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The Bloomsday Festival in Dublin
by Bridget Haggerty
After Ulysses was published in 1922, friends of James Joyce began to mark June 16th, 1904, the date in the novel that chronicles just about every moment in the life of the book's main character Leopold Bloom. In 1924, for example, Joyce was in hospital after yet another operation for the eye problems which were to plague him for most of his life. Friends sent him a bunch of white and blue flowers - white and blue for the colors Joyce chose for the cover of his book. Joyce despondently scrawled in his notebook ‘Today 16 June 1924 twenty years after. Will anybody remember this date?' Indeed, not only has the date been remembered, but it has evolved into Bloomsday - one of the most important events on the literary calendar and celebrated all over the world. Not surprisingly, one of the biggest celebrations takes place in Dublin, Ireland. Every year, thousands of Joycean fans descend upon the city appropriately attired in Georgian costumes and the streets become a sea of straw boaters and corseted crinolines. Many are there to attempt walking in Bloom's footsteps, while others just want to take in watching re-enactors, listening to readings and dining on repasts of authentic Ulyssean fare. But why did Joyce choose that particular date?
Some background on June 16th, 1904
It's believed that June 16th was when Joyce went out with Nora Barnacle, his future wife, on their first date. Joyce and Nora met for the first time on Friday 10 June 1904 on Nassau Street, near Finn’s Hotel where Nora worked. They arranged to meet again on Tuesday, June 14th, outside Sir William Wilde’s house on Merrion Square. Joyce turned up for the meeting but Nora didn’t. Joyce wrote to her at the hotel on June 15th asking if she would like to make another arrangement. According to Joyce’s biographer, they went walking together in Ringsend on June 16th and Joyce later told Nora ‘You made me a man.'
The summer of 1904 was also very significant for Joyce. Not only did he meet Nora, but he started writing Dubliners - a collection of 15 short stories which form a naturalistic depiction of Irish middle class life in and around Dublin in the early years of the 20th century. And some incidents in Joyce’s life during the summer of 1904 became material for Ulysses. On June 20th, a drunken Joyce was thrown out of a National Theatre Society rehearsal in a hall on Camden Street: at the end of episode 9 (of Ulysses) this incident is ascribed to Stephen. On June 22nd, Joyce was involved in a drunken altercation which left him with a black eye and other injuries. In Ulysses, Stephen becomes involved in a similar altercation with an English soldier at the end of episode 15.
Events occurring on June 16th 1904 also become part of Ulysses. In Finland, the Russian Governor General Nikolai Bobrikov was shot by civil servant Eugen Schauman. The assassination is mentioned in episode 7. And, at Ascot, in England, a twenty-to-one outsider called Throwaway was the winner of the 3pm Gold Cup race. The Freeman’s Journal had tipped the favourite, Sceptre, to win.
The 50th Anniversary
If you're going to celebrate, why not do it with literary giants?
On the 50th anniversary of the events in the novel, John Ryan (artist, critic, publican and founder of Envoy magazine) and the novelist Brian O'Nolan (aka Flann O'Brien) organised what was to be a daylong pilgrimage along the Ulysses route. They were joined by Patrick Kavanagh, Anthony Cronin, Tom Joyce (a dentist who, as Joyce's cousin, represented the family interest) and AJ Leventhal (Registrar of Trinity College, Dublin). Ryan had engaged two horse drawn cabs, of the old-fashioned kind, which in the novel, Mr. Bloom and his friends drive to poor Paddy Dignam's funeral. The party were assigned roles from the novel. They planned to travel round the city through the day, visiting in turn the scenes of the novel, ending at night in what had once been the brothel quarter of the city, the area which Joyce had called Nighttown. The pilgrimage was abandoned halfway through, when the weary pilgrims succumbed to inebriation and rancour at the Bailey pub in the city centre, which Ryan then owned, and at which, in 1967, he installed the door to No. 7 Eccles Street (Leopold Bloom’s front door), having rescued it from demolition.
Video of that first Bloomsday
The What When & Where of June 16th, 1904
If you are planning on being in Dublin on the big day, there's so much to see and do, you should ideally make a week, or at least a weekend of it! And because Dublin is such a large cosmopolitan city, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodations, but to make it easier, click on www.cheaphotels.org and you will find a list of properties to suit very taste and budget.
Once you've found a base of operations, you can then anticipate the fun of planning your itinerary. The following hour by hour guide will be a big help in putting you where Mr Bloom was from the beginning to the end of the day.
8am 16 June 1904
at the Martello Tower, Sandycove (scene of ‘Telemachus’ episode 1) & at 7 Eccles Street (scene of ‘Calypso’ episode 4)
at Mr Deasy’s school in Dalkey (scene of ‘Nestor’ episode 2) & at Westland Row Post Office, Church, Sweny’s Chemist (scene of ‘Lotus-Eaters’ episode 5)
at Sandymount Strand (scene of ‘Proteus’ episode 3) & at Glasnevin Cemetery (scene of ‘Hades’ episode 6)
at the offices of the Freeman’s Journal and Evening Telegraph (scene of ‘Aeolus’ episode 7)
at Davy Byrnes on Duke Street (scene of ‘Lestrygonians’ episode 8)
ED. NOTE: Be sure to order a Gorgonzola Cheese Sandwich and a glass of Burgundy wine!
at National Library on Kildare Street (scene of ‘Scylla & Charybdis’ episode 9)
various locations around Dublin, including St Mary’s Abbey (‘Wandering Rocks’ episode 10)
at the Ormond Hotel bar, Ormond Quay (scene of ‘Sirens’ episode 11)
at Barney Kiernan’s pub, Little Britain Street (scene of ‘Cyclops’ episode 12)
at Sandymount Strand (scene of ‘Nausicaa’ episode 13)
at Holles Street Maternity Hospital (scene of ‘Oxen of the Sun’ episode 14)
at Bella Cohen’s brothel, Tyrone Street (scene of ‘Circe’ episode 15)
1am 17 June 1904
at the Cabman’s shelter, under Loop Line Bridge (scene of ‘Eumaeus’ episode 16)
at 7 Eccles Street (scene of ‘Ithaca’ episode 17)
the Blooms’ bedroom at 7 Eccles Street (scene of ‘Penelope’ episode 18)
And what better way to end this article about the Bloomsday Festival in Dublin than with the very last words of the novel - a reverie by Molly when she accepts Leopold into her bed:
"...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. "
James Joyce Centre
Main Photo & 7 Eccles Street front door
James Joyce Centre
Finns Hotel: Frank Courtney
Ringsend: Orange Smile
First Bloomsday: Wikipedia
Sweny's: Kathy Arsenault
Davy Byrnes Pub: The Guardian/Alamy
Barney Kiernan's Pub: History of Ireland/National Library of Ireland
Molly Bloom: Film/Bloom starring Angeline Ball as Molly
How to savor Ulysses this summer
Wed, Mar 22, 2017
The Galway Hooker
This unique vessel, with its distinctive curved lines and bright red sails, originated in the village of Claddagh. During the 19th century, hookers supported a significant fishing industry and also carried goods, livestock and fuel. Seán Rainey is remembered for building the last of the original boats, the Truelight, for Martin Oliver who was to become the last king of the Claddagh; as king, he was entitled to white sails on his boat. Since the mid seventies, many of the old sailing craft which were on the verge of extinction have been lovingly restored and new ones have been built. During the summer months they can be seen at festivals such a Cruinniú na mBád - the Gathering of the Boats - in Kinvara.
Click for More Culture Corner.
Joyce's most famous work takes place on June 16-17, 1904. Today, people all over the world celebrate the wanderings and musings of the central character, Leopold Bloom, on Bloomsday - June 16th - with readings and re- enactments.
See our Articles: Joyce's Dublin & How to Enjoy Ulysses.
Click here for Ulysses
"A truly useful book in its explanation of puns, jokes, foreign phrases, and a myriad of other items including many helpful glosses on terms belonging to the vernacular of Dublin. For this last item alone the book is valuable because it documents much of the popular but fading idiom of the Dublin of 1904." - Jay Fox, Modern Fiction Studies
See our Articles: Joyce's Dublin & How to Enjoy Ulysses.
Click here for Ulysses Annotated.