Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bloomsday in Dublin - June 16

The fact that we will arrive in Dublin on the 16th of June has special significance. Every year Dublin observes June 16 as Bloomsday, celebrating the life of Irish writer James Joyce (1882-1941). The purpose is to revisit the specific locales in Joyce’s novel Ulysses, in which all events took place on the same day (June 16, 1904) in Dublin. The name Bloomsday derives from Leopold Bloom, the novel’s protagonist. Specifically, Thursday, June 16, 1904, was the date of Joyce's first outing with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle, when they walked to the Dublin urban village of Ringsend. Accordingly, many modern day revelers dress in clothing appropriate to 1904.

The novel, considered by many literary critics to be one of the greatest books ever written, describes in florid detail a single day in the life Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly and Stephen Dedalus, a young would-be-writer – a character based on Joyce himself. Bloom, a Jewish advertising salesman, spends the day wandering through the streets and offices, pubs and brothels of 1904 Dublin. Joyce himself said of Ulysses: “I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth, it could be reconstructed from my book.”

On the first Bloomsday observance in 1954, John Ryan (artist, critic, publican and magazine founder) and novelist Flann O'Brien 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 A.J. Leventhal (Registrar of Trinity College). The pilgrimage was abandoned halfway through, however, when the weary party succumbed to inebriation and rancor at the Bailey Pub in the city center. At the time Ryan owned the pub. In 1967, he replaced a door of the Bailey Pub with the original door to No. 7 Eccles Street (Leopold Bloom’s front door), having rescued it from demolition. John Ryan made an informal film of the attempted 1954 pilgrimage; the footage exists to this day.

Today’s Bloomsday celebrations include Ulysses readings and dramatizations, pub crawls and general merriment, much of it hosted by the James Joyce Centre on North Great George’s Street. Enthusiasts often dress in Edwardian costume to celebrate Bloomsday and retrace Bloom's route around Dublin with stops at locales such as Davy Byrne’s pub (still going strong). Davy Byrne’s was where Leo Bloom had a gorgonzola cheese sandwich and a glass of burgundy for lunch. Can you guess what most folk eat and drink at Davy Byrne’s every June 16?

Hard-core devotees have even been known to hold marathon readings of the entire novel (more than 1,000 pages), some lasting up to 36 hours. The first celebration took place in 1954 (fiftieth anniversary), and a major five-month-long festival (ReJoyce Dublin 2004) took place in Dublin during the centennial summer of 2004. On the Sunday 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. As well, there have been many Bloomsday events in Trieste, Italy, where Joyce was living when he wrote the first part of Ulysses; a Joyce Museum was opened there on June 16, 2004.

The Brazen Head Pub, one of the sites visited in Ulysses, does landmark business on Bloomsday. It is reputed to be the oldest drinking establishment in the city; there has been a bar on this site since the 12th century when it was located in the medieval city, with the original tavern replaced by a coaching inn in the late 17th century.

As you enter (photo below) the first thing you encounter after passing stacks of kegs is the old courtyard, which turns into a beer garden in the summer. The Brazen Head has two bars that are strewn with old memorabilia reflecting the bar's long history in the city. It has played a central role in Dublin's history with famous patrons such as Irish nationalists Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmet and Daniel O'Connell. Many Irish writers, not just James Joyce, frequented this place; Patrick Kavanagh and Brendan Behan were regulars.

It has plenty of character and old world charm. Tourists love it (watch your head on the low threshold!), and they serve a decent dinner. You'll find plenty of lawyers here, considering its proximity to The Four Courts. On Bridge Street by the River Liffey, Southside Dublin.

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