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Get them kidneys sizzling: James Joyce fans don corsets to celebrate Bloomsday

Joyce himself lived through the deadly flu pandemic of 1918


Edwardian exuberance: Far left, RTÉ weather presenter Nuala Carey in period dress at the Martello Tower in Sandycove

Edwardian exuberance: Far left, RTÉ weather presenter Nuala Carey in period dress at the Martello Tower in Sandycove

Edwardian exuberance: Far left, RTÉ weather presenter Nuala Carey in period dress at the Martello Tower in Sandycove

Outside Sweny’s Pharmacy, the famous purveyors of lemon soap on Lincoln Place, it was like old times.

A heady, altogether catching, blend of Edwardian nostalgia mingled with the euphoria of the double-vaccinated in a world coming slowly but surely back from a pandemic.

As atmospheres go, it was hard to beat.

Breaking into the saucy chorus of an 1899 hit – “Those girls, those girls, those lovely seaside girls” – members of the historical society of St Andrew’s Church on Westland Row told how they usually sing at Mass, but added that they fear it will be December before they’re back doing that again.

In the meantime, there was Bloomsday.

The day began in fitting fashion (corsets and all) at 8am at Sandycove’s Martello tower. In Dublin Bay the naval vessel the LÉ James Joyce saluted the literary giant while flying a Munster flag, as a special nod to the wish expressed by The Citizen in Ulysses.

Then of course it was time for breakfast.

For some participants of the annual literary festivities, this took place online – like most of the official events. However the St Andrew’s Church historical society met up at member Elizabeth Watson’s house for a special breakfast, as befitting their connection with the church name-checked in Ulysses as All Hallows.

“We had absolutely everything,” said Gillian Pepper, secretary of the society.

At Sweny’s, manager PJ Murphy said they had a filming that morning of “four feminists from New York” and he had read one of Joyce’s letters. He added that the Zoom readings they began last year in the teeth of the pandemic have proved to be so successful – with Joyce fans from Italy to South America to Russia joining in – that they will continue them.

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Joyce himself had lived through the deadly flu pandemic of 1918, so he would have understood this current atmosphere, he said.

A warm and languid afternoon in Sandycove felt like such an Edwardian idyll that it was hardly surprising to stumble upon a James Joyce lookalike who proved, in fact, to be the writer’s grandnephew, Jurek Delimata. 

"I grow it for Bloomsday,” he said of his small goatee. “It’ll be gone tomorrow.”

Having missed out on the festivities last year, he had travelled from his home in Mohill, Co Leitrim, to enjoy the day with his daughter Eva. They enjoyed a rendition of Oft in the Stilly Night at Sweny’s and were now on their way to to the Martello tower at Sandycove. “To look at the snot-green sea,” Jurek added.

Outside the Wilton Gallery, where founder Ritika Callow had momentarily paused preparations for an upcoming David Hedderman exhibition, well-known husband and wife acting duo Nick Dunning and Lise-Ann McLaughlin – both in Edwardian costume – read a selection of extracts from the novel, alongside writer Martina Devlin, in an event entitled ‘He’s Out in Pampooties’.

"It’s a tongue-twister,” declared Lise-Ann.

Fresh from a production of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival, Nick said that as an actor it was a joy to take part in the event – because Joycean language is “like swimming in joy and bliss”.

This has been a bleak year – but The Tudors actor said he had been “very lucky”, taking part in a new ABC production, Epic, alongside Modern Family's Sarah Hyland.

As part of the Friends of Sandycove Tower group, Marie McCourt from Bray, Co Wicklow, had dressed in her finery to enjoy the day. She said that, after Covid, she was just glad to see some semblance of normality return.

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