings pop up along the way and in the Sirens episode, half way through the book, two familiar places are mentioned. Stephen Dedalus, one of the main supporting characters in Ulysses, is in St Mary’s Abbey with his friend Ned Lambert when he mentions Crosshaven and Ringabella as fake Fenian passwords to impress his friend. “Who’s that? Ned Lambert asked. Is that Crotty? Ringabella and Crosshaven, a voice replied.” James Joyce was a martyr for chamber music and the mention of Crosshaven and Ringabella arise out of his love for melody. “It was the only language Mr Dedalus said to Ned. He heard them as a boy in Ringabella, Crosshaven, Ringabella, singing their baracarole.” The airs of Cork harbour are painted in a continental colour in Ulysses: ” Queenstown harbour full of Italian ships. Walking, you know, Ned, in the moonlight with those earthquake hats. Blending their voices. God such music, heard as a boy, Crosshaven Ringabella haven mooncarole.” Baracarole is a boat song heard from gondoliers on the canals of Venice rather than from seamen on the waters of Cork harbour but we won’t complain that Cork, notably Cobh, Ringabella and Crosser, get favourable mentions in such a famous book!

The author of that famous book was born in Dublin but his father hailed from Cork. John Stanislaus Joyce, father of James, came from a well to do family in Fermoy. He went to St Coleman’s college and from there he studied medicine in Queens college (UCC), but he was much too fond of spending time in the theatres and drinking houses of Cork city and dropped out of college. James Augustine Joyce, grandfather of the famous writer, resided at a house on Anglesea Street in Cork city where today a plaque at its doorstep informs the passerby that the former occupant was ‘an officer of the Cork corporation.’ It was this same corporation officer that tried to reign in the feckless college dropout John Stanislaus Joyce by getting him a job aboard a Cork harbour pilot boat. This occupation didn’t last long and John Joyce went to Dublin, where years later his wife would give birth to their famous son. Today the naval vessel L.E James Joyce sails the waters of Cork harbour once briefly patrolled by the writer’s father! As for James Joyce himself, well he made a few visits to the city by the Lee. As a very young boy he accompanied his father to Cork to oversee the selling of Joyce’s Court in White Street, one of the last remaining Joyce properties in the rebel county. 

In 1909 a 27 year old James Joyce arrived in Cork with his partners in the Volta cinema company. The aim of the trip was to seek out places to set up a cinema, a venture Joyce was briefly involved in before he decided to stick with the writing. Cork was overcrowded with cinema houses in those days so the trip proved fruitless for the Volta cinema company but for the writer it gave inspiration and he took notes of the places and people which would later be used in another work of his: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

So there’s no denying that the Dublin writer had roots in the rebel county and in the world of Ulysses, he gave favourable mention to Cork via Crosshaven and Ringabella which literally sing off the page! But he also had a glint of quirky Cork humour in his bones. Frank O’Connor, our own famous writer, paid a visit to James Joyce in his Parisian apartment many years after he left Ireland in self exile. O’Connor noticed a framed picture of Cork harbour hanging on the wall: ‘Whats this?’ O’Connor asked Joyce.  ‘Cork’ he replied.  “I see it’s Cork, sure I was born there! But what’s the frame?’   ‘Its cork framing Cork!’

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