Samantha Riley embarks on an Irish literary journey to discover the hidden treasures of James Joyce’s Ulysses. She also squeezes in time to see David Ireland's Cyprus Avenue at the Peacock Theatre.
The highlight of the week has most definitely been a field trip to Dublin for a book reading and visit to the theater with my Reading Irish Literature class. We departed Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) after lunch and arrived in Dublin earlier than previously anticipated, which left us time for some exploring. My classmate Samantha and I wandered through the park before meeting up with everyone at Sweny's Chemist, a dated-looking shop that remains unnoticed by most that pass by. The limelight is directed to the two cafes it is nestled between, although the pharmacy is deemed the place that is truly worthy of the attention.
What appeared to be an ordinary storefront is anything but that. James Joyce's world-renowned novel, Ulysses, discusses the main character’s venture to Sweny's Chemist in the book. Since then, aficionados of the classic novel have made pilgrimages to the sights mentioned throughout it. My Reading Irish Literature class is currently studying Ulysses and it was seemingly apposite to visit the chemist during our day in Dublin. The professor had arranged beforehand for the pharmacy to accommodate the class for a reading of Chapter Five: Land of the Lotus Eaters, in which Sweny's is cited. Once inside, I noticed the cramped building housed an immense collection of dusty crimson, evergreen and indigo glass bottles with old-fashioned medicine labels lining the shelves behind the counter. The host for the event appeared in a flourish outfited in a classic white lab coat and frizzy tufts of silver hair on his head. He proceeded to share the history of the building along with its recent recognition as an important cultural sight in Ireland. Then, one by one the students read the chapter in their thick Irish brogue and transported us into the story, seeing everything through the eyes of Leopold Bloom.
After dinner, it was off to the Peacock Theatre, adjacent to the famous Abbey Theatre, for a showing of David Ireland's Cyprus Avenue. It was penned in a stream of consciousness style of writing similar to Ulysses, thus our attendance at the play was fitting to the theme of the field trip. The small theater placed the actors on the same level as the viewers, making for an intimate performance. It is a play that tells the story of a man named Eric living in East Belfast, who is undoubtedly convinced his newborn granddaughter is Gerry Adams, the leader of a popular republican political group in Ireland. Cyprus Avenue chronicles the backstory of Eric and what brought him to the point he is at today. The controversial and provocative play covers exceedingly current issues like racial discrimination, sexual identity, politics, religious beliefs and more. With a comedic approach to help lighten the atmosphere, the actors did a commendable job in executing a difficult play.