On Bloomsday, fans of James Joyce celebrate Ulysses

SUNDAY, JUNE 16: Get ready! Take a deep breath and loosen your tongue to read aloud …

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air.

He held the bowl aloft and intoned:
Introibo ad altare Dei.

Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called up coarsely: Come up, Kinch. Come up, you fearful jesuit.

Solemnly he came forward and mounted the round gunrest. He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding country and the awaking mountains.

And, there you go!
These opening lines already are saluting James Joyce’s classic Ulysses. That’s the way countless fans around the world salute Joyce today—cracking open copies of Ulysses and reading the text aloud. The novel is set in Dublin on June 16, 1904, and was published as a complete novel 91 years ago in Paris (parts of it were serialized earlier from 1918-1920). The novel begins on a real stone tower, where Joyce spent a very brief but tumultuous part of his life. And, once again, Joyce fans will gather at what is called James Joyce Tower to do the one thing all Joyce fans do on Bloomsday—read aloud from Ulysses.


Wikipedia provides an overview of Bloomsday celebrations in Ireland, Hungary, Italy, Australia and the U.S. Wikipedia also includes this summary of the very first Bloomsday in 1954:

Bloomsday (a term Joyce himself did not employ) was invented in 1954, on the 50th anniversary of the events in the novel, when John Ryan—artist, critic, publican and founder of Envoy magazine—and the novelist Flann O’Brien organized what was to be a daylong pilgrimage along the Ulysses route. They were joined by Patrick Kavanagh, Anthony Cronin, Tom Joyce (a dentist who, as Joyce’s cousin, represented the family interest) and AJ Leventhal (Registrar of Trinity College, Dublin).

Ryan had engaged two-horse drawn cabs, of the old-fashioned kind, which in Ulysses Mr. Bloom and his friends drive to poor Paddy Dignam’s funeral. The participants were assigned roles from the novel. They planned to travel around the city through the day, visiting in turn the scenes of the novel, ending at night in what had once been the brothel quarter of the city, the area which Joyce had called Nighttown. The pilgrimage was abandoned halfway through, when the weary companions succumbed to inebriation and rancor at the Bailey pub in the city center, which Ryan then owned, and at which, in 1967, he installed the door to No. 7 Eccles Street (Leopold Bloom’s front door), having rescued it from demolition.


Looking for an observance around your home? Check with local libraries, Irish-themed organizations and institutions. Or, start your own—it only takes a circle of friends to begin the annual practice. Events are scattered across the U.S., often in unlikely places.

Want some examples? Let’s start on the East Coast. In Portland, Maine, an American Irish Repertory Ensemble has a whole series of daily events leading up to Bloomsday, according to a report in the Portland Daily Sun. Orlando, Florida, is holding its second annual Bloomsday celebration, according to Orlando Weekly. In New Orleans, an array of writers and media people will converge on the Irish House, NOLA online reports. Chicago has at least one event on the Southside at O’Rourke’s Office from 6 to 10 p.m. on Sunday. Participants are invited to come and share in the reading.

The Irish Writers Centre in Dublin is home to the biggest Bloomsday bash each year.

Does Bloomsday qualify as a religious observance?
As Joyce would have said: You be the judge! Of course, it is impossible for anyone to read much of Joyce and not find layer upon layer of religious reflection. Check out the Wikiquotes page listing passages often quoted from Ulysses. Perhaps reviewing those gems will inspire you to get a copy and read along this week!

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(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, interfaith news and cross-cultural issues.)


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