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What is Bloomsday?

Bloomsday celebrates Thursday, the 16th of June, 1904, the day immortalised in James Joyce’s 1922 novel Ulysses. The day is named after Leopold Bloom, one of the novel’s protagonists. The novel follows Bloom’s life and thoughts (as well as those of Stephen Dedalus and a host of other characters, real and fictional) from 8AM through to the early hours of the following morning.

Bloomsday celebrations come in many different forms, including readings, performances, visiting the places referenced in the novel, and even eating the food (pork kidneys, anyone?). One noticeable feature is that people will dress up like the characters in Edwardian fashion. One of the hallmark dress items found on the streets of Dublin that day is the straw boater hat, a fashionable and iconic summer hat donned by many at the time — including none other than Joyce himself!

The History Of Bloomsday

Joyce started writing Ulysses in 1914 in Trieste. On 16 June 1915, he wrote to his brother Stanislaus that he had finished the first episode of Ulysses. He would work on the novel in Trieste, Zurich, and Paris under strenuous circumstances. After Ulysses was published on 2 February 1922 (Joyce’s 40th birthday) in Paris, some of Joyce’s friends and many admirers began to mark the 16th of June as ‘Bloomsday.’

On 16 June 1924, Joyce was in the hospital, his eyes bandaged after having surgery on them (this was one of the dozen of such procedures he would have in his lifetime). Friends had sent him a bouquet of white and blue hydrangea flowers — white and blue being the colours of the ironic cover of Ulysses. Joyce despondently scrawled in his notebook: ‘Today 16 June 1924 twenty years after. Will anybody remember this date.’

As it happened, that day saw the first recorded celebration of Bloomsday, just two years after the novel’s publication. We are not too sure of the details, but Joyce’s long-time patron, Harriet Shaw Weaver, wrote a letter to Joyce informing him that ‘a group of people who observe what they call Bloom’s day — 16 June’ had gathered in Dublin.

The first major celebration of Bloomsday came in 1929. Adrienne Monnier, the partner of the publisher of Ulysses, Sylvia Beach, published the French translation in February. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the first Bloomsday, she organised a ‘Déjeuner Ulysse’, a luncheon at the Hôtel Léopold (appropriately enough) near Versailles that June. The event, however, took place a little late, on the 29th rather than the 16th.

The first Bloomsday celebrated in Ireland was in 1954 on the 50th anniversary, when the writers Patrick Kavanagh and Flann O’Brien visited the Martello Tower at Sandycove (where the beginning on the novel takes place), Davy Byrne’s pub on Duke Street (where Bloom eats a gorgonzola sandwich with a glass of burgundy), and 7 Eccles Street (Leopold and Molly Bloom’s residence), reading parts of Ulysses and drinking a great deal as they went!

Today, Bloomsday is celebrated by Joyceans and admirers of literature across the globe with readings, performances, re-enactments, and a host of other festivities — all of which are meant to commemorate a single day in the life of one Leopold Bloom and those around him in Dublin as depicted in the extraordinary novel Ulysses.

Below are some photos of Bloomsday celebrations in Dublin in years past. We hope that you can join in on the fun this June!

Bloomsday Gallery