This coming Wednesday, the 16th of June, the Bloomsday 2021 Festival will take place in Dublin and around the world. Celebrating the life and works of James Joyce every 16th of June – the day on which Joyce’s novel Ulysses takes place in 1904 – this festival has a rich history, going back to at least 1954. Whether you’re a Joycean (an expert on all things Joyce) or have never heard of Bloomsday before, here is a short history of Bloomsday and what you can expect from this year’s edition!
Bloomsday: who, what, where?
Bloomsday is celebrated every year on the 16th of June, in honour of James Joyce’s 1922 novel, Ulysses, which takes place on that day. James Joyce is arguably Ireland’s (and Dublin’s) most famous author. Joyce wrote extensively about Dublin and its inhabitants, despite having spent most of his adult life in a self-imposed exile away from his home country and city. Ulysses is his longest and best-known work, and is a prime example of literary modernism. Its quasi-absurd style has discouraged more than one reader, but, despite this, many rejoice in celebrating its heritage on the 16th of June.
The name Bloomsday derives from Ulysses’ main character, Leopold Bloom. The celebrations, among other things, involve dressing up in the style of the era as characters of Ulysses and retracing the actions of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses. Events of the novel are recreated in some iconic locations in Dublin, such as the streets of the city centre and Stephen’s Green. Additionally, a variety of literary and non-literary events organised by the James Joyce centre take place. The most famous of these is the Bloomsday Breakfast, where participants enjoy the same breakfast as Leopold Bloom did on the 16th of June, a traditional platter of Irish breakfast served with liver and kidneys. Other celebrations involve the reading of a number of passages from Joyce’s works.
The first time Bloomsday was officially celebrated was in 1954, when Joycean enthusiasts gathered to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the events of Ulysses. However, some of Joyce’s friends allegedly celebrated Bloomsday in their own way as early as 1924, only two years after the novel’s parution.
Bloomsday is also celebrated outside of Ireland, in places such as Trieste and Paris, where Joyce lived his life in exile. It is also celebrated in Hungary, the birthplace of the father of Leopold Bloom, as well as in other European countries and North America by enthusiasts of Joyce.
What is the Bloomsday 2021 edition going to be like ?
Unfortunately, the 2021 edition of Bloomsday will not be commemorated in the traditional way due to COVID. That is not to say, however, that there are no celebrations planned! As usual, it is organised by the James Joyce Centre with a focus on the city of Dublin and James Joyce’s words: “I believe in Dublin”. For the second year in a row, organisers and Joyceans alike have had to adapt. In 2020, a number of events took place online, such as a 36-hour reading of Ulysses. Michael D. Higgins, Ireland’s President, even hosted a cultural performance in a bid to support Irish artists struck by the pandemic.
For the 2021 edition, events are starting today, Friday the 11th of June. They will continue up to the day of celebrations, Bloomsday, the 16th. Most events and celebrations have been moved online soas to take current restrictions on cultural events into consideration – and yes, the breakfast has been moved online too. There will be webinars and radio shows discussing Ulysses and Joyce, as well as his other works. On top of the usual readings, online performances will take place throughout the week, attempting to render visual prestations of the Joycean novel – such as the one co-organised by the James Joyce Centre and the Dublin City Libraries on the 14th of June, entitled “Opening Ulysses Up’’. In Dún Laoghaire’s Lexicon, meanwhile, a physical exhibition in homage to Bloomsday will be displayed in association with the James Joyce Museum. For more information about all these exciting events, take a look at the Bloomsday Festival’s website here.
Joycean and Bloomsday enthusiasts can, thus, rest assured – although this year’s Bloomsday will not be like others, the celebrations will go on in due time. Despite their unusual form, these will serve to commemorate the indubitable genius of James Joyce, and his lasting impact on Ireland and literature.
Did you know about Bloomsday? Think you might participate? Or has the reading (or attempt to read) Ulysses discouraged you? We’d love to know!