Gorgonzola cheese and Burgundy - it must be Bloomsday

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AT EVERY turn there were women in lacy Edwardian dresses and wide-brimmed hats on the arms of men in straw boaters, dapper suits and colourful waistcoats: it had to be Bloomsday.

"Intro ibo ad altari Dei (I will go to the altar of God)," intoned Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism Martin Cullen, as he delivered part of the famous opening passage of Ulyssesyesterday.

He was kicking off a morning of "Bloomsday Readings" on an open-air stage at Meeting House Square in Dublin's Temple Bar.

Other passages from James Joyce's major works were recited by participants in a variety of languages, including Portuguese, Hebrew, Finnish and German but, surprisingly, not Irish.

Before moving off to enjoy Gorgonzola cheese and Burgundy wine at Davy Byrne's public house on Duke Street, there were recitals from almost two dozen foreign ambassadors to Ireland, as well as individuals such as film-maker John Boorman, artist Robert Ballagh, Israeli writer David Grossman, and a musical duo from Norway called Thingamajigsaw. At least two participants - soprano Judith Mok and Australian actor Maggie Millar - performed different parts of Molly Bloom's concluding soliloquy.

Backstage, the artist Robert Ballagh was calm and relaxed as he waited to step out to read about Leopold Bloom at home in Eccles Street, preparing his breakfast. "I was more nervous campaigning against the Lisbon Treaty, and that went well," he said happily.

Miriam Ahern, the mother of writer Cecelia Ahern, did admit to some pre-performance butterflies "because it's difficult enough", she explained, before stepping on stage to read the passage where Bloom visits Sweny's pharmacy to collect his wife's prescription.

Ms Ahern was one of the star performers, said committed Joycean Dubliner, Marie Nolan from Tallaght, who celebrates her birthday on Bloomsday each year by dressing up and attending some of the city's Bloomsday events.

Writer Michael O'Loughlin, was one of the few who admitted to being very familiar with Ulysses, having first read it when he was 16. "I read it once a year," he said. Asked if that was a bit excessive, he replied: "Some people watch Big Brotherevery year."

The audience warmed to Tina Jana-Molefe, daughter of the South African ambassador, Priscilla Jana, who had dressed appropriately in a sparkling long dress with a scooped-out back and a great floppy hat awash with sequins and lace, in order to do her assigned passage about the irrepressible Molly Bloom's flirtatious love letter.

A 40-strong visiting group of Slovenians stood ready to cheer their ambassador to Ireland, Franc Miksa, at the conclusion of his exuberant reading at the event, which was hosted by the James Joyce Centre with Temple Bar Cultural Trust.

Then the young Tralee-born singer-songwriter, John Hegarty, sang The Lass of Aughrim, which features in Joyce's short story, The Dead. "If Joyce was here today, he'd be in movies, doing soundtracks," said Hegarty. "He chose the most heartbreaking moments for songs."

On a day off work, Mary Cloake, director of the Arts Council, took part in the festivities too, dressed up for the occasion in Bloom's black suit and tie, walking her way up Westmoreland Street, in the true spirit of the lovable Bloom. "It's one of the few days in the year when readers get to celebrate," she said.

Her favourite part in Ulyssesis the famous Circe section, which is set in Monto, the infamous red light district. "It is written like a play," she said. "It's great fun; it's surreal, there's lot of colour."

Just like walking through the city yesterday, in fact.

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