Happy Bloomsday! How Cities Around the World Celebrate Irish Author James Joyce
For Ulysses readers the world over, June 16 marks the celebration of Bloomsday. The name comes from Joyce’s hero, Leopold Bloom, the Irish adman whose meals, appointments, conversations, and wanderings on June 16, 1904 are chronicled in the famous 20th-century novel.
Small observations of Bloomsday (originally Bloom’s Day) began in the mid-‘20s, not too long after the novel was published in 1922, but the holiday wasn’t instituted in Dublin until the 1950s, more than a decade after the writer’s death in 1941. Since then, Bloomsday has grown to become one of the book world’s biggest holidays. In more than 60 countries, enthusiasts dust off their copies and celebrate a tome considered one of the best novels, well, ever.
Dublin acts as the headquarters for Bloomsday, and celebrations are held throughout the month of June. Devotees don bowler hats and round spectacles and take to the streets. Many pilgrims choose to walk through Bloom’s literal day: they listen to the bells at St. George’s, swing by Sweny’s Pharmacy for “sweet lemony wax” soap, and cross the O’Connell Bridge. Others post up in Davy Byrnes Pub for Bloom’s lunch of choice: gorgonzola sandwiches washed down with burgundy. Readings are held at the James Joyce Centre and the James Joyce Tower and Museum. Events carry on, like Bloom did, until the wee hours of the night.
The city of lights is a fitting place to cheers Joyce: the author moved here in 1920, and Sylvia Beach, the woman behind Shakespeare and Company, published the first edition of Joyce’s book in 1922. Parisians can, most years, commemorate the book with talks and performances at the Centre Culture Irlandais, where the Bloomsday Group, a trio of academics, performs, but the group announced that this year the events will be private. So instead, fans can stroll past 7 rue Edmond-Valentin, where Joyce lived the longest in the city. Have a Guinness at the James Joyce Pub near the Arc de Triomphe.
New York City
Manhattan’s Symphony Space hosts the United States’ largest Bloomsday celebration: Bloomsday on Broadway, an event of readings and performances. The evening ends with an annual recitation of the soliloquy that ends Ulysses, an unpunctuated reverie from Molly Bloom, the Penelope to Bloom’s Odysseus, as she welcomes him to bed and reflects on their love. The last words: “yes I said yes I will Yes.”
The Ulysses Folk House, a watering hole in the Financial District, also makes a day of it, serving the special cheese sandwich and burgundy lunch, along with a reading.
There’s also Bloomsday in Brooklyn, a literary pub tour through the borough on the Saturday before Bloomsday, with readings and live bagpipe music.
Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum and Library is the home to the handwritten Ulysses manuscript, and the library celebrates the novel all week, with readings and outdoor odysseys through its parks. On Bloomsday, celebrants listen to readings throughout the city, and the day concludes with a nearly five-hour reading on the steps of the library. Throughout the city, pubs and Irish restaurants serve up celebratory fare. The bar at the Rittenhouse Hotel also offers a celebratory drink: the Ulysses Bloom, contents unknown.
Joyce wrote the first part of Ulysses in Trieste, and the city parties each year with a three-day festival. The Joyce Museum organizes an Irish feast, as well as walking tours and readings. Italian brewery Foglie d’Erba (Leaves of Grass) also offers tasting of special beers: the Ulysses and the Joyce.
In the novel, Leopold Bloom’s father was a Hungarian Jewish man, Virag Rudolf, who was born in Szombathely, near Austria. The city hosts a number of readings and concerts throughout the day; in past years a U2 tribute band played. (The U2 song “Breathe” takes place on Bloomsday.)
Readers and fans in Pula enjoy a three-day festival of readings and performances, including Irish dancers and children’s activities. This year the festival also promises a Joycean cheese fair and Ulysses-themed cocktails at bar Caffe Uliks: the Molly (Leopold’s wife) and the Poldy (the hero’s nickname).
Volunteers for the non-profit Bloomsday in Melbourne organize a hearty festival to toast Joyce through courses, scripted performances, and seminars. This year, events revolve around the theme Joyce and Cinema, and fans can interpret Ulysses through a five-minute-or-less film competition.
James Joyce wrote much of Ulysses in Zurich, and he is buried in the Fluntern Cemetery. The Zurich James Joyce Foundation hosts tours of Joyce’s stomping grounds in Zurich. Tourists can stand outside one of the Joyce family residencies, at 38 Universitats-Strasse, where he wrote chapters of the novel. The James Joyce Bar and Restaurant is decorated with furniture bought from Jury’s Bar in Dublin, mentioned in Ulysses. The place offers burgers and fries, as well as “Mr. Bloom’s breakfast”: veal kidneys on toast.