Tuesday 23 December 2014

Hats off to Bloomsday set as tourists are bowled over

Published 17/06/2014 | 02:30

Members of the Dublin Shakespeare Society re-enact the ‘Hades’ chapter from Ulysses in Glasnevin Cemetery as part of yesterday’s Bloomsday celebrations. Photo: Colm Mahady / Fennells
Nicole Joyce and Lucas Kemper (2) at the James Joyce Centre in Dublin. Photo: Conor McCabe
Senator David Norris with John Shevlin in character of James Joyce at the James Joyce Centre on North Great George's Street. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography

"MOW Bow-lah hets," exclaimed an Antipodean tourist as she turned the corner to spy the elegant Edwardian set congregated outside Davy Byrne's pub.

To be fair she hadn't read the book and was completely oblivious to the fact that she was currently wandering, Leopold Bloom-like, through hallowed ground where disciples were officially supposed to be supping on Burgundy wine and gorgonzola cheese – but were, in fact, cheating with Guinness.

And they were wearing straw boaters, not bowlers.

Just like the first ever Bloomsday in 1954, when the tradition of tracing Bloom's ambling through Dublin began, "the atmosphere both meteorologically and emotionally was pleasant", as poet Patrick Kavanagh noted back then.

And while the sun may have beaten down a little too enthusiastically at times on those stripey blazers and heavy Edwardian dresses, the straw boaters were definitely a bonus.

The day kicked off with gusto with a traditional 8am Bloomsday breakfast at the James Joyce Centre, which set followers up for the day with the 'fine tang of faintly-scented urine' on their palates thanks to the obligatory kidneys.

At the Ulysses bookshop on Duke Street, a first edition of the novel with an impressive price tag of €30,000 was on display.

At a street corner, a Finnish couple in straw boaters were peering at a street map.

Kalle Avtio and Meri Heikkila had deliberately timed their visit to Ireland so that they could celebrate a book that Kalle had read twice in Finnish, but Meri had not.

"It's very funny. There is a lot dealing with 'down below'," said Kalle.

Even Marco Pierre White's restaurant had gotten in on the act – offering a lunchtime special of a glass of Guinness and Crumbled Livers.

At Sweny's Pharmacy, a group of Turkish visitors were marvelling at their good fortune at being present on such a day.

But volunteers at the little Edwardian chemist shop where Bloom bought his lemon soap are facing an anxious future, with a cut in UNESCO funding along with a rates hike looming.

"We're struggling along now but the situation will get critical at the end of the summer and we might have to close for the winter," revealed volunteers Des Gunning and Joe D'arcy.

J&C Nichols Funeral directors celebrated 200 years in business at the Stephen's Green Hibernian Club with the launch of a book, 'Past Nichols the Undertakers' named for the sentence in the Lotus Eaters' chapter where Bloom walked "soberly" past the premises on Lombard Street.

Out of town, Glasnevin cemetery celebrated with an enactment of the Hades chapter by the Dublin Shakespeare Society and a tour of the grounds.

The library in Blackrock reopened to the public following extensive renovations, while a special festival in Dun Laoghaire saw children enjoy vintage amusements and a Bloomsday Treasure Hunt.

"Will we get pensions for our days outing?" Kavanagh mused back in 1954.

"Events like these amuse without being too serious."

He had no idea how serious Bloomsday would turn out to be.

Irish Independent

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