It is astonishing that a Martello Tower beside the Forty Foot on Dublin’s south coast is the most famous building in world literature, or certainly up there with Shakespeare’s Globe.
James Joyce only lived in Sandycove for six nights in 1904, but more importantly, the opening chapter of Ulysses is set there.
Joyce, and Ulysses in particular, have a reputation for being difficult. I’ve struggled to get past a page of his more difficult novel, Finnegans Wake, but most of Ulysses is actually surprisingly accessible. This brief overview where Stephen Fry’s explains why Ulysses is his favourite book of all time is an excellent place to start.
What exactly is Bloomsday? I once hilariously heard it described as a Rocky Horror Show dress up and boozy day out for highbrows. It is enormous fun, and brings great colour to the streets of Glasthule, Sandycove, Rathgar, central Dublin and beyond.
Here is a personal selection of the best five things to do on Bloomsday. You’ll need to spend a few quid on a breakfast or lunch, but most of these events and activities are completely free, so quite literally, dive in and enjoy.
Read on the roof of the Joyce Tower in Sandycove from 8am.
Ulysses opens at 8am with the opens on the roof of the James Joyce Tower and Museum with the immortal line: “Stately, plump, Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”
Every year from 8am, Joyceans from all over the world gather to pay homage to stately, plump, Buck Mulligan by beginning their Bloomsday celebrations at the Tower. Actor Barry McGovern has read the entire book on the roof over the course of twenty years. Admission to the Tower is free, as it is staffed by volunteers, but expect it to be very busy on Bloomsday. It is open from 8am to 6pm.
2. Swim at the famous Forty Foot.
Buck Mulligan describes the water around the Tower as “the snotgreen sea…the scrotumtightening sea.” The Forty Foot is the best known sea-swimming spot in Ireland. Many hardy souls swim in the Forty Foot all-year round. A dip in the Forty Foot is bound to wake you up properly, plus giving you a good appetite to devour a fortifying Bloomsday breakfast.
3. Eat a hearty Bloomsday breakfast.
Beware, there is a bit more to it than a full Irish, as Ulysses reveals: “Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”
4. Buy a bar of lemon soap in Sweny’s Chemist on Lincoln Place.
For about €5, you can pick up a Bloomsday souvenir that doubles as a bar of high quality lemon soap from Sweny’s chemist, My Dad used to run a small newsagents and grocery shop called Sweeney’s just a few doors away on Westland Row, so every Bloomsday, we’d be inundated by enquiries for lemon soap from well-heeled suited and booted Joyceans. I’m pretty sure Dad seriously considered stocking lemon soap…
5. Eat a gorgonzola sandwich washed down by a glass of burgundy in Davy Byrne’s.
Leopold Bloom lunches in Davy Byrne’s on 21, Duke Street, Dublin 2. Gongonzola is a wonderfully pungent blue cheese from near Milan. It mightn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is certainly less divisive than a Bloomsday breakfast and a glass of burgundy beautifully compliments the cheese. Davy Byrne’s is a gastropub that serves everything from oysters to pheasant, so there is bound to be something for all tastes. This is one of the best spots in Dublin to soak up the Bloomsday atmosphere.