A garish neon street sign namechecking what was once Ireland’s most notorious red light district is part of an Italian city’s bid to claim our best-known literary son.
Monto was located close to the modern-day Connolly Station in central Dublin and infamous for its brothels which featured in the Night Town chapter of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses.
When darkness falls in Trieste, a red-lit sign in a narrow alleyway flickers on and off to spell out the letters MONTO.
The gaudy lettering linking the Northern Italian city to the Irish capital is part  of a series of light-themed installations which commemorate Joyce who “exiled” himself here after fleeing Dublin’s parochialism in 1904.
Then aged 22, he was accompanied by his Galway-born partner, and future wife, Nora Barnacle. Both their children Giorgio and Lucia were born there. 
Joyce worked as an English teacher in Trieste to support his family while writing his first novel A Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man and the opening chapters of Ulysses.
Trieste was not part of Italy when Joyce lived there, but a key port city for the sprawling Austro Hungarian empire, which included modern-day Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia.
Geographically the region is a gateway into the Balkans, set on the Adriatic coast it is surrounded on two side by Slovenia. It has only been fully a part of Italy since 1954.
That heritage is reflected in Trieste’s Hapsburg architecture and in the local dialect of Triestino, which is mostly Italian but also includes German and Slovenian words.
One of Joyce’s closest friends in Trieste was the Jewish writer Italo Svevo who is believed to be one of the models for the main protagonist in Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, after whom Bloomsday is named.
The James Joyce Museum opened in Trieste in 2004 with a series of exhibitions documenting the time the Irishman spent in the city. 
A statue of Joyce striding through Trieste, with his familiar round glasses, hat and moustache has been placed on the Ponte Rosso bridge and every day hundreds of tourists pose beside it to have their picture taken. 
You will also find hotels and cafes named after the iconic Irish writer and plaques on buildings which housed the former schools he taught in and some of the places where he lived.
A street art project called Doublin is a Joycean play on the word Dublin, as in “to double”, that aims to bring Joyce’s version of the Irish capital to the streets of Trieste.
Neon signs, spelling out the name James Joyce, Ulysses and Monto/Montgommery Street (which gave Monto its name) have been placed on the walls and roofs of buildings in side alleys and narrow streets that run off the pedestrianised Cavana area in the historic centre of Trieste.
A pamphlet promoting the project says: “This was Joyces Night Town, made of taverns and prostitutes, and right here two lights shine on the façade of some of the brothels which Joyce used to visit.
“Every night their pulsing light creates a visual space where some of Trieste’s locations are transfigured and aligned to the urban spaces of the Dublin created by Joyce in Ulysses.”
Joyce returned to Ireland in 1912 for the last time in a failed attempt to open a cinema in his native city. Although he never returned, Dublin was the setting for all his major works.
However, a novella/prose poem of just 30 pages called Giacomo Joyce – Giacomo is the Italian version of James – written in 1914, is set in Trieste and recounts the story of the writer’s infatuation with one of his students.
Although it was never published in his lifetime, Joyce reworked many of its passages and included them in Ulysses.
After the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 Joyce and his family had to leave Trieste and resettle in Zurich. They returned briefly in 1919 but he found it too changed and he left to live in Paris where most of Ulysses was written.
It is a great base from which to explore the surrounding area. Venice is a-two hour train journey away and the wonderfully Eastern European Slovenian capital Ljubljana is a 90 minute bus trip.
And every year, just like Dublin, Trieste marks Bloomsday on June 16 with a series of events celebrating the life and work of Ireland’s notorious literary genius.


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