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Bloomsday moves online - but some Joyce fans still manage to enjoy a burnt kidney breakfast

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In character: Darina Gallagher plays Molly watched by Tom Fitzgerald during a Bloomsday event on Lincoln Place in Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney

In character: Darina Gallagher plays Molly watched by Tom Fitzgerald during a Bloomsday event on Lincoln Place in Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney

In character: Darina Gallagher as Molly and Paddy Keogh as James Joyce outside Sweny’s Chemist during a Bloomsday event on Westland Row in Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney

In character: Darina Gallagher as Molly and Paddy Keogh as James Joyce outside Sweny’s Chemist during a Bloomsday event on Westland Row in Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney

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In character: Darina Gallagher plays Molly watched by Tom Fitzgerald during a Bloomsday event on Lincoln Place in Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney

The life of James Joyce was fraught with the struggle of emigration, a battle with alcohol, and a dispute with the Catholic Church.

After leaving Ireland with lover Nora Barnacle for continental Europe, however, he kept his beloved Dublin close, and "obsessed" over his home town in his writings from Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Croatia.

As Bloomsday, the celebration of his life and works, was marked this year in an unprecedented muted fashion, his celebrants were inspired to hold close the things that Covid-19 has kept from them, and to celebrate the things Joyce missed most while in self-imposed exile in Europe.

Normally, the Bloomsday festival brings up to 20,000 people from all over the world to Dublin in celebration of Joyce's masterpiece 'Ulysses'.

Every year on June 16, Joyce fans follow a route around Dublin city centre which was taken by Leopold Bloom, the fictional protagonist of the 1922 novel on the same date in 1904.

While small groups carried on the tradition dressed in Edwardian-style costumes, this year the majority of the festivities had to take place online because of Covid-19.

Despite this, Darina Gallagher, director of the festival, said Dublin was filled with hope as Joyce fans celebrated.

"It has been a great day. It's really different, but it feels like there's really hope despite everything," she said.

"The city is spreading out across the world and everyone is celebrating Dublin and Joyce from around the world.

"I've really been reflecting on James Joyce leaving Dublin so young, at age 22.

"We're missing so much at the moment: people, activities, friends - and Joyce was really missing Dublin, but he kept it close to him and almost obsessed over it.

"The warmth and energy of those writings make us all long for what we are missing at the moment."

One of the Bloomsday traditions is to eat a "burnt kidney breakfast", as the protagonist in 'Ulysses' did.

Peter Caviston, organiser of the Bloomsday Coastal Odyssey festival, said a small group continued the tradition this year in Glasthule, Sandycove, where 5,000 usually take over the street to celebrate Joyce.

"We had kidneys and sheep hearts, and we were all social distancing.

"So we had FX Buckley black pudding - he was in 'Ulysses' - and urine-scented kidneys.

"There was a lovely flavour off them and lads stuffing their faces," Mr Caviston said.

"The celebration was totally different. This year we had to do the Bloomsday Coastal Odyssey, meaning we went to different places where nobody knew, so there would be no crowd-control problems.

"I started 35 years ago doing this, so I had to mark the day."

Irish Independent