Bloomsday is a commemoration and celebration of the life of Irish writer James Joyce, observed annually in Dublin and elsewhere on June 16, the day his novel Ulysses (1922) takes place in 1904, the date of his first outing with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle, and named after its protagonist Leopold Bloom.
The first mention of such a celebration is found in a letter by Joyce to Miss Weaver of June 27, 1924, which refers to “a group of people who observe what they call Bloom’s day – 16 June.”
The day involves a range of cultural activities, including Ulysses readings and dramatisations, pub crawls and other events, some 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.
The James Joyce Tower and Museum at Sandycove, site of the opening chapter of Ulysses, hosts many free activities around Bloomsday including theatrical performances, musical events, tours of the iconic tower and readings from Joyce’s masterpiece.
In 1954, on the 50th anniversary of the events in the novel, artist, critic, publican and founder of Envoy magazine, John Ryan, and the novelist Brian O’Nolan organise what is to be a daylong pilgrimage along the Ulysses route. They are joined by Patrick Kavanagh, Anthony Cronin, Tom Joyce (Joyce’s cousin, representing the family interest) and A. J. Leventhal, a lecturer in French at Trinity College, Dublin. Ryan engages two horse-drawn cabs, of the old-fashioned sort, in which in Ulysses Mr. Bloom and his friends drive to Paddy Dignam’s funeral. The party are assigned roles from the novel. They plan to travel around the city through the day, starting at the Martello tower at Sandycove where the novel begins, 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 called Nighttown. The pilgrimage is abandoned halfway through when the weary pilgrims succumb to inebriation and rancour at the Bailey pub in the city centre, which Ryan owns at the time, and at which in 1967 he installs 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.
On Bloomsday 1982, the centenary year of Joyce’s birth, Irish state broadcaster RTÉ transmits a continuous 30-hour dramatic performance of the entire text of Ulysses on radio.
A five-month-long festival, ReJoyce Dublin 2004, takes place in Dublin between April 1 and August 31, 2004. On the Sunday before the 100th “anniversary” of the fictional events described in the book, 10,000 people in Dublin are treated to a free, open-air, full Irish breakfast on O’Connell Street consisting of sausages, rashers, toast, beans, and black and white puddings.
(Pictured: Firstbloom (L to R) John Ryan, Anthony Cronin, Brian O’Nolan, Patrick Kavanagh and Tom Joyce (James Joyce’s cousin); Sandymount, 1954)