Commemorating the life and legend of Irish writer James Joyce on Bloomsday, every June 16, we take a moment to honor and celebrate all we’ve gained from his works. The significance of June 16 is taken from his 1922 novel, “Ulysses,” which takes place on June 16, 1904, and follows a day in the life of the story’s protagonist (Leopold Bloom). It is also the day Joyce went on his first date with his then wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle. Either way, National Bloomsday commemorates these two occasions every year on June 16. The story of Leopold Bloom is recognized as one of the most important works of modernist literature and has been largely considered a catalyst for the entire movement. Today, people in Ireland and Joyce fan’s around the world celebrate with festivals, readings, dramatizations, pub crawls, and more to honor a man who changed literature forever.
History of Bloomsday
The first mention of a Bloomsday celebration was found in a letter written by Joyce himself to Miss Weaver in 1924, which refers to “a group of people who observed what they call Bloom’s Day on June 16.” The story was originally serialized in parts in the American journal, “The Little Review,” where the events in “Ulysses” tend to parallel that of Homer’s epic, “The Odyssey.” While in “The Odyssey” Odysseus has a 10-year journey home to his wife, Penelope, in contrast, the story of Leopold Bloom is about him trying to avoid going home to his wife. Although the story does not contain mythical gods, goddesses, or sirens, it does follow an average man dealing with everyday life in what can be described as somewhat grotesque realism. “Ulysses” has, on the one hand, been called “the most prominent landmark in modernist literature,” a work where life’s complexities are depicted with “unprecedented, and unequaled, linguistic and stylistic virtuosity” by T.S. Eliot and, on the other hand, “a heap of dung, crawling with worms, photographed by a cinema camera through a microscope” by Virginia Woolf. It has been reinterpreted in a number of different ways across the world and still is referenced as a classic piece of literature that cannot be forgotten.
While the fictional June 16, 1904, follows the dysfunctional life of the character, Leopold Bloom, the day in James Joyce’s life was quite a pleasant one. It was the first outing he went on with his future muse and wife, Nora Barnacle, with whom he shared a loving and passionate relationship throughout his life.
Famous artist John Ryan and popular novelist Brian O’Nolan came together to organize the first official Bloomsday back in 1954. They celebrated the day in Dublin by taking a pilgrimage along the routes mentioned in “Ulysses.” They were accompanied by James Joyce’s cousin, his brother Tom Joyce, and Patrick Kavanagh. A.J. Leventhal and Anthony Cronin also joined the journey as they were the ones steering the two horse-drawn carriages inside which the rest of the group were sitting.
Every member was assigned a character from the novel and they all participated in a sort of role-playing. A.J. Levanthal portrayed Leopold Bloom, Brian O’Nolan portrayed Simon Dedalus, John Ryan portrayed Martin Cunningham and Anthony Cronin portrayed Stephen Dedalus.
Starting from Martello Tower, their plan was to end at Nighttown just as it has been described in the novel. Sadly, they didn’t complete the pilgrimage and cut it short at the midpoint due to them all getting too drunk to even take a step further.
Since that day, National Bloomsday has been celebrated as one of the biggest festivals in Ireland and is also commemorated all over the world by Joyce enthusiasts.
On June 16, James Joyce has his first outing with his future wife, Nora Barnacle, a date later to be used in his famous novel, “Ulysses.”
Joyce’s first novel “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” is published the same year as “Dubliners,” a collection of 15 short stories.
James Joyce publishes his only play, “Exiles,” about a husband and wife’s troublesome relationship.
James Joyce’s novel, “Ulysses,” which was originally introduced in the American journal “The Little Review,” is now published in Paris on Joyce’s 40th birthday.
James Joyce writes a letter announcing Bloomsday.
On the 50th anniversary of the events that take place in “Ulysses,” writers Brian O’Nolan, Patrick Kavanagh, and John Ryan plan to retrace the steps of Leopold Bloom through the city of Dublin but, unfortunately, they get too drunk to complete the tour.
Why was “Ulysses” banned?
Due to its sexually explicit scenes, the book was considered obscene by a number of governments at the time.
What year did Bloomsday start?
The first large-scale celebration of Bloomsday took place in 1977 when over a thousand runners participated in the inaugural Bloomsday Run, which was billed “Run With the Stars” in posters announcing the event.
How long is “Ulysses”?
The entire collection is 18 episodes and a total of 700 pages long.
Get your Joyce on
Pick up one of James Joyce’s novels, short stories, or poems. As one of Ireland’s most beloved writers, you owe it to yourself to introduce or reintroduce yourself to the works of James Joyce.
Bloomsday is celebrated all around the world. Check if there’s a local reading of “Ulysses” nearby or see if you can start your own! Many readings also incorporate pub crawls, so win-win!
Partake in the pub crawls and street parties
Who doesn’t love a good excuse to wear a costume? True Joyce enthusiasts are known to go out on Bloomsday dressed in full Edwardian garb as they retrace Bloom’s route. If you’re already in Dublin, Ireland, there are numerous groups of people who head out to take the iconic pilgrimage route and enjoy some pubs and parties along the way. Join in on these rowdy revelries.
5 FUN FACTS ABOUT JAMES JOYCE
“Ulysses” was burned in the U.S. in 1918, in Ireland in 1922, in Canada in 1922, and England in 1923 — the book was officially banned in England in 1929, most likely because the mass-burning was not sufficient in suppressing its readership.
Joyce could sing
James Joyce was an accomplished tenor and won the bronze medal in an Irish competitive festival of classical music.
Joyce shared numerous sexually explicit letters with his wife that have since been auctioned off for nearly half a million dollars, and they’re quite steamy.
Joyce almost burned the original manuscript for “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” after an intense argument with his wife, Nora, but luckily, Joyce’s sister was able to rescue it.
Clear mind, blurry vision
James Joyce was nearly blind most of his life and had undergone a series of eye-related surgeries to improve his vision.
Why We Love Bloomsday
In homage to James Joyce
Without James Joyce, modern literature would not be what it is today. We may have not had writers like Hunter S. Thompson, T.S. Eliot, or William Faulkner and, for that, we are forever grateful. The day is a perfect way to pay tribute to the genius of James Joyce. By visiting Dublin, visiting the pubs and the bars, and by taking the iconic route, people pay homage to his talent.
“Ulysses” is a masterpiece
“Ulysses” is one of the best-written novels of the previous century. It has attained cult status over the years, and this day is a great excuse to read or re-read the novel and gain some (new) insights into it.
Mingling with Joyce enthusiasts
We get to mingle with a lot of like-minded Joyce enthusiasts on this day. It’s a great way to discuss varied theories about “Ulysses” and enjoy playing some of its characters during re-reads.