Whatever else you plan to do to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, March 17 is a grand time to plan a trip to Ireland over June 16, known to all aficionados of James Joyce as Bloomsday.
Joyce’s groundbreaking book “Ulysses” takes place entirely on June 16, 1904, which happens to be the date that Joyce had his first date with Nora Barnacle, who later became the writer’s wife. Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of the book, knows none of this and the book does not address it, but much of Dublin celebrates the date every year.
How popular is this event? In 2004, just before the 100th anniversary of Leopold Bloom’s literary meanderings, some 10,000 people showed up for a free Irish breakfast on O’Connell Street, enjoying sausages, rashers, toast, beans and black and white puddings, all in honor of Bloomsday.
Annual events in Dublin include readings and dramatizations of “Ulysses,” walking tours that visit locations named in the book, special dinners at local restaurants and pub crawls, some attended by fans dressed in period costumes. The James Joyce Centre, on North Great George’s Street in Dublin, routinely sponsors special events for Bloomsday. (See bloomsdayfestival.ie)
When I made my first Bloomsday trip, I stayed for five days, immersing myself in all things Joyce. Here are eight important stops or your itinerary.
1. James Joyce Centre. Opened in 1994, the center is in a restored house that was built in 1784. In the early 1800s, Denis J. Maginnis rented a room in the house, where he taught dancing under the name Denis J. Maginni.
Joyce knew the man, and in “Ulysses,” he wrote about him, describing Maginni as wearing a “silk hat, slate frockcoat with silk facings, white kerchief tie, tight lavender trousers, canary gloves and pointed patent boots, walking with grave deportment.”
You can visit the Maginni Room in the center, which also houses a Joyce reference library, portraits of Joyce’s family members and photos of the real people on whom Joyce based many of his characters.
2. Dublin Writers Museum. Opened in 1991 in a Georgian house on Parnell Square North once owned by George Jameson, this small museum honors Joyce as well as other famous Irish writers. Take advantage of the informative audio tour – it’s free.
3. James Joyce statue. A life-sized statue is on North Earl Street, just off bustling O’Connell Street. A bust of Joyce is on display in St. Stephen’s Green, a popular public park near Grafton Street.
4. Sweny’s Chemist Shop. Many a walking tour of Dublin includes a stop at the shop, which operates as a museum. In “Ulysses,” Bloom buys a bar of lemon-scented soap, and it’s still a big seller. Right around the corner is Finn’s Hotel (now closed), where Nora Barnacle worked as a chambermaid. Look for the sign on Clare Street.
5. Oliver St. John Gogarty’s Pub. You can hear traditional Irish music at this pub on Fleet Street in the Temple Bar neighborhood. Joyce immortalized Gogarty in “Ulysses” as “stately, plump” Buck Mulligan. Another pub in the book is Davy Byrne’s, on Duke Street, where Bloom stops for a Gorgonzola cheese sandwich and a glass of Burgundy.
Three stops outside of Dublin are worthy on any pilgrimage to honor Joyce.
6. Howth. In Dublin, head for a DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transport) station and buy a ticket on a train traveling north. Howth Head, about nine miles from the city, is where Leopold Bloom proposed to Molly among the rhododendrons.
7. Bray. Head south about 12 miles on the DART to see Bray, where Joyce lived with his family from 1888 to 1891. In “Ulysses,” Joyce describes Bray Head as “the blunt cape that lay on the water like the snout of a sleeping whale.”
8. Sandycove. The DART also will take you to Sandycove (about nine miles from Dublin), to see the Martello tower where Joyce lived for a week. “Ulysses” opens in this very tower, which is now a James Joyce Museum. Do climb the winding staircase to the top of the tower, but don’t expect to be the only person up there quoting the opening lines from the book.
As I left the tower, I overheard a wonderful conversation between a man and his son, whom I guessed to be about 11.
“Dad,” said the boy, “What is `Ulysses’ about?”
“Well,” said the man, “It’s about everything.”
It is – and if you love the book, you will enjoy spending Bloomsday in Dublin