Today is Bloomsday, a commemoration and celebration of the life of Irish writer James Joyce during which the events of his novel Ulysses (set on 16 June 1904) are relived. It is observed annually on 16 June in Dublin and elsewhere. Joyce chose the date as it was the date of his first outing with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle; they walked to the Dublin suburb of Ringsend. The name is derived from Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Ulysses. The first mention of such a celebration is to be found in a letter by Joyce to Miss Weaver of 27 June 1924: “There is a group of people who observe what they call Bloom’s day – 16 June.”
On the 50th anniversary of the events in the novel John Ryan (artist, critic, publican and founder of Envoy magazine) and the novelist Brian O’Nolan organized what was to be a daylong pilgrimage along the Ulysses route. They were joined by Patrick Kavanagh, Anthony Cronin, Tom Joyce (a dentist who, as Joyce’s cousin, represented the family interest) and AJ Leventhal (Registrar of Trinity College, Dublin). Ryan had engaged two horse drawn cabs, of the old-fashioned kind, which in Ulysses Mr. Bloom and his friends drive to poor Paddy Dignam’s funeral. The party were assigned roles from the novel. Cronin stood in for Stephen Dedalus, O’Nolan for his father, Simon Dedalus, John Ryan for the journalist Martin Cunningham, and A.J. Leventhal, being Jewish, was recruited to fill (unknown to himself according to John Ryan) the role of Leopold Bloom. They planned to travel round the city through the day, visiting in turn the scenes of the novel, ending at night in what had once been the brothel quarter of the city, the area which Joyce had called Nighttown. The pilgrimage was abandoned halfway through, when the weary pilgrims succumbed to inebriation and rancor at the Bailey pub in the city centre, which Ryan then owned, and at which, in 1967, he installed the door to No. 7 Eccles Street (Leopold Bloom’s front door), having rescued it from demolition. A Bloomsday record of 1954, informally filmed by John Ryan, follows this pilgrimage.
The day involves a range of cultural activities including Ulysses readings and dramatizations, pub crawls and other events, much of it hosted by the James Joyce Centre in North Great George’s Street. Enthusiasts often dress in Edwardian costume to celebrate Bloomsday, and retrace Bloom’s route around Dublin via landmarks such as Davy Byrne’s pub. Hard-core devotees have even been known to hold marathon readings of the entire novel, some lasting up to 36 hours. On the Sunday in 2004 before the 100th anniversary of the fictional events described in the book, 10,000 people in Dublin were treated to a free, open-air, full Irish breakfast on O’Connell Street consisting of sausages, rashers, toast, beans, and black and white puddings.
TIME magazine wrote in 1959:
Joyce always liked to say that Nora Barnacle had come “sauntering” into his life out of the Dublin hotel where she worked as a waitress. The first day they went walking together was June 16, 1904, and Joyce always regarded it so romantically that he made it Bloomsday, the day everything happens in Ulysses. Nora had only a grammar school education, but when Joyce spouted his literary dreams to her and then declaimed: “Is there one who understands me?”, Nora understood enough to say yes. She eloped with him to the Continent (they were not married till 27 years later) and he swore to “try myself against the powers of the world.”
Here’s a few excerpts and a gallery for you to savor (the full text is here —
What special affinities appeared to him to exist between the moon and woman?
Her antiquity in preceding and surviving successive tellurian generations: her nocturnal predominance: her satellitic dependence: her luminary reflection: her constancy under all her phases, rising and setting by her appointed times, waxing and waning: the forced invariability of her aspect: her indeterminate response to inaffirmative interrogation: her potency over effluent and refluent waters: her power to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite to and aid delinquency: the tranquil inscrutability of her visage: the terribility of her isolated dominant implacable resplendent propinquity: her omens of tempest and of calm: the stimulation of her light, her motion and her presence: the admonition of her craters, her arid seas, her silence: her splendour, when visible: her attraction, when invisible.
A warm human plumpness settled down on his brain. His brain yielded. Perfume of embraces all him assailed. With hungered flesh obscurely, he mutely craved to adore.
He rests. He has travelled.
Sinbad the Sailor and Tinbad the Tailor and Jinbad the Jailer and Whinbad the Whaler and Ninbad the Nailer and Finbad the Failer and Binbad the Bailer and Pinbad the Pailer and Minbad the Mailer and Hinbad the Hailer and Rinbad the Railer and Dinbad the Kailer and Vinbad the Quailer and Linbad the Yailer and Xinbad the Phthailer.
Going to dark bed there was a square round Sinbad the Sailor roc’s auk’s egg in the night of the bed of all the auks of the rocs of Darkinbad the Brightdayler.
For recipes for today you’ve got several choices. You could, for example, have a gorgonzola sandwich with mustard and a glass of burgundy:
—Hello, Bloom, Nosey Flynn said from his nook.
—Tiptop… Let me see. I’ll take a glass of burgundy and… let me see.
Sardines on the shelves. Almost taste them by looking. Sandwich? Ham and his descendants musterred and bred there. Potted meats. What is home without Plumtree’s potted meat? Incomplete. What a stupid ad! Under the obituary notices they stuck it. All up a plumtree. Dignam’s potted meat. Cannibals would with lemon and rice. White missionary too salty. Like pickled pork. Expect the chief consumes the parts of honour. Ought to be tough from exercise. His wives in a row to watch the effect. There was a right royal old nigger. Who ate or something the somethings of the reverend Mr MacTrigger. With it an abode of bliss. Lord knows what concoction. Cauls mouldy tripes windpipes faked and minced up. Puzzle find the meat. Kosher. No meat and milk together. Hygiene that was what they call now. Yom Kippur fast spring cleaning of inside. Peace and war depend on some fellow’s digestion. Religions. Christmas turkeys and geese. Slaughter of innocents. Eat drink and be merry. Then casual wards full after. Heads bandaged. Cheese digests all but itself. Mity cheese.
—Have you a cheese sandwich?
Like a few olives too if they had them. Italian I prefer. Good glass of burgundy take away that. Lubricate. A nice salad, cool as a cucumber, Tom Kernan can dress. Puts gusto into it. Pure olive oil. Milly served me that cutlet with a sprig of parsley. Take one Spanish onion. God made food, the devil the cooks. Devilled crab.
—Quite well, thanks… A cheese sandwich, then. Gorgonzola, have you?
Nosey Flynn sipped his grog.
—Doing any singing those times?
Look at his mouth. Could whistle in his own ear. Flap ears to match. Music. Knows as much about it as my coachman. Still better tell him. Does no harm. Free ad.
—She’s engaged for a big tour end of this month. You may have heard perhaps.
—No. O, that’s the style. Who’s getting it up?
The curate served.
—How much is that?
—Seven d., sir… Thank you, sir.
Mr Bloom cut his sandwich into slender strips. Mr MacTrigger. Easier than the dreamy creamy stuff. His five hundred wives. Had the time of their lives.
He studded under each lifted strip yellow blobs.
Or, how about a breakfast of mutton kidneys? That’s my choice
Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. 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.
Kidneys were in his mind as he moved about the kitchen softly, righting her breakfast things on the humpy tray. Gelid light and air were in the kitchen but out of doors gentle summer morning everywhere. Made him feel a bit peckish.
The coals were reddening.
Another slice of bread and butter: three, four: right. She didn’t like her plate full. Right. He turned from the tray, lifted the kettle off the hob and set it sideways on the fire. It sat there, dull and squat, its spout stuck out. Cup of tea soon. Good. Mouth dry. The cat walked stiffly round a leg of the table with tail on high.