Bloomsday may not be a major event on the holiday or event calendars for most people, but it’s an absolutely genius and deeply Irish day. I can’t think of a better idea than to take a date – in this case June 16th – and to turn it into a day long celebration, for a character from a work of fiction.
‘Ulysses’ was written by James Joyce over a century ago. Set over a 24 hour period on June 16th 1904, it tells the tale of Leopold Bloom – the son of a Hungarian Jewish immigrant and an Irish Protestant mother – as he navigates his way around Dublin, taking in all the sights, sounds and experiences of a single day – a few short years before revolution, while Ireland was still part of Empire.
It’s a rambling, chaotic book with it’s own unique style of structure and language and it is regarded as the most brilliant modernist novel of the time.
Each year to commemorate Leopold’s day, Dublin throws a big party in his honour – namely Bloomsday. People dress up in Edwardian costumes, revisit the locations set in the book and have a rollicking great party.
Yesterday in Glasthule – a coastal village in South Dublin I was reading from the book, accompanied by some very talented musicians who performed songs either mentioned in the book, or from Joyce’s other works.
I dressed in a suit, a woolen shirt and a straw boater hat. Big mistake – I was boiling within minutes of leaving my house. But I was in character.
Our first gig was in the James Joyce Tower at 10am. This is a renovated martello tower which houses artifacts and mementos from Joyce’s career and works. The place was buzzing, even at that early hour. A busy itinerary for the day was planned in the tower – recitals, music and the like.
I had selected some passages from the book that were in theme with the songs being performed. I nearly peed myself when, in the middle of a passage, I noticed a distinguished gentleman observing me. It was none other than Bryan Murray – an acclaimed actor, whom I know best from Brookside. His daughter on that show – Beth Jordache -murdered him and buried him under the patio. Mingling with the great and the good.
After our one hour show we took a wander around town. The flags were flying and the party atmosphere was in full swing – everyone was in costume and getting into the spirit of the day.
We called into a vintage clothing shop and were gifted with a free meal and a glass of red wine. It was 11.30am. It would have been churlish to refuse.
Next on our agenda was Davy Fitzgerald’s pub where there was an open mike event – anyone who fancied, could take to the stage for a performance. Like hot snots we charged the stage (when invited) and gave an excerpt from our show. We were paid for our efforts with a pint of Guinness.
Next on the schedule was Juggy’s Well Restaurant where we performed outside on the footpath among the table and chairs. This was a magical event, and I was most impressed by how enthralled the small children were with our performance. They watched intently and slack-jawed. You know that if three year olds are concentrating, then they are impressed. The seated audience sang long with some of the melodies. I emoted with gusto – well we were outdoors with the world passing by on the footpath – I needed to be heard.
After a complimentary lunch – some salmon – I made my way home for a few hours rest, and a cold shower. In preparation for our final gig of the day. In the Royal St George Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire at 8pm.
This was a nerve-wracking experience – so grand, so old, so plush, so Protestant. That was just the clientele of the place. The building itself was equally extravagant.
I am the world’s most devoted atheist , but I can’t deny my heritage. I was raised catholic. Growing up, protestants had a slight reputation for being wealthy, posh, exotic and somehow ‘other’. Irish for sure – but were they secretly pledging allegiance to the crown? I know that this theory is no longer true but in times gone by, the Anglo-Irish ascendancy were powerful and wealthy compared to their Papish country-folk, before independence at least. Shamefully there still seems something ‘other’ about these Irish people. There is no logic for believing this to still be the case. But I sensed it.
I felt as common as muck walking in the front door and seeing the adverts on the notice board for the upcoming cricket, lawn tennis, rugby and yachting events. No posters for sports as common as soccer, hurling and Gaelic football in here.
We were performing on stage in the luxurious bar. The accents were all Irish, but sounded so wealthy and plummy to my Limerick ears. I steeled myself – we’ve been invited here. They’re not going to throw me out for my Popish ways.
The show went down a storm. Afterwards we were told that we were ‘terribly good’ by a woman with an accent so posh it could have cut glass.
At one point the compere for the evening made a joke about the Bishop of Rome. I nearly fainted. I’d better not tell him that my name is Murphy. The pitchforks might emerge.
After the show we sat on the deck watching the sea. I had some Pimms.
I felt almost British.
I’d never experienced a Bloomsday in the past. This may have been my first. It certainly won’t be my last.