What is Bloomsday and why is it so significant to the city of Dublin? CAPA student Emmey Harris tells us about the celebration of a historical literary giant and how their masterpiece is based on the city, drawing people to participate in activities commemorating the day.
Dublin is a very literary city, and during my summer abroad with CAPA, I just so happened to be in town for Dublin’s most famous celebration of a literary giant and native of the city. The author is James Joyce, whose life and work are celebrated yearly on June 16, known as “Bloomsday.” Being in Dublin on Bloomsday this year gave me the chance to gain some insight into the celebration and its significance to the city of Dublin.
What is Bloomsday?
Bloomsday festivities center around Joyce’s most famous work and masterpiece of modernist writing, his 1922 novel Ulysses. Ulysses chronicles a day in the life of the character Leopold Bloom as he wanders through the streets of Dublin on the 16th of June in 1904. The novel is known for using the stream of consciousness technique to represent the characters’ varied, chaotic thoughts on subjects including death, religion, human relationships, and Ireland’s relationship with Britain.
Caption: A quote from Ulysses found on the outside of a police station in Dublin. This is just one example of how significant the novel is to the city of Dublin.
The novel’s title is the Latin version of Odysseus, who is the hero of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. The 18 episodes of Ulysses and various characters within the novel parallel different events and figures in The Odyssey. The novel describes the sights, sounds, and locations of early 20th-century Dublin in immense detail, and although published after Joyce had permanently moved away from Dublin, Ulysses is a major source of pride for the city.
Bloomsday 2022 in Dublin
One of the most noticeable Bloomsday activities is to dress up like the novel’s characters in Edwardian-era clothes. This would include suits, long skirts, white blouses, and the iconic straw boater hat. Massive crowds flock to Dublin, especially notable locations visited by characters in Ulysses such as Davy Byrne’s pub or Sweny’s pharmacy, decked out in Edwardian gear.
Caption: Some examples of Edwardian attire that can be seen on Bloomsday.
My first activity of the day was to head to my internship at Marsh’s Library. James Joyce actually consulted some of the books at the library in 1902. In the third chapter of Ulysses, he even mentions “the stagnant bay of Marsh’s library.” To commemorate Bloomsday, Marsh’s Library had a first edition of Ulysses on display, as well as one of the books Joyce read while at the library. It was exciting to think about Joyce coming to the library and sitting at the very table and chairs in the old reading room that I sat at almost every day. And it was amazing to see the first edition of Ulysses on display, which would have been published one hundred years before. Many people came to the library who were celebrating Bloomsday and were eager to see the first edition of Ulysses.
Caption: A first edition of Ulysses, which I saw on display at Marsh’s Library.
After I finished my shift at my internship, I went with another intern to a reading session that was being held by the James Joyce Centre in the Temple Bar area. For three hours that afternoon, different performers came on stage to read excerpts from each chapter of Ulysses, as well as to perform songs related to the book. We managed to catch the readings from the last two chapters. It was wonderful to hear the words come to life, surrounded by people who are so passionate about the book. We also heard a performance of the old parlor tune “Love’s Old Sweet Song,” which is referenced in Ulysses.
Caption: A reading from chapter 17 of Ulysses, “Ithaca,” being performed by Brian Kennedy.
Afterwards, I decided to check out Davy Byrne’s pub on Duke Street. In chapter 8 of Ulysses, Leopold Bloom stops by Davy Byrne’s for a sandwich and a glass of wine. Joyce fans come to the pub on Bloomsday to order the same meal. I spotted many straw hats and Edwardian outfits along the entire street!
Caption: Davy Byrne’s pub, featured prominently in the eighth chapter of Ulysses.
Being in Dublin on Bloomsday was a rare opportunity, and I am very glad I got to experience it, especially in the centenary year of the publication of Ulysses. I really enjoyed seeing the city come together to celebrate the novel. I’ve been listening to an audiobook of Ulysses myself, and it’s been really special to recognize different street names and sites that I’ve actually been to as I follow the characters around Dublin. Even if I’m not in Dublin next year, I may still have to don a straw hat in celebration of this city and the literature it’s produced!
Caption: Outside Davy Byrne’s pub on Duke Street. The number of people here really shows how important Bloomsday is to the city of Dublin!
Emmey Harris is an official CAPA Dublin blogger for summer 2022, sharing her story in frequent videos on CAPA World. A History major at the University of Minnesota, she is studying abroad in Dublin this semester.
Emmey's journey continues all semester so stay tuned.