Localities in Ireland

Localities in Ireland

In Brief

An Odysseus manqué, Bloom dreams throughout the day (beginning with his Mideastern reveries in Calypso and Lotus Eaters) of seeing the sights in far-flung places. His fantasies turn bittersweet in Ithaca when he contemplates leaving Molly: the narrative notes that "departure" is rendered "desirable" by "The attractive character of certain localities in Ireland and abroad," i.e. famous tourist attractions. Nearby, there are wonders recalling the enthusiastic lists in Cyclops: "The cliffs of Moher, the windy wilds of Connemara, lough Neagh with submerged petrified city, the Giant's Causeway, Fort Camden and Fort Carlisle, the Golden Vale of Tipperary, the islands of Aran, the pastures of royal Meath, Brigid's elm in Kildare, the Queen's Island shipyard in Belfast, the Salmon Leap, the lakes of Killarney." Bloom's aspiration to travel to these celebrated sites invites comparison with Gabriel Conroy's deteremination to "journey westward" at the end of The Dead.

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Three of the national treasures listed in Ithaca are in the west, near Galway. Countless paintings, postcards, and posters have featured the dramatic "cliffs of Moher," southwest of the Burren in County Clare. Running for nearly 10 miles along the coast and dropping hundreds of feet vertically into the North Atlantic, they give one a sense of coming to the abrupt, jagged end of the earth.

The "windy wilds of Connemara" lie some 40 miles farther north on the same rugged coast. A cultural region in the western part of County Galway, Connemara has stony land, poor people, winds perpetually promising rain or snow, and the largest Gaeltacht in Ireland. It is famous for its rare green-veined "Connemara marble," mentioned in Cyclops. That chapter also mentions the "Connemara hills," and Oxen of the Sun refers to "the wilds of Connemara."

Directly between these two sites, at the mouth of Galway Bay, lie the three famous "islands of Aran," another stronghold of the Irish language. Beginning in 1898 John Millicent Synge spent several summers on these remote islands, soaking up the rhythms of western speech that came to suffuse his six plays. Joyce himself visited Aran with Nora in 1912 and wrote two Italian newspaper articles about its islands, which continue to hold huge appeal for tourists from Ireland and around the world.

Three more inspiring sites are in the north, starting with "lough Neagh with submerged petrified city." This freshwater lake shared by Counties Antrim, Tyrone, Armagh, Down, and Londonderry is the largest anywhere in Ireland or Britain, and its extensive "banks," mentioned in Thomas Moore's Let Erin Remember the Days of Old, are one of the Irish glories said to be embroidered on the Citizen's impossibly crowded handkerchief. Ithaca recalls one of several old legends about the lake's origins: Gerald of Wales' Topographia Hiberniae (ca. 1188) reports that it formed when someone neglected to replace the lid covering an ancient city's freshwater spring. The entire city was drowned, and Gerald reports that on calm days fishermen can see tall round "ecclesiastical towers" rising up from the lake bottom. Moore's poem mentions these round towers as well.

Some 20 miles east of the lake lies "the Queen's Island shipyard in Belfast," a massive manmade island (nearly 200 acres) occupied for many generations by shipbuilders Harland and Wolff. Originally called Dargan's island for the man who directed the dredging and filling operation, the land became Queen's Island in 1849 after Victoria paid a visit to Belfast. As the chief builder for the White Star Line, Harland & Wolff produced the famous trio of Olympic-class ocean liners: RMS Olympic (launched 1911), RMS Titanic (launched 1912), and RMS Brittanic (launched 1914). Eumaeus repeatedly evokes icebergs and large ships in ways that suggest the Titanic disaster. In recent decades, a large chunk of the island has been renamed the Titanic Quarter and given over to developments encouraging the tourist trade. 

North of Lough Neagh, on the coast of County Antrim, is "the Giant's Causeway," a spectacular formation of some 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns stretching from a seaside cliff northward into the water. Legend has it that Finn MacCumhaill (a giant in this story, though not elsewhere) laid them down to walk across the sea and fight a Scottish giant who had taunted him from across the narrow strait. The Causeway remains a major tourist draw today, contributing mightily to the economy of Northern Ireland. Over one million people visited it in 2017, bringing nearly half a billion pounds of revenue into the north coast region.

Three more sites on Ithaca's list can be found in the southwestern part of Ireland, near Cork. "Fort Camden and Fort Carlisle" are coastal defense fortifications (now renamed Forts Meagher and Davis) guarding the great natural harbor at Queenstown (now Cobh), just beyond Cork on the southwest coast. The forts face one another on headlands on either side of a narrow strait, dominating access to the harbor. In Eumaeus, the garrulous sailor who says his name is Murphy says also that he comes from a town called Carrigaloe and challenges his listeners to say where that is. Stephen correctly identifies the town as being in "Queenstown harbour," and Murphy confirms his answer by bragging about a local claim to fame: "That's right, the sailor said. Fort Camden and Fort Carlisle. That's where I hails from. I belongs there. That's where I hails from."

Some 40 or 50 miles northeast of Cork lies "the Golden Vale of Tipperary" (sometimes called the golden "vein"), a stretch of rich pastureland north of the Galtee Mountains that occupies parts of Counties Tipperary, Limerick, and Cork. It is about 15 miles long and half that wide. The adjective "golden" may refer to the fertility of its soil, said to be the richest in Ireland, or it could be a corruption of Gowlin (Irish An Gabhailín), a village that itself is now called Golden. Pastures and dairy farms fill the valley.

West of Cork, some 50 or 60 miles away in County Kerry, are "the lakes of Killarney," set in a low valley surrounded by mountains. This varied and spectacularly beautiful landscape is now protected as Killarney National Park. Its three "lovely lakes" are mentioned also in Cyclops. In Wandering Rocks Stephen sees a Pocket Guide to Killarney on a bookseller's cart, and Gabler's edition places a copy of The Beauties of Killarney on Bloom's bookshelf in Ithaca. The perpetual appeal of this area, largely wild but also comfortably human-scaled, makes the nearby town of Killarney a touristic hellhole in the summer months.

Finally, the list mentions three natural attractions close to Dublin. The "pastures of royal Meath" are another rich stretch of agricultural land in County Meath, named for the ancient Kingdom of Meath which for many centuries was the seat of the High King. These attractive green rolling hills around the River Boyne, several miles northwest of Dublin, are studded with sites of archeological interest: the Hill of Tara, megalithic passage tombs like the one at Newgrange, and many other artifacts of the Neolithic age, including mounds, henges, cairns, and tombs.

"Brigid's elm in Kildare" is a puzzle. It is said that in the late 5th century St. Brigid, one of three patron saints of Ireland, lived in a cell beneath a large tree and founded a famous religious house there, possibly in the vicinity of what is now the town of Kildare, 30 miles southwest of Dublin. But the tree was not an elm—the town and county name derive from the Irish Cilldara, "Church of the Oak"—and if any such tree has survived to become a tourist destination I have not heard of it. The Citizen's reference in Cyclops to "the chieftain elm of Kildare with a fortyfoot bole and an acre of foliage" seems to refer to the same thing but begs the same questions. If this immense tree exists, no one seems to have documented its location, and the elm, Gifford notes, was a "common," not a "chieftain," tree. He infers that "the one in question was not renowned for the chieftain associated with it but for St. Brigid, a chieftain's daughter."

The last of these three eastern sites, "the Salmon Leap," is a waterfall on the River Liffey at Leixlip, about 10 miles west of Dublin on the border of Counties Kildare and Dublin. The name Leixlip derives from the Norse words lax hlaup, meaning "salmon leap." Many artists have drawn or painted these low but picturesque falls. 

Ithaca's list of tourist attractions not only evokes the lands and waters around Ireland's four major cities: Dublin, Cork, Belfast, and Galway. It also shows the protagonist of Ulysses taking a good deal more interest in his native country than does the character whose meditations conclude Dubliners. Gabriel Conroy dreams of trips to the Continent, and scorns Gretta's appeals to visit her native Galway—until the revelation of her interest in another man convinces him that "The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward." His thoughts of snow falling on the Bog of Allen, and the River Shannon, and the churchyard in Galway where Michael Furey is buried, are incomparably lyrical, but they are thoughts of death. Gabriel resolves to go west in a spirit of defeat, feeling that the loss of his love portends the extinction of his life:  "His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling."

Ithaca comically presents the possibility of Bloom becoming an aged, homeless, disrespected beggar, but this jilted husband does not scorn his native land or dream of death through snow-misted images. The thought of losing Molly terrifies him, but he also thinks with characteristic equanimity that it could present a long-postponed opportunity to see the world, starting with the wonders of a pretty remarkable island.

JH 2020
The cliffs of Moher in a 2016 issue of the Irish Times. Source: www.irishtimes.com.
Polished surface of a Connemara marble slab. Source: www.galwaygeology.net.
Scene from the Aran Islands, in a photograph of unknown date. Source: www.claddaghdesign.com.
Imagined scene under Lough Neagh, by an unknown photographer. Source: celticmythshow.com.
The damaged Harland and Wolff Shipyard in 1941, after the Belfast Blitz raids, in a composite photograph from the Belfast Telegraph. Source: wartimeni.com.
The Giant's Causeway, in a photograph of unknown date. Source: www.irishnews.com.
Late 19th century photograph of Fort Carlisle as seen from across the water in Fort Camden, held in the Lawrence Collection of the National Library of Ireland. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Panoramic photograph, date unknown, of the Golden Vale of Tipperary. Source: www.tripadvisor.com.
2011 photograph by Cqui of the Upper Lake in Killarney National Park. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Photograph of the Salmon Leap from an album presented to King Edward after his visit to Ireland in 1903, held in the Royal Collection Trust. Source: www.rct.uk.
1941 physical map of Ireland with arrows showing Connemara, the Aran islands, and the Cliffs of Moher (purple), the Giant's Causeway, Lough Neagh, and Fort Camden (orange), the Lakes of Killarney, Golden Vale, and Queenstown Harbor (red), and the River Boyne, Leixlip, and Kildare (blue). Source: www.rct.uk.