Joyce’s Birthday today!

James Joyce was born in Dublin on this day in 1882. In honour of one of Ireland’s greatest writers, I set out to find his birthplace.

The usual sources of knowledge on the internet put his birthplace in Rathgar, a suburb of Dublin. By a marvelous coincidence, I was scheduled to pick up papers in Rathgar, at the Russian Embassy. Now all I needed was an address, for the suburb is too large to simply wander the residential streets looking for a memorial plaque.

Dublin does not lack for commemorations of Joyce, as I’ve noted noted once or twice. But his family moved around Dublin frequently during his childhood, and those homes are far less popular with literary tourists than the places featured in Ulysses and Dubliners.

The only information that I could find online mentioned the birthplace of his sister, Poppie, almost two years after James. From the James Joyce Centre’s webpage on Poppie:

The Joyce family were then living at 41 Brighton Square, Rathgar, but not long after Margaret was born, they made the first of what became numerous relocations as the family’s fortunes declined.

Given that this was the first of the relocations, it stood to reason that Brighton Square was James’s birthplace, too. And for you, my fair readers, Luas at CharlemontI would brave the apocalyptic snows of Leinster to find the truth.

The massively adorable Luas brought me to Rathgar. After narrowly avoiding an international incident at the embassy, I forded the River Dodder to reach the residential neighbourhood of Brighton Square.

The neighbourhood looked right, a row of houses just Joyce Birthplace Homelike so many outside Dublin’s city centre. They are modest by today’s standards, but they were the McMansions of their day. (I wonder whether people said, “That cheap construction won’t be standing in twenty years,” in the 19th century, too. Was Victorian brickwork the vinyl siding of 1880?)

Then, lo and behold, a plaque! A plaque that reads, “Birthplace of James Joyce,” right above the bay window of Number 41. Oh happy day! Never have I shared so completely in the joy of plaques that Sarah Vowell described so well in Assassination Vacation. (Feel the thrill of discovery by clicking on the photo here and marvel at the commemorative goodness therein.)Joyce Birthplace Plaque

Thank you, Dr. Frederic H. Young, for bringing this plaque to Dublin in 1964. From the good man’s obituary:

Frederic H. Young was a minister, a philosopher, a poet, and a teacher. He was a student of the works of James Joyce, and inspired his students at Montclair (N.J.) State College to raise funds to place a plaque on Joyce’s otherwise unheralded childhood home. The plaque was unveiled on June 16, 1964, with Young present, one of his proudest moments. (The date is instantly recognizable to readers of Ulysses as Bloomsday.)

Without your work, Dr. Young, my Groundhog Day would have been much poorer. And your plaque helped me to find more information about this house and others, on the web this evening. (By the way, Dr. Young was a founder of the Charles S. Peirce society, one of the great institutions of American philosophy.)

Brighton Square encloses a triangular field (not a square one),Brighton Square Members Only but such a geometrical oddity is not unusual for Dublin. But I was surprised to find that it became a members-only square, “Established by trust in 1891,” many decades before our own Fitzwilliam Square. I like to think that toddler James raised so much hell that the surviving residents decided to prevent future residents of Number 41 from entering the formerly public space.

Happy Birthday, James Joyce!