The Times We Lived In

Bloomsday recreation grinds to a halt

The poet Patrick Kavanagh (left) and the critic Anthony Cronin outside Davy Byrne’s in Duke Street, Dublin. Photograph: Dermot Barry

The poet Patrick Kavanagh (left) and the critic Anthony Cronin outside Davy Byrne’s in Duke Street, Dublin. Photograph: Dermot Barry


Published: June 17th, 1954

So familiar is Bloomsday on the Dublin festival circuit that we take it for granted – while, perhaps, bemoaning its peculiar mix of literary acuity and alcohol-fuelled tackiness. But if we look back to the proto-Bloomsday which took place in Dublin on the 50th anniversary of the events in Joyce’s Ulysses, it’s clear that that mix was there from the start.

The morning of June 16th, 1954 saw a gathering of the great and good of the day. Among them were the poet Patrick Kavanagh, the critic Anthony Cronin and the registrar of Trinity College, Dublin, AJ Leventhal. Their plan was original and way ahead of its time. They would recreate Leopold Bloom’s journey around the city in a couple of horse-drawn carriages, paying tribute to Joyce’s masterpiece by revisiting some of the novel’s most famous scenes.

The putative pilgrims assembled early in the morning at a private house in Sandycove – where, apparently, generous refreshments were served – before finally setting out at 11.30am.

Squabbles swiftly broke out among the Joyce “experts” in the leading carriage as to the exact nature of Bloom’s original route. Each time there was a disagreement, the pilgrims disembarked at a nearby hostelry for further refreshments which, of course, led to further discussion, and still more disagreements.

Our photo was taken on Duke Street, shortly after the whole project was abandoned in a fog of inebriation and rancour. There is something quite Sherlock Holmes-ish about that carriage driven by a tousle-headed Cronin, who may have taken more than a few scoops but is still managing not to frighten the horses, even if he does have to steady himself with his right hand.

The traditional façade of Davy Byrne’s, across the street, adds to the Joycean feel of the picture.

The tall, thin, bespectacled figure walking away from the camera might even be the man himself were it not so obviously the famously cantankerous Kavanagh, sporting a particularly sour expression.

The poet is, at least, still able to walk. But I’d be willing to bet that wherever he’s heading to, he didn’t head straight home.

Arminta Wallace

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