Bloomsday – Celebrating Joyce’s Ulysses

Have you ever heard of Bloomsday? Pub crawling, costume reading and various other activities that dramatise one of world’s most revered novels, the celebration is both unique and interesting.

Read the article and learn everything you need to know about Bloomsday.
Origins of the name

Contrary to its name, Bloomsday is a week-long festival that is celebrated between June 11 – June 16. It commemorates the novel Ulysses written by a famous Irish writer James Joyce. The name of the celebration, Bloomsday, comes from Leopold Bloom, the fictional character who appears in Joyce’s masterpiece “Ulysses”. Leopold Bloom is a middle-aged advertising canvasser and non-practicing Jew who represents Joyce’s idea of a common man. He leaves his home at eight o’clock to buy his breakfast where his daily adventure begins. He strolls along the many streets of Dublin, attends a funeral, endures misadventures and finds a delight only to return home at 2 o’clock the following day. During his wandering, Bloom meets Stephen Dedalus, the alienated main character of A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, who becomes his momentarily adopted son. Then there is Bloom’s wife Molly, a voluptuous singer who is planning an afternoon of adultery with her music director.

Origins of the celebration

The date is also significant both in the writer’s life and in the body of the novel itself. On June 16, 1904, Joyce went out for the first time with Nora Barnacle, his future wife, and made his fondness clear to her. He later chose this date in Ulysses, as Leopold Bloom goes on his adventure in Dublin. On June 16, 1924, Joyce noted in his diary: “Today 16 of June 1924 twenty years after. Will anybody remember this date?”

Can you think of another first date celebrated a century later by millions of people around the world? Well, Joyce may have never imagined it, but he would surely be content if he ever learned of his success.

The origins of the Bloomsday celebrations date back to 16 June 1954, when a group of Dublin writers, went out into the city to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Leopold Bloom’s Dublin wanderings, visiting the places where the narrated events took place and rereading passages of the novel around the city. They gathered in Sandycove near the Hammer Tower in which the novel opens, following the protagonist religiously around Dublin all day to finish the evening in the night district that Joyce had called Nighttown. The custom of this “literary pilgrimage” has continued since then. In 2004 the centenary of Bloomsday was celebrated, during which Dublin hosted a long festival (from April to August) animated by numerous themed cultural events, opened by the Bloomsday Breakfast on O’Connell Street.

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Bloomsday around the world

Joyce made such a great impact on literature. His works are celebrated by people all around the globe. Syracuse James Joyce Club celebrates this very day by reading most parts of the book and performing a dramatisation with actors in costume.

Ireland is not the only place to commemorate Bloomsday. In fact, it has been celebrated since 1994 in Szombathely, the birthplace of Leopold Bloom’s father, Virág Rudolf. The event takes place close to Isis’ temple and Blum-mansion. Joyce’s life and masterpiece are also celebrated in Italy, in Trieste and Salerno.

Ulysses’ places

The places depicted in Ulysses (at least the ones that are still there) are the living proof of the indissoluble connection between the novel and Irish culture. The author stated that he didn’t love Dublin but ended up illustrating liveliness and values of the city which came to be remembered by millions.

Here are the places Leonard Bloom visited:

  • No 7 Eccles Street: here’s Leopold’s home where his day began in Ulysses. Eccles Street is also the ideal end of his adventure as it is where Molly Bloom’s famous monologue – 40 pages long with only two punctuation marks – took place. Today Ulysses’ home no longer exists and has unfortunately been replaced by a private hospital.
  • St George’s Church, Hardwick Place
  • Rotunda Hospital, Parnell Square
  • Bachelor’s Walk
  • O’Connell Bridge
  • Bank of Ireland, College Green: Stephen Dedalus converted the win at Belvedere College in money.
  • Trinity College.
  • Sweny’s Pharmacy: Leopold was stunned by a cake of soap with a lemon fragrance and took it with him. This place still works and attracts tourists.
  • Merrion Square & The National Art Gallery: Bloom and Dedalus passed near these beautiful places.
  • Davy Byrnes, Duke Street: Leopold stopped at a pub that has now become famous which offers the Gorgonzola cheese sandwich and Burgundy in its menu.
  • Grafton Street: also Dublin’s main street is in the masterpiece.
  • Molesworth Street & Dawson Street: the main character helped a blind person cross the street; there is a commemorative plate with Ulysses’ verses.
  • St Stephen’s Green: Bloom described the green space of Dublin magnificently. 
  • The National Museum, Kildare Street: Leopold hid here to avoid his wife’s lover. 
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The James Joyce Centre is delighted to continue the long tradition of dramatic readings by local celebrities and Joyce followers. Come see and hear how Ulysses’ characters have been reborn for over 100 years. You can choose from a great variety of events:

  • The famous Bloomsday breakfast is served at the James Joyce Centre.
  • The James Joyce Centre announces the first of a series of walks in Dublin, taking in the places so well described in the writer’s works, particularly Ulysses.
  • Join the celebration with a traditional Guinness-infused Irish breakfast and watch the amazing performances by talented actors from the Gaiety School of Acting.
  • Bloomsday Joyce fanatics from around the world come together to celebrate the life and work of their beloved writer with readings, theatre events, and lectures.
  • On this very day there are also Bloomsday bus tours and walking tours.
  • It is also a great opportunity to read Ulysses and learn more about James Joyce.
  • Theater company Balloonatics will take Joyce in the streets and you will follow Bloom’s wanderings.
  • Irish Youth Foundation and Diageo Ireland host Bloomsday Messenger Bike Rally & Lunch, see here.
  • Meet James and Nora in their first date place, take a walk in Merrion Square and collect the Bloomsday Certificate of Merit by Dublin’s Mayor.

This year, with its well-calibrated formula that combines scientific rigour and divulgation, will undergo, like all other cultural activities,  a downsizing on this occasion. Thus, many of the commemorative events have moved onto the web and has become virtual, in compliance with the rules on social distancing.

If you want to know the detailed program, take a look at this websiteThe reference site for most of the occasional Bloomsday events is this.

Bloomsday Festival is a special occasion to experience the novel and follow in the characters’ footsteps. While the pandemic has not allowed many of the events to be cancelled this year, be sure to check out all the online events. 

Have you ever been in Ireland during Bloomsday before? Tell us about your experience and thoughts!

Veronica De Biasio
Veronica De Biasio

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