Monday 20 November 2017

Bloomsday lacks giblets but devotees are treated to some Turkey

Great grand nieces Nicole and Christine Joyce at the Joyce Centre in Dublin
Great grand nieces Nicole and Christine Joyce at the Joyce Centre in Dublin
Martina Devlin

Martina Devlin

SOME American visitors are listening to a public reading of 'Ulysses' outside the Joyce Tower in Dublin's Sandycove. Buck Mulliganed out, they turn to leave.

"I wouldn't go yet. The President's wife is about to read," advises a volunteer. Their jaws drop. "Michelle Obama is doing a 'Ulysses' reading?"

"You're not the only one with a president," he says. "I mean our president's wife, Sabina."

Sabina Coyne Higgins launches into a colourful passage in which an anti-Semitic character called the Citizen berates Leopold Bloom, who points out that Jesus was a Jew.

A former actor, Mrs Higgins – who later hosted a Bloomsday reception at Aras an Uachtarain with her husband – gives it welly, raising the bar for the readers who follow, including Pat Kenny and Sinead Desmond, introduced by Vincent Browne.

Typically, Bloomsday is characterised by a string of you-couldn't-make-it-up moments. Take the visitor from Turkey who asks if he can join in, reading from a Turkish translation of the novel.

No problem. Off he goes. Except the only part anyone understands are two names: Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan again.

Mrs Higgins does the honours in launching a new website set up by voluntary group The Friends of the Joyce Tower Society. She cuts a ribbon attached to an iPad, and goes live.

Then, while soprano Lua McIlraith sings 'I Dreamed I Dwelled In Marble Halls' (featured in 'Dubliners'), a buttercooler moment takes place. We are in 1904, remember.


Maebh O'Regan presents the tower with a terracotta buttercooler for display in the museum, where Joyce lived briefly, and set those memorable opening scenes in 'Ulysses'.

"Joyce mentions a buttercooler in that chapter," she explains. "I knew there were artefacts from the period in the tower, but no buttercooler, so we decided to donate this one from the early 1900s in memory of my mother-in-law Frances."

Elsewhere in the area around Sandycove, Glasthule and Dun Laoghaire, wall-to-wall Joyces, Molly Blooms and indeterminate characters from 'Ulysses' wander about.

Tom Fitzgerald of Fitzgerald's pub in Sandycove is a convincing lookalike. He even sings, as did Joyce, who had a fine tenor voice. Tom serenades customers while feeding them liver, stuffed heart and kidneys.

"No gizzards or giblets, unfortunately," he says. "You have to order them in advance these days.

Up and down the neighbourhood, especially in the vicinity of Caviston's in Glasthule, people are eating, drinking and making merry. Tin Lizzies and other vintage cars are parked outside.

Day-trippers and locals alike are in period costume (who knew Dublin could rustle up so many boaters?), and some carry copies of Joyce's modernist masterpiece.

A Spanish tourist asks to borrow a copy of 'Ulysses'. The owner hands it over, thinking she intends to flick through it, but the visitor only wants to be photographed pretending to read it.

In fairness, the edition has more than 900 pages, which is not something to tackle on a whim. Well worth a read, all the same.

Irish Independent

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