Bloomsday: A Very Dublin Celebration

By Niamh Byrne

Well folks, Bloomsday is here again. The day when all Dubliners celebrate one of the greatest works of English literature, and the man behind it –  James Joyce.  Ladies will take to the streets in long dresses, or skirts usually combined with a white blouse, adding an umbrella hung over their shoulder for fashion, not forgetting the iconic straw boater hat, whilst the gentlemen will don suits, suspenders and bowler hats.

Photo credit: Sandra Hawkins

The day commemorates Joyce and particularly his greatest work Ulysses. Why is this particular book so famous you may ask? Well, the careful structuring of his words, stream of consciousness technique, and the many puns and parodies throughout situates the work as one of the most innovative in the 20th century and was to herald the dawn of literary modernism. The novel takes us through a day in the life of Dublin. But it’s more than just fiction; drawing as it does from personal biography. Because it was on this day, June 16th, 1904, that the writer first walked out with forever partner Nora Barnacle. And it was our own Ringsend they chose for their first date, where they shared a scenic walk and a romantic moment. Joyce and Nora’s private congress became Leopold Bloom’s Journey when Joyce set his novel Ulysses on that date. Dublin then claimed June 16th for itself, and from 1954 (the 50th anniversary) the first Bloomsday was celebrated. It’s been going strong since. 

To quote Joyce himself, he said “I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed by my book.” Anyone who’s read the book would know this could possibly be done!

In the Lestrygonians chapter we see Leopold Bloom visiting a popular Dublin pub, Davy Byrne’s, to get his now familiar cheese sandwich and a glass of Burgundy. This, along with the famous breakfast, has become the staple diet for many Joyce enthusiasts, when the pub sees generations of Joycean scholars congregating there to retrace the steps of Bloom.  

Davy Byrne’s pub

The James Joyce centre situated in North Great George’s Street and located in an exquisite 18th century townhouse in the old Georgian quarter of Dublin, is a museum dedicated to all things Joyce. The centre also is home to the famous hall door of No. 7 Eccles Street (the fictional home of Leopold and Molly Bloom). Having resided for a time in the Bailey pub (opposite the aforementioned Davy Byrne’s) it is now treasured for all time at the museum and is a popular place for visitors to have photos taken. Since its demolition in 1967 the house itself is sadly no more and the Mater Private car park occupies the spot. 

Sandymount features prominently in Ulysses too, and at the end of the Nestor chapter and the beginning of Proteus, we see Stephen Dedalus go from Mr Deasey’s school in Dalkey, south of the tower at Sandycove to Sandymount Strand northwest of the tower. In the novel it does not explain how Stephen made his journey. Did he walk the whole way or take public transport? In James Joyce’s Dublin: A Topographical Guide to Dublin of Ulysses (Thames and Hudson 2004) Iann Gunn and Clive Hart claim that Stephan had to have caught the 10:00 train from Bray to Dalkey station, at 10:10 arriving at Westland Row Station in the City at 10:42 before walking east along Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street) towards the Strand. One of the many conundrums in Ulysses, although it’s hard to see the fiscally frugal Stephen spending money on public transport. And who can forget the ‘fireworks’ that evening in the Nausicaa chapter?

Although Dublin had been the centre for Joyce’s work, he had a disdain for the strong relationship the Irish State had with the Catholic Church in the 20th century, and spent all his later years living on the continent. His younger brother, Stanislaus, otherwise known as Stannie, seems to have been Joyce’s closest confidant, often contributing to his work by gathering materials for his brother to use in the short stories that were to be eventually published as Dubliners. When Joyce went into exile in Trieste with Nora, Stannie followed them there working constantly to get up the money for his brother to write, often rescuing him from the bars of Trieste. Stannie ironically died on Bloomsday, June 16th 1955. He left unfinished a memoir of life with his brother, which was later published by Faber in 1957. 

Cosmopolitan sophisticate meets earthy wise-woman, who provides the unfaltering YES of the book’s conclusion, a theme that resonates through literary and cultural tropes over the century. Joyce has influenced just about every Irish writer in his wake, including contemporary wordsmith Sally Rooney, who owes to being “obsessed with Ulysses”. Even the title, ‘Normal People’, displays much Joycean irony). Rooney has gone on record saying she could not write a book that was not populated by Irish characters and set in Ireland.  

There will be many celebrations around Dublin in honour of the event on the day, two being in our local Community Centres Sandymount and RICC. Sandymount will host a day of fun for any who wish to attend from 8 till 4. The event itself is called ‘elves with Leopold’ and will have food on display, games and raffles for anyone who wishes to join in and even dress for the occasion. Be sure and come along and join the fun, and wherever you are on June 16th, HAPPY BLOOMSDAY!