Celebrating a book that celebrates the city


Joycean pilgrimage can still send a shiver down your spine, writes Arminta Wallace

BLOOMSDAY ISN’T generally reckoned to be a day for stately, plump Joyce scholars to be out and about in search of serious intellectual sustenance. But if offal breakfasts and awfully silly hats are your thing, Dublin can be heaven come June 16th every year as the annual outbreak of Ulysses-wannabe straw boaters, striped jackets and Edwardian lace dresses hits the streets of the capital.

“A city celebrates a book that celebrates the city,” was how the actor Alan Stanford summed it up as he introduced readings, talks and musical interludes at the bandstand in St Stephen’s Green.

The event was organised by the James Joyce Centre on North Great George’s Street, which also hosts the annual Bloomsday breakfast – held at the Gresham Hotel in order to accommodate a greater number of kidney-eaters – and a week-long programme encompassing everything from a lecture on Joyce and Jewish Dublin, through performances of the music featured in the novel, to themed bicycle and bus tours around the city.

There was a series of city-centre street theatre vignettes that saw Leopold Bloom put in an appearance at Merchant’s Arch and the Bawdy Barmaids turn up at the Ormonde Hotel.

On the north side of the city, celebrations at Glasnevin Cemetery began with the Dublin Shakespeare Company performing the Hades chapter from the book. Dún Laoghaire, meanwhile, took a cheerfully eclectic approach to the whole affair, with a five-piece musical combo producing Balkan sounds outside St Michael’s Church – a tribute to Joyce’s adopted city of Trieste, perhaps? – while stalls at the nearby French-themed market purveyed everything from exotic underwear to geranium-flavoured chocolate; a tenuous connection with the great writer despite his lengthy sojourn in Paris in the 1930s, it must be admitted.

If an authentically Joycean shiver down the spine was what you were after, however, the place to be was the Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre. After a beautifully judged reading of the schoolroom scene from the second chapter of Ulysses, local guide Joe Dunne led an enthusiastic group across Dalkey’s busy main road and around the corner to the actual house where the scene is set, and where Joyce himself taught as a young man.

It’s now owned by Barry Devlin of Horslips, who leaves his gates open every Bloomsday so that the group can step in and imbibe the atmosphere of a garden that – unlike most of Dublin – probably hasn’t changed much in the intervening years.

And for a brief moment, as we stood under the trees and listened to Dunne reading out the chapter’s liquid closing line – “through the checkerwork of leaves the sun threw spangles” – Ulysses became a living reality. And then it began to rain, and we headed to the Queen’s Pub for burgundy and Gorgonzola; Joycean sustenance, on a chilly summer afternoon, of the most welcome kind.

A Joycean pilgrimage of a different kind also took place yesterday when the final wish of one Joycean scholar came to pass as a group of about 30 family and friends gathered to scatter his ashes on Sandymount Strand.

Brian Mooney, who died on June 18th last year, spent last Bloomsday in a Galway hospice but marked the occasion by eating mutton kidneys, as per the book.

“Bloomsday was his day,” his daughter Emma Mooney said, after her father’s ashes were scattered by friends and family members, including his wife and another daughter, Sarah, an artist. “It was very special day because it was his wish, his thing.”