Bloomsday: Minister and Sinn Féin leader among Dubs lining out for ‘Joycean Olympics’

Among €25 T-shirts for sale at James Joyce Centre, those reading ‘Stately Plump Buck Mulligan’ sold out quickly

President Higgins at the Bloomsday Garden party in Áras an Úachtaráin where he called for protection of librarians from intimidation by 'far-right groups'.

The craic was ninety on Bloomsday in Dublin: narrowly beaten only by the number of “yeses” in Molly Bloom’s soliloquy which, as all James Joyce scholars will know, is 91.

As always, that was one of the more popular extracts from Ulysses in public readings around the city, nowhere more so than in Temple Bar’s Meeting House Square, where Marian Keyes performed the part.

But among the €25 T-shirts for sale at the James Joyce Centre, the ones reading “Stately Plump Buck Mulligan” had sold out before noon.

By contrast, you could still buy “And yes I said yes I will yes” in multiple sizes, perhaps because it’s not the sort of message you’d want to wear in a nightclub.


This year’s Bloomsday was notable for the relative absence in the “Hibernian metropolis” of academics. Those are mostly in Glasgow, where the biennial Joyce Symposium — “the Joycean Olympics” — is taking place.

By comparison, the Dublin Bloomsday was more like the Community Games, with the emphasis on taking part (in fancy dress where possible) and having fun.

Still, even Joyce’s casual fans take their responsibility seriously. Among those in period dress at the James Joyce Centre, for example, was Raychel O’Connell and her husband Johan Slattery.

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O’Connell discovered Ulysses via a reading group, whereas her then-fiance absorbed it second-hand through her. But illustrating the dangers of passive inhalation of literary masterpieces, Johan eventually proposed to her quoting from the text.

Unfortunately, it was from the section of the book set in Monto, “and fairly filthy”, he said, declining to share the exact words with The Irish Times.

But the important thing is that O’Connell said “Yes (I will yes)” — and among the results of their marriage was a now six-month-old baby, Tadhg Jack Ulysses, also attending in Edwardian dress.

The day began with €50 Bloomsday breakfasts at Belvedere College, where Joyce was forced to slum it for an education after his father could no longer afford the fees at Clongowes Wood.

Two hundred people attended, in two sittings, including beleaguered Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, with her mother, and Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe.

An ardent Joycean, Donohoe marked the Ulysses centenary two years ago by presenting all his fellow finance ministers in the Eurogroup with copies of the book in their own language.

In Belvedere, he spoke of how he uses Joyce’s text as a moral guide and quoted Leopold Bloom — a despised outsider although born in Ireland — in his rejection of “force, hate, history, all that”, and his espousal of “love ... the opposite of hatred” as the real meaning of life.

Among other things, the character of Bloom is also a doting (and bereaved) parent. So he was the subject too at Belvedere for reflections on Father’s Day, with which this year’s June 16th coincided.

Later, Bloomsday falling on Sunday, there was also Mass. Or at least there was the spectacle of Joyceans taking over the pulpit of the nearby St Francis Xavier’s Church for an event called “Joyce and the Jesuits”.

The first reading was from the Book of James, but A Portrait of the Artist rather than Ulysses, with actor Gerry McArdle channelling Fr Arnall’s sermon on hell.

There was a sobering note too at Áras an Úachtaráin’s Bloomsday party, where President Michael D Higgins called for protection of librarians from intimidation by “far-right groups”.

It was “a matter not just for the gardaí, but for all of us”, he said, “to ensure that [libraries and their staff] do not fall foul of reactionary and ignorant censorship, but rather remain stocked with the widest range of literature reflecting the diversity of our contemporary society in all its richness”.

Frank McNally

Frank McNally

Frank McNally is an Irish Times journalist and chief writer of An Irish Diary