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'Ulysses' fans are confined to port as Bloomsday 2020 fun goes online


Soap star: PJ Murphy, managing director of Sweny’s pharmacy on Lincoln Place, which featured in James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Soap star: PJ Murphy, managing director of Sweny’s pharmacy on Lincoln Place, which featured in James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Soap star: PJ Murphy, managing director of Sweny’s pharmacy on Lincoln Place, which featured in James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’. Photo: Steve Humphreys

It will be a Bloomsday like no other as Joyceans around the globe swap plans to celebrate the festival in Dublin for an online version instead.

The Bloomsday festival, a celebration of James Joyce's masterpiece 'Ulysses', normally sees up to 20,000 people flock to the capital on June 16 each year.

Joyce fans dress up in Edwardian-style costumes and congregate in the city centre, where they follow the route taken by Leopold Bloom on the same date in 1904.

However, due to the Covid-19 restrictions, the festival has been scaled back with most activities cancelled or moved online.

Sweny's pharmacy on Dublin's Lincoln Place is an essential spot for Joyceans to visit on Bloomsday as, in 'Ulysses', Leopold visits the chemist to buy face cream for his wife Molly, and on impulse buys a bar of soap for himself.

PJ Murphy, managing director of Sweny's, said the chemist will be open for business for those hoping to get their hands on the special soap.

"We're very famous for selling lemon soap and, as a result, people come from early morning and all during the day to buy it," he said.

"We're very limited to the number of people we can allow in so we'll have to have to have two of our volunteers outside and they will allow maybe two or three people in."

Mr Murphy said there will be a "huge difference" between this year's festival and previous years.

"We're here 11 years this year, and each Bloomsday we see up to a couple of thousand people at least."

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During the lockdown, Sweny's began conducting readings online through Zoom and Mr Murphy said the virtual readings have been popular with fans all over the globe.

"We do five readings, one of 'Finnegans Wake' on a Tuesday, one on Thursday of 'Ulysses', we do one of 'Dubliners', all at 7pm.

"We also do a Portuguese one at 3pm on Saturday and an Italian one on Sunday at 5pm. We have people from all over the world now who join us for those. They're becoming more and more popular so we're going to continue with those until, I think, forever."

Darina Gallagher, director of Bloomsday festival, said a great effort has been made to make sure Bloomsday is still marked despite the health crisis, a move that has been welcomed by Joyce fans internationally.

“The festival could usually attract something up to about 20,000 visitors to the city which could be domestic visitors from all around the country that come up for that day but also international visitors that will make a pilgrimage almost to Dublin,

“This is such a unique time of year for so many artists and creative people, this is when they work. They're celebrating Joyce, and they go traveling all around the world to represent Ireland, almost like Paddy's Day.

“It’s just for academics and the universities and embassies, which always do wonderful stuff, but really just for the fans of the book. That has been really overwhelming. Even people in Auckland and Buenos Aires have been getting in contact.”

Video pieces from the showcase and songs event, which is normally held in Meeting House Square, featuring a host of famous faces such as Aidan Gillen, Glen Hansard, and Caitriona Balfe will be made available online.

“Normally these people are so busy, there's no way they'd be able to devote an afternoon, they're in LA or, you know, filming somewhere, or recording. But this year, they've been able to video a piece of themselves doing a reading from Ulysses. Ulysses has 18 different chapters, so we're going to have a unique reading for each of those chapters.

Meanwhile, The Chester Beatty museum is running a virtual boater hat workshop for those who would still like to dress up for the event but have not been able to source certain materials.

Jenny Siung, the museum’s director of education, said: “With people stuck at home, they don't have or they haven't had until the shop started reopening, access to lots of the more complex art materials.

“So we've looked at creating an online life workshop for Bloomsday using materials that you can find at home, ready to ready to hand, like cardboard is the main feature of the workshop.”

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