Has a great work of literature ever driven you a tad mad? You need to visit the houses the characters inhabited, drink the drinks they drank, eat the foods they ate. Well, imagine if a nation of people turned that into a holiday, and every year they went from pub to restaurant to theater, dressed up as the characters, read from the book, ate a lot and drank more.
That would be Bloomsday in Dublin, where self-respecting Irish gallivant costumed as their favorite characters from James Joyce’s Ulysses.
Ulysses is particularly ripe for this mimicry. The tale follows Leopold Bloom through one day, June 16th, as he traverses Dublin, observes his friends, eats gross food, and drinks, and drinks. Bloomsday began on June 16, 1954 – the fiftieth anniversary of the year in which the events take place, 1904. Each year on the anniversary the city of Dublin along with the James Joyce Center hosts countless happenings honoring the book. Dress up as your favorite character and get ready to drink copious amounts of Guinness.
As in the book, the festivities begin at Sandycove with communal breakfasts (at 8 and at 11) of offal. Barry McGovern, an Irish actor famous for his film portrayals of Beckett’s tramps, reads an episode every year. (This year he is up to “Ithaca,” the penultimate episode.) From there, folks make their way into the Dublin City Center for informal readings throughout the city. Women gather to read songs from the Sirens episode; others hold marathon readings of the entire book – often lasting 36 hours. Visitors also drop by the James Joyce Museum, located in the Martello Tower, a site in the opening chapter of the book. A favorite stop is Davy Byrne’s Pub for a gorgonzola sandwich and a glass of wine, like Leopold Bloom. Enthuastic readers at Davy Byrne’s are pictured above.
For the hundredth anniversary of Bloomsday in 2004, the city of Dublin hosted a five-month long ReJoyce Festival culminating in a breakfast for 10,000! For the festivities, The Believer magazine sent Jim Ruland to Dublin, and his notes from the once-in-a-century festival are not to be missed.
There are also events around the world, at Black Sheep’s Pub in Brooklyn, at the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia, even in Melbourne, Australia. Happy reading!