Taken just before Bloomsday in 1983, today’s photograph is captioned “Chimney Piece”, and celebrated the installation of “the first work in what is to be a complex of pieces at Beach Road, Sandymount, Dublin, dedicated to James Joyce”.
That ambitious Joycean peregrination never materialised, but Cliodna Cussen’s stone sculpture, carved in the shape of a giant quotation mark, has become a Sandymount landmark in its own right.
Inscribed with the words “An Gallán Gréine do James Joyce” ( A Solar Pillar for James Joyce), the giant chunk of stone – in fact, it’s said to be made from four different chunks of stone – acts as an indicator for the winter solstice sunrise. Align yourself with the marker stone to the east, and you can ( weather permitting, of course) do your own Newgrange in Dublin 4 – thus aligning yourself with the universe, not to mention Joyce’s c Stephen Dedalus, who famously wondered whether he was “walking into eternity” along Sandymount Strand.
There was a time, of course, when Ulysses was regarded not as the work of a literary genius – not even, as it is nowadays, as an excuse for the “cultural” marketing exercise that Bloomsday has become – but as pornography. The red- and- white- striped Pigeon House chimneys, which soar to the top of our picture and beyond, their parallel rigidity dwarfing the artwork and forming a sharp contrast with its gentle curves, have also experienced changing cultural fortunes. Once derided as an eyesore and many times scheduled for demolition, they’ve now become an icon of the city, and attained listed- building status in 2014.
Cussen’s fellow sculptor Patrick O’Reilly has suggested turning the candy- striped towers into a Dublin version of the Eiffel Tower by illuminating their upper echelons. One can only imagine how crusty old Joyce would react to that suggestion.
But what we love most about this image is the way the two lads and their dog are leaning in to the sculpture, as comfortable, relaxed and natural as if they were in their own front room. Or maybe the sculpture is leaning in to them?
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