Sun, boaters and oysters come out for Bloomsday
Joycean characters joined chefs and literati on a pilgrimage to landmarks from 'Ulysses', writes Liam Collins
As if on cue, the "snot green sea" beneath the Martello Tower in Sandycove took on a Mediterranean-like hue as the sun came out to give a Bloomsday of "mild morning air".
Already, 114 years after James Joyce immortalised the day, there was an orderly queue of Joyceans, dressed in their Edwardian costume, waiting at 8am to access the stairhead of the tower where "stately plump Buck Mulligan" shaved himself on June 16, 1904, in the opening scene of Ulysses.
By 9am, the main street of Glasthule had a party-like atmosphere as stately Peter Caviston presided over tables laden with the "inner organs of beast and fowl" and the early morning popping of Champagne corks. Eamon Morrissey and Barry McGovern read extracts from the book once banned in Ireland and that modern Joycean figure of 'Mattress Mick' was in attendance as waiters bustled between the tables crowding the footpath.
Chefs like Robin Gill, son of the famous bandleader Earl Gill, and Ross Lewis mixed with literati like Bruce Arnold, as a horse-drawn cab meandered through the village on its way back to the city.
"I am in the business of having fun. My wife always asks me: 'When are you going to grow up?' and this is great fun," announced Caviston. When he first started laying out the tables on a Bloomsday in 1987, one local told him: "It'll never last."
Bloomsday as we know it started on this day in 1954, when John Ryan, owner of The Bailey pub, hired what Brendan Lynch, in his book Prodigals and Geniuses, calls "two weather-beaten broughams" to take himself, Brian O'Nolan, Patrick Kavanagh, Con Leventhal and Tom Joyce, a dentist and cousin of 'the writer' Joyce, 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.
Yesterday, in the spirit of taking 'the road less travelled', we first ventured to Little Britain Street, where adjacent to Green Street Courthouse stood Barney Kiernan's pub where Leopold Bloom called to meet Martin Cunningham, the editor of the Freeman's Journal, to organise a 'whip round' for the widow and children of the lamented Paddy Dignam.
Declining a drink, he stood in the doorway smoking a cigar and conversing with The Citizen whose "mangy mongrel dog" Garryowen reclined at his feet as they discussed a letter from a hangman offering his services to the judges of the nearby courthouse. It brings back a memory of seeing the three judges of the Special Criminal Court donning black hats and sentencing three men to be hanged for the murder of Garda Frank Hand in 1984.
There are no such grisly memories in the Capel Bar, as the "early house" is now known. Its 11.30am and a whole cast of Joycean characters who have never heard of James Joyce are drinking pints, singing and generally enjoying life with abandon. There isn't a straw boater in sight but the local population has been boosted by a crowd of bucks from County Clare making their way from the Liam Gallagher concert in Malahide via Coppers.
Back across the Liffey, past the derelict shell of the Ormond Hotel to Duke Street, and a sea of straw hats and elegant ladies in their Edwardian finery. People have taken tables for the day in The Bailey and across the road in Davy Byrne's. Oysters, Gorgonzola and alcohol are the order of the day as a singer with a fine baritone voice belts out The Lass of Aughrim.
Brian Murphy, from Clontarf, resplendent in a jacket he has designed with quotations from Ulysses and symbols indicating the author's fear of lightning, is explaining Bloomsday to two street-cleaners who have halted their carts to inquire what the hell is going on.
After a crisp glass of white wine we wander towards the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street, with bittersweet memories to revisit the setting of Chapter 14 of Ulysses, The Oxen of the Son, where Bloom calls to see poor Mrs Purefoy, who is three days in labour.
"You're the first Joyce visitor we've had today," says the porter, who has read Ulysses himself and takes me in to see the boards that commemorate Patrick J Barry who was the master of the hospital in 1904, the assistant master who bore the name Sir Andrew J Horne, and Mary Hannan who was the matron.
In his book Ulysses Unbound, Terence Kileen explains the scene that occurred that day: "When Bloom arrives the company is debating the vexed issue of whether a pregnant mother in a medical emergency should have to die when a medical intervention might result in the abortion of her unborn child. Madden says that such a case had arisen in Holles Street a year ago and that both mother and stillborn child died, the husband declining to authorise intervention to save her as contrary to his religious beliefs."
It might have been a fictional work set in Dublin in 1904, but Ulysses is still right up to date 114 years later.
And Nighttown has yet to come.