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Thursday 17 October 2019

Bloomsday: an eventful schedule

SILENCE, EXILE, AND CUNNING: Joyce in 1904 in the garden of his friend Constantine Curran
SILENCE, EXILE, AND CUNNING: Joyce in 1904 in the garden of his friend Constantine Curran
FIRST BLOOM: John Ryan, Anthony Cronin, Brian O Nolan, Patrick Kavanagh and Tom Joyce on Sandymount Strand in 1954, considering where to next...

Bloomsday (or, as it has become, the Bloomsday Festival) is an annual celebration of James Joyce's modernist epic Ulysses, the events of which take place in Dublin on June 16, 1904. The name is inspired by the novel's main character Leopold Bloom.

The first mention of the celebration is in a letter of June 27, 1924, from Joyce to Harriet Shaw Weaver, which refers to "a group of people who observe what they call Bloom's day - 16 June."

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But things really kicked off in 1954. For the 50th anniversary of the novel's setting, John Ryan, owner of The Bailey pub, hired "two weather-beaten broughams" to take himself, Brian O'Nolan, Patrick Kavanagh, AJ (Con) Leventhal, Anthony Cronin and Tom Joyce (a dentist and cousin of James), on a pilgrimage to various landmarks mentioned in Ulysses.

The journey was to end on top of Nelson's Pillar, from which Joyce's dissolute father John was wont to toast the four corners of Dublin with Cork whiskey. But when they got back to Duke Street the party repaired to the back bar of Davy Byrne's, and the rest of the trip (retracing Paddy Dignam's funeral to Glasnevin Cemetery) was abandoned.

The Bloomsday Festival has developed into a colourful celebration of Joyce, Ulysses and assorted Edwardian apparel. It typically takes place from June 11-16 and traditional Bloomsday must-sees are the James Joyce Martello Tower in Sandycove, Sweny's Chemist on Lincoln Place, Glasnevin Cemetery and Davy Byrnes Pub on Duke Street.

l The original Bloomsday began at Sandycove's Martello Tower - now home to the James Joyce Museum. After a week of special events, the Tower opens today at 8am for Bloomsday festivities. Actor Bryan Murray will read excerpts from Ulysses at intervals over the morning and early afternoon. Throughout the day, there will be occasional performances by Caitriona Ni Threasaigh and traditional contributions by Joycean pilgrims and the visitors from around the world. Admission is free, no booking required.

l Sweny's Pharmacy features in the fifth chapter of Ulysses, known as the 'Lotus Eaters' episode. This delightful little shop at No 1, Lincoln Place (near Westland Row Dart station) has survived since 1847 and still has all its original fixtures and fittings. There's a Bloomsday Breakfast from 10am at Kennedy's Pub across the street, after which there will be performances and readings all day.

l Glasnevin Cemetery is the setting for the 'Hades' episode in Ulysses, depicting the funeral procession of Paddy Dignam and this scene will be re-enacted by the 'Joycestagers' at Glasnevin today. (Joyce's parents are both buried here.)

From 10am-3pm, a Joycean breakfast and lunch will be served in the Tower Cafe. At 11.30am, the funeral procession re-enactment gets under way, and at 12.15pm you can take the Joycean Tour into the heart of the Hibernian necropolis. If the weather is good, you'll need to book (

l Davy Byrnes pub on Duke Street is the scene of the 'Lestrygonian' episode in the novel, and is remembered as the place where Leopold Bloom stops at around 1pm for a Gorgonzola cheese sandwich and a glass of burgundy. You can expect more of the same today in the pub which was sold earlier this year for €4.5m. The new owner, Irish businessman Bill Dempsey, is understood to have been a customer of Davy Byrnes over many years.

l At the James Joyce Centre on North Great George's Street they'll be wearing their best boaters all day. There's a huge range of events, starting from 8am-9.30am with one of the most famous breakfasts in literature - the fried pork kidney enjoyed by Leopold Bloom in the 'Calypso' episode. Over the years, the Bloomsday Breakfast has become an established tradition. Pork kidneys are optional for those who aren't into the "tang of faintly scented urine". And at each sitting there are special prizes for the Best Dressed Joycean - so shine up those buttons.

l Outside of these venues, the star of the show is Dublin itself - so with that in mind, why not try a walking tour? David Halpin's acclaimed three-hour tour starts at 5pm with a sit-down introduction in The Palace Bar, and develops into a relaxed stroll through Dublin, exploring Joyce's book and its relationship to the city. Booking is recommended at

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