Happy Bloomsday!

Hoopsa boyaboy hoopsa!

Yesterday was Bloomsday, the day dedicated to celebrating and re-enacting James Joyce’s Ulysses. Because his novel takes place on a single day – June 16, 1904 – every June 16, people from all over the world gather to re-enact the novel and celebrate its publication and its author.  While we didn’t go in costume, we met people who were in full Edwardian regalia, and talked to people from all over Ireland and Great Britain as well as from America, France, Holland, Germany, Australia, and a number of other places. We even saw the Lord Mayor of Dublin and met an Irish Senator!

As Leopold Bloom catalogued his day, here’s ours:

We started with a Bloomsday breakfast at the famous Gresham Hotel, where we dined on a traditional Irish breakfast – including the kidneys Bloom ate for his breakfast, and black and white pudding (and no, that’s not Jell-O, kids). Mr. Shifflett and I were fortunate enough to sit with our friends from earlier in the week (the professor of zoology is Penny, and the surfer dude is Igor). We also met an Irish couple, who were musicians, and two young Irish women who’d moved to the city from Cork and who dressed up in costume for this every year. As we dined, suddenly, actors rushed in and began noisily and humorously reenacting key scenes from the book.

Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan get their morning milk. Re-enactment in front of the James Joyce Center.

We would see these actors again throughout the day. Our next stop was the James Joyce Center, where we knocked on the door of No. 7 Eccles Street and then skipped out through the crowds.

Knocking at No. 7 Eccles Street – the real door!

We had planned on taking yet another walking tour with the James Joyce Center, but it was really crowded, and Igor told us he’d heard that Senator David Norris, the renowned Joycean scholar of Trinity College who’d become a politician, was speaking at the National Library in a free lecture. We booked it over to the National Library and just barely got seats for what ended up being a really incredible discussion!

Senator Norris was an incredible public speaker with a thick Irish accent and a charismatic, theatrical manner. He told us about his first encounter with Joyce’s work, regaled us with funny tales of Ulysses‘s publication and how it had to be sold under the counter (because while it wasn’t strictly illegal – at least, not once it was finally allowed in the country! – it was still considered controversial), and showed us the human side of Joyce. He said that anyone who thought Joyce was unkind, or self-obsessed, or cut off from emotion, should just look at Joyce’s love for his daughter, Lucia, and how desperately he tried to find a doctor who could successfully treat her schizophrenia. He also talked about the passion readers feel for Joyce’s work: how Paul Léon, the Russian Jew who was one of Joyce’s closest friends and his business manager, returned at his own risk to Joyce’s French apartment ahead of the Nazi invasion to save his papers and manuscripts. (Léon was, in fact, later captured by Nazis and killed on the way to Auschwitz, but his son Alex considers his father’s relationship with Joyce and the saving of the papers to be a huge honor.) We ended the session by learning that the first Bloomsday was actually organized in secret, because the book was still so controversial and considered to be in “bad taste” – a fitting joke, considering it’s practically a national holiday now!

We followed Senator Norris to St. Stephen’s Green, where he gave a short speech to welcome readers and listeners alike to Joycean readings and songs in the Green.

Senator Norris welcomes Bloomsday readers and listeners, and reads from Finnegan’s Wake himself.

We heard readings from Irish men and women (and people of other nationalities as well) from such chapters as “Circe,” “Cyclops,” “Penelope,” and “Proteus.” There were also songs – members of the opera sang “I Dreamt I Dwelt” (from “Clay”), “Love’s Old Sweet Song” (from Ulysses), and “Jerusalem” (based on William Blake’s poem). It was cold and windy and a little drizzly, but we and hundreds of other people stuck it out to listen to and laugh at the wonders of James Joyce.

Mother and daughters in Bloomsday costume.

At least Mr. Shifflett and I were warmly dressed – a lot of people were still in costume!

Young couple in Bloomsday costume.

The highlight of the day, though, was meeting James Joyce.

Yep, that’s me and James Joyce.

Mr. Joyce was very kind and talkative, and surprisingly eager to chat with me about his works.

James Joyce was so chatty!

I now know all the secrets of his works, and will be torturing you, my students, with even more James Joyce in the coming year. You’ll love it.

After three hours of readings in the cold, we closed the ceremonies, and Mr. Shifflett and I bid farewell to James Joyce, Senator Norris, Penny, Igor, and our other friends, and sallied forth to find a cup of tea to warm up. We ended the night listening to traditional Irish music in O’Donoghue’s nearby – a real Irish jam session, with three guitars, a banjo, a fiddle, an Irish flute, a tin whistle, and a concertina, just a random assortment of men and women who got together to play a few tunes. It was the perfect end to the day.

Happy Bloomsday, everyone!


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