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The International Writers Magazine: Writing in Ireland

Summer with James Joyce
Frances Burke-Gaffney
If this year you fancy a different kind of holiday why not try an activity holiday. If your on your own or have a particular interest that you would like to develop then this could be for you. There are courses for the creative type, to the more adventurous and outdoor sporty type. It really is a fun and stimulating way to enjoy yourself.


I did the James Joyce Summer School some years back. As a writer I wanted to discover more and learn from one of the greatest writers. The course comprised of lectures in the morning and seminars in the afternoon.

Newman The summer school takes place in Newman house. A beautiful Georgian building in St Stephen’s Green. This was where the original University College Dublin presided. The plaster work is fabulous. It was a real pleasure to study in such a wonderful place.

During the two weeks you could chose two seminars which took place in the afternoon. I chose to do A portrait of the Artist as a young man and Joyce and Contemporary Irish Fiction. Both were interesting, with wonderful tutors. In the morning you had lectures. I discovered Joyce’s fascination for statues and how they inspired his work. His love of language his use of both Irish and English and his obsession with writing the name Dedalus.

In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man we looked at the Christmas dinner scene and after reading it again immediately recognised it as a familiar scene to us. we went into his use of words and how they enhanced the text.

In Joyce and Contemporary Irish Fiction we looked at short stories. There was always at least one story we hadn’t read for homework. Before you panic we were only given a few stories to read. You could usually find time in your lunch hour or before going out in the evening. Are excuses were always that we were in the pub. This would be met with approval after all we were told it is about enjoying yourselves. Come to think of it most Irish writers spent an awful lot of time in the pub.

We managed to visit a few of the pubs Joyce requited the Guinness was quite exceptional, especially in one. By the way if you love Guinness then the Guinness storehouse is the place to visit. You get to see a fantastic view of Dublin as well as being given a complimentary pint of Guinness. You find out about Arthur Guinness which I found interesting. It tells you how they made the old wooden barrels, you can discover what goes into Guinness, there is also the history of advertising and more.

The social programme isn’t just about visiting pubs it is a cultural extravaganza. There were two walking tours one of the north side and one of the south side. Here you will learn about the city by people who really know it. This is well worth going on. We also went to the Abbey theatre to see Dancing at Lughnasa. The part were they really let themselves go dancing apparently inspired River Dance.

The Abbey is very much a modern building. The Gate theatre on the other hand is a real piece of beautiful architecture. Visits to the theatre should be compulsory. I have only ever seen one play that was not terribly good in Dublin. The quality is outstanding.

A trip to Belvedere College on the north side of Dublin was a real treat. This again was a beautiful old Georgian building with plaster work. It is where Joyce went to school and if I remember rightly contemplated the priesthood. My grandfather and great uncle also went there. My great uncle was a friend of Joyce’s brother Stanislaus and knew James Joyce, in fact the great man once gave him a clip on the ear. Something I think he dined out on. So it made it an extra special experience for me.

We were also invited to receptions at the Swiss Embassy and Australian Embassy. The Australian Embassy was by far the best much more fun and interesting. I have it on good authority though that the Swiss ambassador at the time was a bore. He was also rather rude and rather grand I thought.

Visits to the James Joyce Centre and the Writers Museum were a joy. There was also a chance to air your work in a poetry/fiction reading competition if you were inspiring writer who felt inclined and brave enough. It of course was held in a local pub where else. The music and craic in a Dublin pub had the Americans on the course a little excited until it was explained to them it was not that kind of crack!

We had one free evening when places were open late. So it gave you time to explore by sightseeing or shopping. You could of course opt out of some or all of the social gatherings. Mind you I don’t think anyone missed the farewell dinner.

If you wanted to see a little more of Ireland there was a weekend excursion to Galway or if you preferred you could stay and explore more of Dublin. The great thing about the city is you can virtually walk anywhere or if walking has become too much there is a bus or the Dart (train) which has beautiful views of Dublin bay.

The college recommended staying at Muckross Dominican School which had a hostel at the time run by Sister Martha. This was good accommodation where you felt well looked after and safe. Some students on the course had very different experiences having had to go for the cheaper hostel accommodation. So it is well worth saving up and paying that little bit extra if you can. However judging by the website the accommodation has changed and it’s now UCD village accommodation. The summer school also seems to have been shortened to a week this is such a shame as I got a lot out of the two weeks. It also gave some people who couldn’t make the first week the opportunity to at least get the benefit of the second or vice versa
We did joke about the accommodation how the males were on the first floor and the females were on the third. We joked about the noise and not being able to sleep. People then thought we were burning the candle at both ends. Whenever there was a phone call for someone this deadpan voice would come over a speaker to tell them. It sounded like something out of Father Ted. But all this added to a wonderful experience and it was warm and friendly at the hostel.

When I arrived home I was on a high, my creative juices were going strong and I was happy. I will remember the characters, the fun, the generosity of everyone, the sharing and the intellectual stimulation. But most of all there really is no place like Dublin and no writer like James Joyce. He is the greatest writer of the 20th century. The James Joyce summer school takes place every year in July for more information visit
© Frances Burke - Gaffney March 2010

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