What would Joyce make of Ulysses trail?
This weekend sees a variety of events taking place in the capital to celebrate Leopold Bloom's fateful journey
A kitsch attempt to commercialise art or an authentic homage to literary genius? The Bloomsday celebrations take place this weekend (Monday is the day itself) and there's plenty to be enjoyed. But does Joyce turn in his grave every time someone wearing a strawboater misquotes Ulysses or would he have approved?
On June 16, 1924, two years after Ulysses was published, Joyce found himself in hospital for an eye operation. This was the 20th anniversary of the day on which Ulysses was set – the day on which Joyce's character, Leopold Bloom, takes his fateful walk around Dublin – and the day had already acquired fame among his friends, some of whom sent him flowers to mark it.
Half-blind, Joyce managed to scrawl in his diary: "Today 16 of June 1924 20 years after. Will anybody remember this date?"
It became clear they would. The 25th anniversary, in 1929, was marked (late) by a lunch organised by his friends in Paris. They called it a Déjeuner Ulysse and chartered a bus to take them to a village outside the city where they ate in the Hotel Léopold. Sam Beckett was amongst the guests, on the way back to Paris, he kept asking Joyce to stop the bus at roadside cafés so they could have a drink. Eventually, they left him behind.
That trip was echoed by the 50th anniversary celebration in Dublin, organised by Brian O'Nolan (Flann O'Brien). Intending to follow the route Bloom took through the city, they made it just as far as the Bailey pub, where their pilgrimage collapsed into drunkenness.
That remains the spirit of Bloomsday: ad-hoc groups of Joyce enthusiasts, often with touches of period dress, drinking and reading at landmarks from the novel. But there is an organised festival as well now, and this year's contains a number of theatrical highlights.
From Boston come the Here Comes Everybody Players, to perform a short excerpt from Finnegan's Wake (from which they take their name) at Darc Space on North Great George's Street at 1pm today, and at the same time tomorrow, excerpts from each of the 15 stories from Dubliners, each staged in a separate doorway on North Great George's Street, to mark the 100th anniversary of the book's publication.
The Players have their roots in a low-key Bloomsday celebration in Boston in the 1980s, when Dublin emigrant Cathal Stevens was asked to read some excerpts. An architect, he was a keen Joycean, but neither a scholar nor performer. But he got hooked, realising that performing it was the best way to read it. Eventually, he set up the Here Comes Everybody Players with fellow Dublin emigrant Donal O'Sullivan to stage annual Joyce adaptations (in September they will branch out, staging Mark O'Rowe's Terminus in Boston. See www.hce-players.org.).
For Stevens, working on Joyce was "a way of staying in touch with the city I grew up in. He was an emigrant too, but he's rooted in Ireland."
Other theatrical highlights this weekend include:
* Katie O'Kelly's acclaimed solo performance, JOYCED! (written by her father, Donal) at the National Library on Kildare Street (Monday, 3pm and 7pm).
* Declan O'Gorman's show The Dubliner's Dilemma (7pm, tonight, tomorrow and Monday, at the James Joyce Centre, North Great George's Street), in which O'Gorman recreates both the stories of Dubliners.
* Readings and discussions from some of the great northside episodes of Ulysses at Woodstock Café in Phibsboro (6.30pm tonight and tomorrow).
* The Dubliners By Bike tour, in which you hear the stories performed on headphones by a top cast as you follow your guide around the locations of the stories. (See www.wonderlandtheatre.com for details of other Joycean tours.)
DETAILS OF ALL EVENTS ARE ON WWW.JAMESJOYCE.IE/BLOOMSDAY.