Bloomsday: A Secret History

“Good puzzle would be to cross Dublin without passing a pub”

“He entered Davy Byrne’s. Moral pub. He doesn’t chat. Stands a drink now and then. But in leapyear once in four.”

– James Joyce, Ulysses

It’s that time of year again when scores of people dress up to the nines and ponce around Dublin. As some wag once noted, Bloomsday is a bit like a Rocky Horror Picture Show day out for highbrows. Whatever you make of the festivities, they will be hard to ignore if you’re out and about in Dublin’s fair city over the weekend.

Bloomsday is now Ireland’s biggest literary occasion. James Joyce first courted his future wife, Nora Barnacle, on June 16th, 1904. Joyce immortalised the date in his modernist masterpiece, Ulysses, starring an everyman hero called Leopold Bloom, hence the name Bloomsday.

Every year on June 16th, Joycean and literary enthusiasts from all over the world gather from 8am to read from Joyce’s best known work. Ironically, Ulysses wasn’t always so universally revered, as it was banned in the United States for over a decade, and in the United Kingdom until the 1930s. The Sunday Express daubed Ulysses “the most infamously obscene book in ancient or modern literature.”

Contrary to popular belief, Ulysses was never officially banned in Ireland, but it was never actually put on sale, as copies of the book seemingly didn’t make it through customs. The Dublin Review claimed it was a sin against the Holy Ghost to even read Ulysses, which was the only sin said to be beyond God’s mercy. Virginia Woolf dismissed Ulysses as the work of “a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples”, but it became the definitive novel of the modernist era. It is also widely considered to be one of the finest works of art of the 20th century.

TS Eliot wrote: “Ulysses gives a shape and significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history. A book from which none of us can escape and to which all of us are in debt.”

“History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

 Bloomsday was not officially celebrated until 1954, several year’s after Joyce’s death in 1941, when Patrick Kavanagh, Flann O’Brien, John Ryan, Anthony Cronin and other members of Dublin’s literati hired a horse and cart, trotted out to the Martello tower in Sandycove, twelve years before it became a museum dedicated to Joyce’s life and work, and embarked on an epic pub crawl around Dublin, taking in Davy Byrne’s on 21, Duke Street, and several other watering holes, including Goggins in Monkstown, which features at the beginning of this silent one minute clip of the first ever official Bloomsday celebrations.

Enjoy it, and HAPPY BLOOMSDAY! 

“We’re a capital couple Bloom and I. He brightens the earth, I polish the sky.”

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