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joyceI often get the feeling that James Joyce is following me around, if you know what I mean.

When I was growing up in the suburb of Blackrock, there was a plaque on the wall of a house at the end of Carysfort Avenue announcing that James Joyce had lived there.

The house has since been demolished, but it stood beside an off-licence and a pub much frequented by my father.

When I was sent to roust my dad out of the pub, I used to look at the plaque and dream of a writer’s life.

The house in Brighton Square, Dublin, where Joyce was born.

The house in Brighton Square, Dublin, where Joyce was born.

Years later, I moved into an old house in Rathgar. One day soon while I was still unpacking, I saw some people in Edwardian costume playing tennis in the square opposite.

It took a while for the penny to drop. My new neighbours were celebrating Bloomsday. It turned out that Joyce had been born a few doors up and, yes, there was another plaque marking the event.

In fact, I was surrounded by Joyceana. His mother was born up the road in Terenure. The social life of the area – its tennis club dances and “at homes” – run through his books.

When I walk the red-bricked streets and squares around me, I often find myself thinking about Joyce and the characters – the clerks, lawyers and merchants that made up the Dublin middle-class of his time – who people his stories.

The Piazza Grande in Trieste; its grandeur is based on its former status as the main port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The Piazza Grande in Trieste; its grandeur is based on its former status as the main port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Many Bloomsdays later, I found myself in the city of Trieste. It is a backwater now, but when Joyce arrived there in 1904, it was the main port of the great Hapsburg Empire.

He arrived one day in October with his mistress Nora Barnacle. He left her at the Sudbahn train station while he went to look for somewhere to stay.

He headed towards the Piazza Grande and stopped for a drink. He fell in with some sailors and, well, one thing led to another. He was arrested and it took the intervention of the British Consul to get him out of jail.

The Trieste train station curca 1904, when Joyce and Nora arrived.

The Trieste train station curca 1904, when Joyce and Nora arrived.

Nora Barnacle, meanwhile, was still waiting by the train station, at the foot of an obelisk commemorating The Yielding of Trieste to Austria, her bags spread out on the ground around her.

It was a foretaste of the many waits she would have during their years in the city. Joyce threw himself into the life of the place – the Teatro Verdi, the opera, the concert hall, the cafes – but she was lonely there.

That day in Trieste, I joined a walking tour given by an earnest young guide from the local tourist office. He spoke an old-fashioned, formal English that seemed to suit the city.

The Joyce motif suddenly surfaced again: it turned out that this was a Joycean tour, roughly following the 45 plaques that commemorate the writer’s time there.

The Via Bramante in Trieste, where the Joyce's lived on the second floor of No 4.

The Via Bramante in Trieste, where the Joyce’s lived on the second floor of No 4.

In many ways, it was a depressing itinerary. The Joyces moved frequently, often one step ahead of an unpaid landlord. Joyce was earning a pittance as a language teacher and was a poor manager of money.

Their life there had begun brightly enough. Number 4 Via Bramante, where the Joyces spent their happiest time in Trieste, is a solid, bourgeois building.

“Over here,” said our guide, “are the steps to the Basevi Gardens. They are charming, are they not?”

The house might have been grand when viewed from the street, but the Joyces lived in a tiny apartment on the third floor.

The statue of Joyce erected in Trieste in 2004 to mark the centenary of Joyce's arrival in the city.

The statue of Joyce erected in Trieste in 2004 to mark the centenary of Joyce’s arrival in the city.

And it was the same in all the other seemingly grand residences. Their rooms were at the top, or the back, small and out of the way. It must have been a daily humiliation to pass the grand, high-ceilinged salons at the front.

Their living quarters were often crowded. First, a baby arrived, followed by Joyce’s brother Stanislaus, followed by another baby, and then Joyce’s sister Eva and her two children, and lastly his other sister Eileen.

Not that Joyce was home that often. He took his children to school, and stopped for breakfast on his way back, at the Café Pirona. A glass of red wine and a presnitz (a local pastry made with figs) fortified him for a morning’s teaching at the Berlitz School of Languages.

It’s a wonder he managed to do so much work there. He wrote the whole of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, most of Dubliners and researched much of Ulysses.

In the afternoons, he liked to take the tram out of the city and up to the Corso plateau above, where there was a breeze and you could see over the port and out into the Adriatic Sea.

It’s a wonder he managed to do so much work there. He wrote the whole of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, most of Dubliners and researched much of Ulysses.

The tour over, our little group dispersed. I made my way back to the Piazza Grande. I passed the Via Bramante on the way and I looked at the blue plaque announcing in Italian and English that James Joyce had lived there and I dreamed once more of a writer’s life.