Why Ireland should declare Bloomsday a public holiday to honour its most famous Jew

Two public holidays so close together? That’s nothing: the French had five last month

Trust you are wallowing pleasantly in a Bloomsday reverie, albeit perhaps a little tipsy. No matter. That too will pass and the debate can be resumed on why Ireland should declare Bloomsday a public holiday to honour its most famous Jew and his creator, that blackguard Jimmy Joyce.

I know, I know, the first Monday of June is a bank holiday, annually. Why not the third Monday of June too, as the nearest Monday to June 16th? Or both? “What?” I hear you shriek – as thunder spake – “Two public holidays so close together?”

Why not? Last month in France they had five public holidays: on Mayday on May 1st; Labour Day on May 8th; Ascension Thursday on May 18th; Whit Sunday and Whit Monday on May 28th and 29th. In fact they have 14 public holidays a year, compared with our 10 – and they used retire at 62 (now 64).

It could have been us! August 22nd marks a 225th anniversary of the arrival at Killala, Co Mayo, of French forces led by Gen Jean Joseph Amable Humbert. It meant declaration of the Republic of Connacht before he was defeated by the British at Ballinamuck, Co Longford, on September 8th. Woe is us. Had he succeeded we too might today have 14 public holidays a year – five in May – and retirement at 64.


It is remarkable how Bloomsday has grown in popularity. Up to the 1950s it was hardly marked at all. All changed, utterly, in 1954 – 50th anniversary of June 16th, 1904, when the book Ulysses is set and said to be the date Joyce first went out with Nora Barnacle, the woman who would (much) later become his wife.

On June 16th, 1954, writer Brian O’Nolan, also known as Flann O’Brien and Myles na gCopaleen; Monaghan poet Patrick Kavanagh; critic and writer Anthony Cronin, registrar at Trinity College Dublin AJ Leventhal; artist and publican John Ryan; and Tom Joyce, a cousin of James’s, set off on a pilgrimage of Dublin sites named in the novel.

They began at the Martello tower in Sandycove, where Ulysses opens, but only got as far as John Ryan’s pub, the Bailey, on Duke Street. A stuttering start.

Bloomsday, June 16th, named after fictional character Leopold Bloom, “star” of Ulysses, voted greatest novel of the 20th century.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times