Dublin celebrates Bloom's perambulation


YOU NEEDED your parasol to celebrate Bloomsday on Saturday, as rain and sunshine took turns to look down on Dublin’s annual celebration of James Joyce. Despite the changeable weather, Joyceans put on their period costumes and turned out in force to mark the day Leopold Bloom made his famous perambulation around the streets of Dublin.

Bloomsday 2012 was officially launched at 8am at the James Joyce Centre in North Great George’s Street with a suitably poetic speech by President Michael D Higgins. The President, who also hosted a Bloomsday reception at Áras an Uachtaráin , described Ulysses as a novel “that resounds, in many ways, with a particular significance for early 21st-century Ireland, a country going through seismic change and not a little upheaval . . .

“Ulysses allows the sensory imagination to run free and envisage an unrestrained, unrealised, perhaps unrealisable, humanity,” he added.

Senator David Norris, who was full of praise for the President’s “eloquent” speech, delivered a talk on “Joyce in Bloom” at the National Library in Kildare Street.

This is the first Bloomsday since Joyce’s work went out of copyright, and Norris looked forward to seeing the baton pass from scholars to artists and ordinary people. He urged Irish people to exploit the tourism opportunities of Bloomsday: “We need the money!”

Bloomsday has come a long way since the first one, organised in 1954 by artist and broadcaster John Ryan with author Flann O’Brien, which was a low-key affair because Joyce was still persona non grata at home.

“John Ryan passed the torch on to me, and I’m now passing it on,” Norris said. “I love Joyce, I always will, but I don’t always feel the need to exhibit it so publicly all the time.”

In Stephen’s Green, playwright and author Peter Sheridan hosted an afternoon of readings from Joyce’s works, along with music associated with Joyce – a choir sang the Afro-American spiritual This Train, the kind of music Joyce would have listened to in Paris.

Leanne Fox and her three children, Eleanor (10), Sophia (7) and Julia (4), were strolling through Stephen’s Green in full Edwardian costume. Sophia said the readings were her favourite part of Bloomsday, while her elder sister Eleanor enjoyed the historical aspect of the day.

Leanne and her husband, Anthony Fox, run the New Theatre in Temple Bar, which is hosting the Dublin James Joyce Festival. “I really enjoy the day,” said Leanne, although she added: “I’d love it if there was something a little more suitable for children . . . There’s nothing for children, and my children would love to go to something. I feel that it is such a part of Irish culture that we should celebrate Joyce. And children should know about him.”

For many visitors to Dublin, Bloomsday can pose a conundrum: how to find out what’s happening where. Unlike the St Patrick’s Day festival, there’s no unified publicity and promotion of Bloomsday events. The result is many who want to celebrate the day must, like Bloom himself, wander the city’s streets and see what they encounter.

Sweny’s Pharmacy in Lincoln Place did brisk business throughout the day as people crowded into the tiny shop to listen to readings, browse second-hand books and buy the famous lemon-scented soap that Leopold Bloom bought on that landmark day.

Joyce’s work coming out of copyright has “made a huge difference” to the way people engage with Joyce, said PJ Murphy, a teacher who volunteers at the shop.“People can perform Joyce almost anywhere, and they don’t have to be confronted by demands for royalties. Joyce never wanted the academics to be interested in him; he wanted the ordinary person in the street to be interested. And that’s what he wrote about in Ulysses – ordinary people going about their ordinary lives and thinking ordinary thoughts.”

Murphy says Bloomsday is also helping to bring Joyce to the attention of younger readers.

“We have readings here every Thursday evening, and we’re seeing lots of young people in their late teens and early 20s who really engage with Joyce. Especially when they read chapters like ‘Penelope’ and find they’re quite raunchy.”

The Bloomsday celebrations stretched from one end of Dublin Bay to the other. In Glasthule and Sandycove, crowds came out in their finery to celebrate the area’s connection with the opening lines of Ulysses, and local businesses offered Joycean fare and entertainment throughout the day. On Howth Head, meanwhile, the Young Hearts Run Free collective organised a “Sensual Walk” inspired by the Kate Bush album The Sensual World, itself inspired by Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in Ulysses.


WHILE GERMAN eyes turned nervously to Athens this weekend, ears were tuned adoringly to Dublin.

For 22 hours – starting on Saturday morning and ending early on Sunday – German public radio turned the airwaves over to Leopold Bloom in a new radio play of Ulysses.

Over two years in the making, at a cost of €250,000 and bursting with top-drawer German actors, co-producers SWR2 and Deutschlandfunk hosted a “listening party” in Berlin on Saturday to celebrate the remarkable, absorbing result.

And despite extremely soft Irish weather, they came in their hundreds to listen in while sampling burgundy and gorgonzola sandwiches. In the breaks were beguiling live versions of songs connected with Ulysses performed by the Amselfon ensemble.

Irish ambassador to Germany Dan Mulhall, a Ulysses devotee of many a year, said: “We Irish may not be world champions or European champions in soccer, but we have won the world cup of literature – the Nobel prize for literature – four times.”

Director Klaus Buhlert described the radio premiere as a “very happy moment”. He had another reason to be happy: hours after going on sale at €99.99 a go, the play has already hit second place in the Amazon charts and attracted rave reviews in the national press.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine daily praised it as an “acoustic gem that beguiles far more than just on a monumental scale”.

Also in attendance was Kevin Reynolds, RTÉ head of radio drama, who recalled Ireland’s own monumental 1982 production.

“The BBC did it as well but fell short by only doing five hours,” he said. “Irish culture is a potent force and the only thing untouched in recent years.”

Deutschlandfunk director Willi Steul said he was thrilled that the massive financial investment had paid off. “This was no small change but I’m proud to say this is a cultural achievement,” he said. “This will endure.”