Bloomsday: new Ulysses short film streches across continents and multiple languages

In New Day Will Be: A Short Film for Bloomsday 2020 actors and others worldwide, including Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke, draw solace from Ulysses

“Seeing all those graveyards across the world with people intoning ‘faithful departed, as you are now so once were we’. The refrain repeated, there is a real solace in it. It feels, not a dark moment but something that is lived, and represents the loss that people have gone through, collectively and individually.” Eugene Downes, cultural director at Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is talking about a new short film being released on Sunday for Bloomsday, with particular resonance during the worldwide pandemic.

Faithful departed “also has a sense of ritual about it, and almost affirmation. There’s something about the warm, human way people on all those continents intone ‘faithful departed’, to people who are in some cases hundreds of years dead. There’s a human continuity.”

Outside on Stephen’s Green in Dublin on Thursday evening the street is empty as Ireland emerges from lockdown, but inside, in a corner of the empty Museum of Literature Ireland, it’s all go. In what during James Joyce’s days at UCD was the Aula Maxima, the soundtrack is being recorded for A New Day Will Be: A Short Film for Bloomsday 2020, a collaboration between the department and the Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI).

Put together over five weeks during shutdown, the four-minute film has international input through Ireland’s diplomatic missions, using lines from Ulysses, chosen for their resonance for the pandemic.


Up in the museum, fiddler Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh is composing on the hoof, improvising a score with percussionist James Macken and producer Vanessa Lawrenson of Big O Productions. They’re in the final stages of the project, with Downes and MoLI director Simon O’Connor.

The film comprises lines from several of Ulysses’s episodes, some well known, others less so, performed internationally – in libraries, pharmacies, pubs, on beaches – in multiple languages, including Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, English, Estonian, French, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Irish Sign Language, Japanese, Maltese, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovene, Slovakian, Spanish and Swahili.

O’Connor describes how Joyce’s lines “started to have relevance to the moment. It feels like a really poetic reflection of the emotional narrative of the pandemic.” Echoing elements of the novel, “ starting with ‘some trouble with those white corpuscles’, and suddenly everything has stopped, and people are lonely, there are reflections on the faithful departed, and there’s a new day beginning, and this will all end. It’s unexpectedly emotional when you watch it.”

The film showcases the breath of Ireland’s global mission network, and shows “how universal the themes within the novel are, using it to express this common human experience the entire planet is going through, in a hopeful way,” says O’Connor. “It’s leaning on the novel’s poetry in this really useful way.”

The diverse performers, filmed during the height of pandemic, include actors Olwen Fouéré and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor; former US Democratic presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke; novelist Colum McCann; leading European actors including Yiannis Panagopoulos of the Greek National Theatre, Peter Bárnai from Budapest, Robert Roth from Bratislava, Ada Gales from Bucharest and Üllar Saaremäe from Tallinn; Indian actor Dalip Tahil; Aboriginal Australian artist Daniel Browning; Japanese kimono designer Satoko Baba; and performance artist Amanda Coogan.

Ó Raghallaigh, who got involved just this week, talks about his improvisational composition as like a musical conversation “with the film as the other party”.

Downes was overwhelmed by the response from over 60 of Ireland’s 90-plus missions on six continents, engaging local partners in the midst of crisis as they repatriated Irish citizens or looked after them. There was a “lightbulb moment”, when they decided to use Joyce’s lines to “tell a narrative about the pandemic and the months we’ve been living through across the world, so all the different participants and voices and global perspectives are actually using Joyce’s words, in a contemporary way to tell the story of our shared experience.”

The film is released on Sunday on the DFAT YouTube channel.

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times