Does the mere mention of James Joyce’s Ulysses fill you with an unnamed terror? Revered the world over, there’s no doubt this epic tome is a modernist masterpiece – but let’s be honest, reading it from cover to cover is no walk in the park. Whether it reared its mammoth head on your college syllabus, or at one point you just fancied an impromptu literary challenge, we won’t judge if you secretly gave up after page 4. Quick summary: Ulysses is the story of a guy called Leopold Bloom, who strolls around Dublin on June 16, 1904. Yep, there are some nifty literary flourishes courtesy of Mr. Joyce, but that’s basically it! Bloomsday therefore celebrates and recreates Leopold’s journey, which starts at the Tower in Sandycove, making it's way through the city and along the beautiful southside coast. So, even if you’ve just a passing (aka extremely nervous) interest in the book, there’s plenty to see and do here in Dublin as part of this year’s celebrations. In fact, you might just come away with a whole new appreciation of this iconic Irish writer and his most famous work. With that in mind, here are some of the most fun alternative events set to take place around the big day…
To get you in the Joycean mood, let’s kick off with a bang! The Happenings collective organise regular, quirky pop-up events around the city, and have an extra-special party planned for Bloomsday. The Street Feast – Bizarre Brunch (June 15) takes place in the charming Georgian district of the north inner city; on North Great George’s Street, which not only features in Ulysses, but is now home to the James Joyce Centre. This fun street party will be, according to its organisers, “more reminiscent of the Mad Hatter tea-party than High Society”. Sounds good to us! Expect an array of tasty treats served on distorted tables right there on the street, as gramophones blast out the best of the 1904 charts. And whether you choose to sample some delicious cupcakes, climb under the sheets with Molly Bloom, or even take part in the potato sports day, you’ll certainly experience the wackier side of Edwardian Dublin at this fantastic street fiesta!
Adding to the street party atmosphere on the day will be a series of dramatized excerpts from Joyce’s work, courtesy of the Here Comes Everybody Players. Check out the troupe’s boisterous take on Dubliners, as they work their way up North Great George’s Street, bringing each of the 15 stories to life right there on the street!
Joyce - “a good puzzle would be to cross Dublin without passing a pub.”
Click Map above to see the full sized version
If you fancy some interactive fun, and would love to momentarily step into Dublin’s colourful past, be sure to head along to the 1914 Dubliners Parliament on June 14 in the stunning Rotunda Pillar Room. On the agenda? Several motions from that period; votes for women, Home Rule for Ireland, and the abolition of censorship, to name but a few! But don’t worry if it all sounds a little too political and high-brow, this is set to be a light-hearted, theatrical re-enactment of Dublin’s old-school parliament. What’s more, attendees will be invited to question the costumed speakers, and even vote on the motions put forward, giving them a fascinating – and dramatic! - glimpse into Irish political life 100 years ago. Or maybe a more laidback setting appeals? Learn about the man behind the specs on a fun literary pub crawl (June 14 and 15, 2pm). In three of Dublin’s best-loved traditional pubs, relax over a pint with a host of charismatic speakers, poets, singers and storytellers, who’ll charm and entertain with local yarns and anecdotes, as well as dramatic readings from both Dubliners and Ulysses.
On the day itself (drumroll!), we highly recommend you let the hair down and head along to At It Again’s special Bloomsday celebration and wrap party in the Sugar Club (June 16, 7pm). The evening will kick off with a welcome from MC PhilTGorgeous, who’ll get the crowd going with games, sing-songs and of course, some flapper-style dancing. The main event is an interactive screening of Ulysses 1967, with props provided from the Bloomsday Survival Kit... we’re intrigued! Guests are invited on the night to dress up in their finest Edwardian clobber, or indeed experiment with a more Rocky Horror look - and prizes will be given out for the best costumes. Be warned, you’ll experience the more, ahem, ‘playful’ side of Joyce’s writing halfway through the screening, when organisers present a ‘Dirty Penelope’ audience participation version of Molly’s famous potty-mouthed soliloquy! As you’ll see from last year’s clip below, this is very much for adults only – though we reckon it might inspire you to pick up that unread copy of Ulysses afterwards…! When the smut’s done and dusted, the festival’s wrap party will kick off, with DJs playing tunes into the wee hours. Tickets to this event are available here.
And that’s just a taster of what’s set to take place around the city as part of Bloomsday celebrations. For a full list of events, head to the James Joyce Centre site.
Finally, if you fancy some pub-free fun this Bloomsday, well - you’ve come to the right place! Joyce himself mused in the pages of Ulysses that “a good puzzle would be to cross Dublin without passing a pub.” This challenge was happily accepted by a fellow Dubliner, computer science grad Rory McCann, who plotted a route across the city that doesn’t pass a single public house. Joyce would be proud!
You can find out even more about Bloomsday with our Ulysess Guide to Dublin map