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#6: Bloomsday

Bloomsday celebrates Thursday, June 16th, 1904 which is the day in James Joyce's famous novel Ulysses that the main character, Leopold Bloom, has his first date with the woman that would eventually become his wife.
#6: Bloomsday

This past June, I came across several posts on Instagram about Bloomsday when I was doing research for an upcoming trip to Northern Ireland and Scotland.

I paid little attention to the posts, dismissing the colorful festival images depicting men and women dressed up as old-timey characters with a mindless upward flick of my thumb.

What is a Bloomsday? I thought to myself, stupidly.

Today, images of Bloomsday were forced into my mind's eye again via my ears and the Fontaines DC's new song by the same name.

Saw the city hall in flames, I suppose it doesn't do as much these days. You put on your coat and smile, saddest one I've seen for a country mile.

Bloomsday 🎵

Bloomsday 🎵

Bloomsday 🎵

Grian Chatten drones with a thick Irish accent in one of the stronger songs on their new-ish album.

I never cared to investigate what Bloomsday is until this morning and it turns out it's a popular event over in Ireland and an estimated 200 other countries around the world.

I always feel terribly unworldly when I discover important historical events or facts that everyone knows about except me. And with Scotch-Irish ancestry, after digging into the meaning of Bloomsday, I feel doubly unworldly.

Bloomsday celebrates Thursday, June 16th, 1904 which is the day in James Joyce's famous novel Ulysses that the main character, Leopold Bloom, has his first date with the woman that would eventually become his wife.

The action in Ulysses takes place in Dublin and Dubliners (and other literary-minded folks around the world) dress up like characters from the book and take part in readings, performances, and heavy drinking on June 16th every year.

Apparently, Bloomsday Breakfast is another key activity that happens on the morning of and involves eating the breakfast that Leopold Bloom ingests on the morning of June 16th.

In my hometown of Victoria, BC, it appears Bloomsday is celebrated by the English Department at the University of Victoria, which seems fitting but also quite boring. Celebrating with a rowdy pub crawl seems more fitting and is aligned with how the first Bloomsday was executed back in 1954 when a small group of Dublin writers attempted to retrace the book's plot around the city. According to legend, they all got too shitfaced to complete the entire journey.

However, from what I gather, Bloomsday is more than just an excuse to get wasted. This past June, Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs and Ireland's global network of Embassies and Consulates collaborated with dozens of partners worldwide to put on the largest global Bloomsday celebration to date.

Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney commented:

Our 2022 Bloomsday campaign is a global celebration of Joyce in this centenary year of the publication of ‘Ulysses’, embracing not only literature but film, visual art, performing arts and Irish studies. Global Ireland’s continuing innovation in cultural diplomacy connects new audiences worldwide with Irish ideas and creative excellence through the diverse partnerships forged by our diplomatic network.

The messaging suggests that Bloomsday continues to receive strong government support as it connects the world with Irish culture and ideas.

But a cursory scan of the internet suggests not everyone thinks this way.

James Murphy at Vanity Fair argues that:

It would be nice to think that swelling readership of Ulysses drives the Bloomsday boom, but it’s more likely that Bloomsday provides an opportunity for cultural validation that’s about as substantial as sharing an author quote on Instagram.

By putting Ulysses on a "pedestal," argues Murphy, we lose sight of the benefits that the book has to offer us. Namely, its ability to reveal profound truths about the world and the human condition.

Other writers and social critics dismiss the day as an excuse for people to pound Guinness, a kind of St. Patrick's Day 2.0. To be honest, I kind of like that idea.

Grian Chatten uses the song as a quiet, slow goodbye to the pubs, ghosts, and stone buildings that he grew up with as a child in Dublin. While Bloomsday appears to be a light, joyous event, Chatten's song is heavy and dripping with nostalgia. Perhaps the lyrics reference aspects of Ulysses, I don't know, because I haven't read the book.

But I'm going to now. In fact, all this googling into the history of Bloomsday has motivated me to pick up a copy, which I guess is the whole point of the day in the first place.