tara breathnanch

Cloon Keen: Tara, you performed an adapted version of the Molly Bloom soliloquy to great acclaim in the 2017 Galway Theatre Festival! Could you tell us about the piece, and what it was like playing Molly?

Tara Breathnach: Very briefly, Molly Bloom’s famous soliloquy is the glorious celebratory conclusion to James Joyce’s masterpiece, Ulysses. The character of Molly embodies an uncensored feminine sensuality and strength, which is what drew me to her. She celebrates her womanhood, and is by turns poetic and frank. 

In Molly, a highly-charged sexuality meets vulnerability, and in performing Molly Bloom onstage, there is great joy in uncovering the layers of Molly’s character and discovering the wholehearted way in which she embraces her physical self. She is an Everywoman and is strikingly contemporary in her openness and curiosity—yet she has a soft, nostalgic connection with her younger self.

Cloon Keen: The character of Molly was inspired by a real person: Nora Barnacle. What was she like?

TB: Molly was famously inspired by Joyce’s lover and wife, Nora Barnacle, a striking redhead from Galway. Joyce was enamoured of her from their first meeting, not least because of her individuality: she was unashamedly herself, and never pretended to be other than she was. Nora/Molly was a free spirit, overcoming the constraints of a convent education to follow her true nature. In creating her character, Joyce had to invent an exotic girlhood to inform Molly’s free spirit. 

Cloon Keen: I see! So where does the phrase “mountain flower” come in? 

TB: In her soliloquy at the end of Ulysses, her youth in Gibraltar is invoked by the heady scent of roses, jessamine and geraniums. Molly is drawn by the powerful forces of nature and the pull of the sea as she discovers her first love:

and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

The “Moorish Wall” where Molly has her first kiss is the Spanish Arch of Nora Barnacle’s Galway—which, of course, can still be visited today, next to the river Corrib. 

Cloon Keen: The character of Molly is an incredibly feminist one, isn’t it?

TB: Absolutely. Nora’s strength and sensuality transcended the confines of Edwardian Ireland. She said Yes; she journeyed to Trieste with Joyce, to the unknown, bound only by love and a desire for freedom.