Life, love, voyage round your own little world - Leopold Bloom, Ulysses


The name of the Bloomsday Festival is inspired by Ulysses’s main character Leopold Bloom, who experiences a roller-coaster odyssey through the colourful streets of Dublin on the 16 June 1904. You’ll also meet flamboyant medical student Buck Mulligan, intense angry young man Stephen Dedalus, and Leopold’s wife Molly Bloom, an accomplished concert singer. Their daily lives unfold against the spectacular backdrop of Dublin’s buildings, streets, pubs, and historical places.

In 1954, a group of friends including poet Patrick Kavanagh and novelist Flann O’Brien, set out across Dublin on Bloomsday to recreate the eighteen episodes of the novel. They clip-clopped across Dublin in a horse and carriage, reading the story aloud to each other and re-living the book. Ever since then, people have created their own adventures following the Bloomsday trail across the city and the villages that nestle along the edge of Dublin bay. From these spontaneous origins, the Bloomsday Festival has developed into a colourful and diverse celebration of Joyce and Ulysses.

Festival highlights include delicious Bloomsday Breakfasts, pub crawls, walking tours through Joyce’s Dublin, and lively literary cabaret. The week of the festival is filled with  thought-provoking interviews and contemporary theatre, art and music inspired by Joyce. Amongst the line up of writers, academics, performers and public figures that have been part of the Bloomsday Festival in recent years include Patrick Kavanagh’s grand-niece and actress Katherine Lynch, Stephen Fry, Panti Bliss, Geoff Dyer, and Will Self.

The festival showcases intimate and unusual venues across Dublin that Joyce wrote about in his books. A fine example is the James Joyce Centre, located in a beautifully-restored 18th century Georgian townhouse, where the character Professor Maginni taught dance classes.

James Joyce famously said of his home city ‘‘When I die, Dublin will be written in my heart’’.

You don’t need to wait until Bloomsday to explore Dublin through his life and works. A good starting point is the James Joyce Cultural Centre, situated in a stunning Georgian townhouse, which offers historical and biographical information about James Joyce and his influence in literature. With walking tours, evening lectures and performances inspired by Joyce, there is plenty on offer.

All year round, you can admire the spectacularly domed National Library, where the young James Joyce spent time and which was immortalised in Ulysses. Marsh's Library, an 18th century library, is located behind St. Patrick's Cathedral and has records of two of Joyce's visits in 1902 when he read works by a 13th century Italian theologian. The library also records Bram Stoker's visits 30 years before the publication of Dracula.

Other notable literary places of interest include the Dublin Writer's Museum, where Swift, Sheridan, Shaw, Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett are among those presented through their books, letters, portraits and personal items. Take a stroll to the delightful Georgian city park that is Merrion Square and pop into Sweny’s Chemist round the corner for a bar of lemon soap, like Leopold Bloom does in the Lotus Eaters chapter of Ulysses. Dublin is also anticipating the opening this September of Moli, the new Museum of Literature Ireland on Stephen’s Green. The museum is housed in the former premises of the Catholic university, where James Joyce, and many others, attended. 

Heading southside along the coast of Dublin Bay, why not drop into the James Joyce Tower & Museum in Sandycove. This is the setting for the opening chapter of Ulysses. Only the brave-hearted take a swim in the scrotum-tightening Irish sea all year round.

Ireland has a long tradition of writers including four Nobel Prize winners, W. B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, and Seamus Heaney. To acknowledge this rich literary heritage Ireland hosts a series of literary festivals year round including Bram Stoker Festival, celebrating the author of Dracula, Jonathan Swift Festival, commemorating the 18th century satirist and author of Gulliver's Travels, the Cork International Short Story Festival and the Dublin Book Festival.

Marty GilroyNews, Blog