“Today 16 June 1924 twenty years after. Will anybody remember this date.”
James Joyce wrote this sentence while lying miserable in a hospital bed, back in 1924. On that same day twenty years before, June 16th 1904, Joyce had sent one Leopold Bloom out wandering around Dublin for a whole day, letting us in on his each and every thought (and there were plenty of them) as he went about his business. Twenty years later and Joyce, having had his eyes operated on yet again, was blinded by bandages and feeling legitimately sorry for himself. He was even wondering, it seems, whether his great novel would cause so much as a ripple in years to come.
He needn’t have worried. For anyone who’s read Ulysses from cover to cover – and the many of us who haven’t, but wish we had – the 16th of June is well remembered. Not just as the date Joyce immortalised Leopold Bloom, but as the date that immortalises Joyce himself.
Ulysses – often described as one of the least read and most talked-about works of literature that’s ever been written – is the ultimate ‘day in the life’ story, of one Leopold Bloom. Well its mostly a day in the life of Bloom, but it’s one of Dublin too. The city is there with Bloom in every step he takes. Bloomsday is celebrated all over the world, but there’s nowhere better to celebrate it than in Dublin city. The following are a few proper Joycean things you can do in Dublin on Bloomsday…
If you’re going to walk in Leopold’s shoes, why not actually walk in Leopold’s shoes? On Bloomsday, any Joycean worth their salt will be dressed up to the nines in Edwardian gear. Well, women tend not to wear Leopold’s shoes but instead opt for long skirts (ladies don’t show their ankles, you know), shawls, fancy hats and ruffled blouses. Men tend to either emulate Bloom’s funeral garb (a black suit, essentially) or more likely than that, they dress like Joyce himself – straw hat, rounded specs, britches and braces, and a cane. Either way, this is as dapper as you’ll look all year, so go all out.
“He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine”
Every year, the James Joyce Centre in Dublin hosts an annual Bloomsday Breakfast to pay homage to Bloom’s ‘quirkier’ tastes. It tends to sell out quite quickly, but don’t worry, there are plenty of places in Dublin serving a Bloomsday breakfast on the 16th of June. Some of the food Bloom likes to eat is, well… questionable. But please don’t run away just yet, it’s mostly just a traditional Irish breakfast of beans, sausages and black and white pudding. The fried kidneys are 100% optional.
The James Joyce Centre also runs special walks in the run up to the big day, and lead special Bloomsday guided tours throughout the day on the 16th. You’ll be taken around the city by students of Joyce’s work, and you’ll get the chance to see some of the areas of Dublin that featured in the book or in Joyce’s life, as well as some places that Joyce was particularly inspired by. It’s a great way to see the city with a Joycean twist.
Leopold begins his day at the Martello Tower in Sandycove. Joyce himself actually stayed here on the invitation of Oliver St John Gogarty, leaving quite quickly after he was shot at by his host. The tower is now a Joyce museum; full of interesting artifacts and just a short scenic spin from the city on the DART. If you’re feeling brave, go for a dip at the nearby 40 foot, like the character Buck Mulligan does in the book. Don’t be too put off by his description of it, though…
“The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea.”
It’s more of a deep teal than a snot green. The rest I can’t comment on.
In Ulysses, Leopold Bloom goes into Sweny’s chemist dispensary to buy some orangeflower and whitewax skin lotion for Molly. But like all of us, he’s not impervious to an aul impulse buy, and so after taking a whiff of a bar of lemon soap he decides to buy it too.
Sweny’s ceased to operate as a pharmacy back in 2009, and is now kept open and run solely by volunteers who love Joyce and host regular readings. Catch one of these if you can. And buy some lemon soap, which Sweny’s still sells. It’s a lovely place, run by lovely people. Well worth visiting.
Glasnevin Cemetery is fantastic for a visit on any day of the year, and no less so on Bloomsday. The ‘Hades’ chapter in Ulysses is set in the Cemetary, and not only that, but Joyce’s parents are actually buried here. Throughout the day the cemetery runs special events from a special Bloomsday Breakfast and Lunch to re-enactments and readings, a play, and special Joycean tours of the cemetery itself. You’ll probably see die-hard fans arriving in full costume too, by horse and carriage.
Walk the Cliff Path Loop in Howth. It’s a gorgeous peninsula, and the place where Leopold Bloom proposes to Molly at a picnic. Jump on the DART and head out there – and take a picnic with you (include beer and sardines for some extra Joyce points). It’s a beautiful walk, and you don’t have to propose to anyone.
Although it would be pretty romantic if you did… Just saying, like.
The first proper Bloomsday was celebrated in 1954 by none other than Patrick Kavanagh, one of Ireland’s other most renowned wordsmiths. The plan was to retrace Leopold’s steps in horse drawn carriages. Instead, it turned into a pub crawl that ended with abandoned buggies and some very drunk members of the Irish literati. Not a bad way to celebrate, so if you’re the sort that gets ‘blue mouldy’ for a pint, have a few as you wander round some of the pubs mentioned in Ulysses. But it’s probably best to stay away from horses.
“Mr Bloom ate his stripes of sandwich, fresh clean bread, with relish of disgust, pungent mustard, the feety savour of green cheese.
Sips of his wine soothed his palate”
Speaking of blue and mouldy, Gorgonzola sandwiches are another of the unusual culinary features in Ulysses. Bloom has one in Davy Byrne’s, washing it down with a cheeky burgundy. Davy Byrne’s is still open, and gorgonzola sandwiches are still on the menu, so if you’re feeling peckish go there and have one, and wash it down with a big glass of red. For authenticity’s sake. You’re guaranteed a packed bar and a great atmosphere here on Bloomsday.
Flights to Dublin
- Dee Murray