June 16, 1904 was probably a regular day for a lot of people, but the date has been immortalised in literature; specifically, one of Ireland’s best-known works of literature.
And every year on Bloomsday, Joyce fans (and those partial to a bit of festivity) celebrate the author and his Dublin-set novel Ulysses.
But it’s safe to say that amid a pandemic, Bloomsday is breaking with time-honoured tradition, mainly out of necessity. With social distancing measures in place, events have moved online, but there are plenty of ways to mark the occasion.
Whether you want a full immersive Bloomsday experience, or are feeling a little lazy, we have come up with a number of ways to pay tribute to one of our most famous writers, and his most controversial, infamous work.
1 In one of the best-known breakfasts in Irish literature, Leopold Bloom was partial to a fried pork kidney to start the day. You could doff your cap to Joyce with an offal-y (sorry) good breakfast that evokes the ‘Calypso’ episode in the novel. The ‘tang of faintly scented urine’ is strictly optional, and perhaps best left to the purists.
2 The official Bloomsday Festival is very much keeping the tradition alive, albeit online (at bloomsdayfestival.com). On the upside, it does mean that Joyce fans from all over the country, not to mention the world, can get in on the Bloomsday action. Enjoy the play My Little Ireland, based on a chapter in Finnegan’s Wake, produced by the Ciclopatas, a theatre group from Brazil. An exploration of Marsh’s Library, which is found in many Joyce works, is also available to enjoy, as is a gallery of charity Bloomsday portraits.
3 At Sweny’s Chemist in Lincoln Place, Dublin, there will be a 36-hour reading of Ulysses, available on Zoom, that you can dip in and out of at will. Details are available on bloomsdayfestival.ie.
4 RTÉ’s dedicated Bloomsday website rte.ie/Ulysses is now live, and the complete 1982 production of James Joyce’s Ulysses with the RTÉ players (all 29 hours and 45 minutes of it) is being broadcast today on RTÉ Radio 1 Extra, beginning at 8am and ending at 3pm tomorrow. RTÉ’s site also has over 20 explainer programmes, with contributions from Edna O’Brien and Joseph O’Connor. The RTÉ Concert Orchestra are also providing ‘Joycesongs’, a musical accompaniment to the book.
5 Why not have a bit of fun with some costumes? Women can usually find a long skirt and white shirt to create an Edwardian look, while men can dress the part with a white shirt, trousers and braces. A bowler or showboater hat will top off the look. If you’re feeling especially lazy, you can ‘do a Buck Mulligan’ and just wear a dressing gown.
6 If you live within 20km of Dublin, try following in Leopold’s footsteps and take his trip around Dublin (or even part of it). From the Martello Tower in Sandycove (now home to the James Joyce Tower & Museum) and Sandymount Strand to Glasnevin and the National Library, there are still pockets of Dublin that haven’t changed much since Joyce’s time.
7 The James Joyce Centre has its own YouTube channel, complete with talks from Joycean experts, and there’s no better way to feel your way around the 265,000-word masterpiece.
8 Not a fan of fried kidneys? Follow Bloom’s lunchtime ritual instead, where he stops at Davy Byrne’s pub for a gorgonzola sandwich (complete with ‘pungent’ mustard and a glass of burgundy. Or, Plumtree’s Potted Meat could be resurrected (whether you want to eat in bed after sex, as Molly and Boylan did, is entirely up to you).
9 You could channel your inner Molly Bloom and say yes (or more specifically ‘yes, yes, I will yes’) to everything for the day. Pal wants to meet in the park? Yes. Go for a sea swim? Yes. Switch off the news and social media for the day? Hard yes.
10 Take the opportunity to actually finish Ulysses (Admit it, you didn’t get to the end). Adored as the book is, many admit they’ve not read it. Fewer again comprehended it. (Goodreads.com have placed it in the top three of its most ‘abandoned classics’.
11 Now that the novel is in the public domain, there’s much fun to be had with the text. The puzzler He Liked Thick Word Soup (available on Android and iOS) invites players to untangle sentences from the book in order to ‘advance’ the game.
12 Author Frank Delaney’s podcast on Ulysses, Re: Joyce, is definitely worth your time. Lively and well-researched, the podcast is the perfect audio guide to the book. On Infinite Ulysses (infiniteulysses.com), online readers convene to discuss the book and enjoy each other’s interpretations.
In James Joyce's Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, on Thursday, June 16, 1904, calls into Sweny Chemist Druggist, on Lincoln Place, to buy his wife Molly her favourite face cream. Drawn to the sweet wax smell, he buys a cake of Sweny's lemon soap:
'It's the book everybody wants to read but nobody has read, and this is a perfect way into it." Kevin Reynolds, series producer with RTÉ Radio's Drama on One, is speaking about the forthcoming 29 hour, 45 minute continuous broadcast of Ulysses on Bloomsday, June 16.
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