Engaging with Ulysses in the Classroom

The superior, the very reverend John Conmee S. J, reset his smooth watch in his interior pocket as he came down the presbytery steps. Five to three. Just nice time to walk to Artane. (Episode 10, Wandering Rocks from Ulysses by James Joyce)



There is no doubt that Ulysses is often referred to as a ‘difficult book to read’, described as confusing, perhaps elitist, not for the everyday man but for the lofty professor. For this reason, the idea of approaching it with a group of adults who are gaining more confidence with their reading can seem a risky prospect. Yet sometimes engaging with the ‘hard books’ can be the most rewarding and liberating of accomplishments. What an achievement to wrestle the animal that is Ulysses, tame it and shape it into something of your own!

Since December 2018, a group on Thursday mornings here in DALC have been working on an art piece that illustrates Episode 10 of Ulysses. The group worked independently for the last few months on creating a map that shows Father Conmee making his way around Dublin in the afternoon and the various characters he meets. It details the street as mentioned in Ulysses, from Gardiner Street, Mountjoy Square to Newcomen Bridge.

The project began from a workshop on Pre-Texts delivered by one of our tutors Lisa Kilbride. Pre-Texts is a method of engaging active readers through finding creative or artistic ways of tackling difficult texts. Here are Lisa’s reflections on using Pre-Texts on this project:

“Much of my focus in teaching literacy is on reading functional everyday texts, but people also need to be able to engage with more complex texts in order to deal with bigger issues affecting them.

The literacy aim of Pre-Texts is to get people to engage with complex texts, ones that are perhaps too difficult for them to read without support, in order to make them their own.
The title Pre-Texts is mischievous. If, instead of treating “important” writers with great reverence, we take their work and engage with it creatively, the power is shifted. In the process of making something new, we can think critically about the text, about ourselves and about our world.

The process is very engaging for students, and the tutors are participants rather than instructors. Pre-texts is an attempt to have tutors and students act together to find meaning in a text.

The map making activity was greeted with great enthusiasm and the participants got totally engaged in making a quite large model of the journey. We are all connected with the places in the text. DALC is in number 3 Mountjoy Square, so the journey in the text begins around the corner and passes along the square. One of the participants lived on Mountjoy square as a child and they all live in the areas mentioned – Fitzgibbon Street, along the North Circular Road, near the Five Lamps and the North Strand.

The students have been interested enough to continue with the creative work without the project being led by a tutor. It is useful to know about Ulysses and James Joyce if you live in this area. We often get stopped outside DALC by tourists lost on the Ulysses trail. The students enjoy knowing a bit about Joyce and being able to give directions to North Great Georges Street, which is nearby and the location of the James Joyce Museum. One of my aims was to diffuse the power of Ulysses as a high status cultural object. It is seen as difficult and unreadable by the ordinary person. I think that we have seen that it is only ink on paper and that we need not fear it. The students may not read any more of the book, but they can certainly discuss the early pages of The Wandering Rocks episode. The purpose of the using Pre-Texts here was also to take Joyce’s story and to use it to make our own story. Just as Joyce did, we can also create a story about the landmarks and characters of our Dublin. I hope that we are on our way to achieving this.”



The group interpreted it as their own from the words and images used by Joyce, mapping out the journey Father Conmee took in the text. The map below illustrates Episode 10 to include the streets, Mountjoy Square Park, the tram, the barge, the shops and buildings, the characters from Ulysses, dressed as described by Joyce:


The group chose phrases and lines from the text and ‘layered’ it onto the piece:


The text was used to prompt more writing and discussion about their own memories of the area, the places and people from their childhood:


For more on pre-texts see:


Discovering Words

This is a story written by one of our students Paul.  He describes what it felt like to come to reading and writing classes.  Paul is a fantastic student and loves to do art, gardening and making things in his spare time.

His story powerfully captures what it feels like to come back to learning:

Paul H



Lasting Impression – Reflections of teaching practice in DALC

dalc building

My first experience in DALC was tinged with a certain degree of sadness as I instantaneously recalled my parents.  Both were born literally within a stone’s throw of DALC and in common with many of the current learners of similar vintage in DALC, the zenith of their educational attainment was, if fortuitous, to pass the ‘Primary Cert’.  Such ‘accreditation’ qualified them for employment in some of the precarious sectors characteristic of a bygone era where childhoods were all too swiftly replaced by transition to premature adulthood.  Given this, I introspectively speculated that I would be able to resonate with those endeavouring to improve their lives by attending DALC.  However what did surprise me was the extent of this resonance.

My first experience as a facilitator was in a communications class and it was a real eye-opener.  As biographies are shaped by our histories, being the child of immigrant parents and having experienced the life of a reluctant immigrant, I could again empathise with the plight and struggles faced by the new nationals attending this course.  It really impressed how much can be taken for granted, and I include myself here, regarding literacy issues.  What also really struck me was the candour and humility shown when some in the class revealed, each of their own volition, their experiences of the Irish education system.  On reflection and without exaggeration, I envisaged that the approach to those few steps leading up to number three must have been akin to embarking on a journey of Odyssean proportions for some. Particularly for those striving to overcome the fears and anxieties acquired in previous settings.  However once this small step was made, giant leaps abound from a learning perspective.

My other co-facilitation is in the internet skills class. On my third session, and due to unforeseen circumstances, I was required to facilitate ‘solo’.  It was now my turn to embark on a potential Odyssean journey.   This time I do exaggerate! The staff assuaged any concerns I had and advised me to let a roar if I was struggling with anything.  This particular ‘backstop’ option totally reassured me.   This was probably the best thing that could have happened and has stood me in good stead in my teaching practice since.  While it may have been a bit hectic to begin with, things soon settled down and all went well.  I was even asked back the following week!  This proved an invaluable learning curve as it has shown me the importance of being continuously cognisant of being able to deal with unanticipated situations.  A feature of adult education can be its unpredictability, be it in the guise of fluctuating class sizes or technological gremlins.  This reinforced the need to be able to adapt and cope at short notice and in the best manner possible.

Should I be effective to a grandparent garnering skills to help a grandchild with homework or allowing a better understanding of the ever increasing pervasive nature of the technological world we live in, my efforts will not be in vain.

The mother oft remarked “education, no matter what type, is no burden to carry”.  However without it, the burden can become overwhelming. Hopefully I can contribute in some small way to lightening the load.

By Thomas Moore (current student of Higher Diploma in Further Education, NUI Maynooth)

adults chairs colleagues company
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The Wisdom of Mary Oliver

Yesterday, the well known American poet Mary Oliver passed away at the age of 83.  She wrote about such powerful themes as nature, who we are and and our place in the world.  She had been known to keep to herself and allowed her poetry to speak for her.

One of her most famous poems is called The Journey.  It is a wonderful poem that reminds us to listen to our own voice, to not let society tell us what to think.  The poem tells us that the journey we must take in life is never easy.  For many people, the leap into adult and further education is a kind of journey, a leap in to a new world.  A world with only our own voice as our guide.

The Journey By Mary Oliver 

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.


More quotes by Mary Oliver:

Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
― Mary Oliver

The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.
― Mary Oliver


Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
― Mary Oliver


Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.
― Mary Oliver


view of empty road
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The Golden Ticket


golden ticket

I never thought my life would be
Anything but catastrophe
But suddenly I begin to see
A bit of good luck for me

These are the words of Grandpa Joe from the much loved Willy Wonka movie as he begins with the song I’ve Got a Golden Ticket. A movie that often airs this time of year, based on the wonderful novel by Roald Dahl.

Literacy, learning and further education is a golden ticket for so many people.  It can open up doors, help them to discover new worlds and areas of interest through reading, give them agency in their lives, help develop a love of words, or writing and expressing themselves on paper that they may not have done before. It allows them to engage in their community, in conversations, as active citizens and informed parents.

The children in the story were lucky enough to find a golden ticket in a chocolate bar. Only five tickets in the whole world, or so the story goes. Yet all around us there are golden tickets. Golden opportunities ready for the taking.

Remember – your golden ticket is yours to spend in whatever way you see fit.  A love for reading? Writing all your wonderful life stories down on paper? Helping children with their homework? Navigating your way through difficult forms? Applying for a new course to change jobs? Reading about history and getting the confidence to visit museums? The joy of learning in a group and with people in the same boat? Finally getting a handle on spelling those tricky words?

2019 – a whole new year awaits and many other opportunities and possibilities to follow.

And the best thing is that there is a golden ticket out there for everybody.

photo of fireworks
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Last Minute Tips for Voting Tomorrow!

Image result for voting
Tomorrow is the big day to vote!
The kids may be off school and you are busy trying to plan your day. You may have forgotten to think about the vote and what is happening!

Here is some quick info to remind us all!

We are voting for a new president 

We are voting to take blasphemy out of the constitution (basically the law of the land) as a criminal offence. Yes if you want it out. No if you want to keep it as it is.

The 6 candidates who want to be president have bombarded our screens over the last few weeks.  A quick reminder of who is who!

  • Michael D! – where have you been if you don’t know who he is? Maybe in hiding.
  • Sean Gallagher – the businessman who was on Dragon’s Den. He went for election 7 years ago and was most definitely in hiding since!
  • Joan Freeman – she runs the Pieta House charity.
  • Peter Casey – A businessman and another Dragon. He was on TV a lot for the things he said!
  • Liadh Ni Riada – the Sinn Fein candidate who speaks Irish. At every opportunity.
  • Gavin Duffy – another businessman and another Dragon! Not much else we can say.

Finally, remember these things going in to vote tomorrow!

1. It will be a white paper for the Presidential election. Think of the colour of the house they will be living in at the Aras!

2. You put a number 1 beside who you want to be president. Their picture will be beside it. Don’t mark an X but put a number!

3. You can put the numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 in order of who you to give your next votes to. Kind of like a race. Who do you want to come 1st, 2nd, 3rd and all the way up to 6th.

3. The blasphemy paper will be green. Holy God! You just put an X beside yes or no.

4. Don’t take a selfie inside the voting booth. It is a privacy issue and let’s face it, no one looks that good in the school lighting.

5. Pop your vote in to the boxes provided. Whatever way you voted, it is too late now!

6. Ask the staff there as they are very helpful. And probably very bored and want something to do.

Well done for taking the time to vote!!

Please pass on any of these tips to your family and friends but remember – don’t tell them who to vote for!

About Our Blog

Our blog in DALC is called Adlitting!

We want to pass on what we know.

We want to create a hub for ideas and a place for sharing stories.

Our blog is a window into the world of adult learning.  

dalc building

We hope you stop and stay awhile and add your story too:
Please email  fionnaighdalc@gmail.com or info@dalc.ie if you wish to be a guest blogger.  We would love to hear your thoughts about adult learning.