What is Bloomsday?
Bloomsday celebrates Thursday 16 June 1904, the day depicted in James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. The day is named after Leopold Bloom, the central character in Ulysses. The novel follows the life and thoughts of Leopold Bloom and a host of other characters – real and fictional – from 8am on 16 June 1904 through to the early hours of the following morning.
Celebrations often include dressing up like characters from the book and in clothes that would have been the style of the era. One of the hallmark fancy dress items of Bloomsday is the straw boater hat. Celebrations come in many different forms like readings, performances and visiting the places and establishments referenced in the book.
Joyce started writing Ulysses in March 1914, but put it aside again to finish his play Exiles. On 16 June 1915 he wrote to his brother Stanislaus to say he had finished the first episode of Ulysses. After Ulysses was published in 1922, Joyce’s friends began to mark 16 June as Bloomsday.
In 1924, Joyce was in hospital, his eyes bandaged having had one of many operations on them. Friends sent him a bunch of white and blue flowers (white and blue being the colours of the cover of Ulysses) but Joyce despondently scrawled in his notebook ‘Today 16 June 1924 twenty years after. Will anybody remember this date.’ The first major celebration of Bloomsday came in 1929. Adrienne Monnier, partner of the publisher of Ulysses, Sylvia Beach, published Ulysse, the French translation of Ulysses in February. Then, to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first Bloomsday, she organised a Déjeuner Ulysse which was held at the Hotel Leopold near Versailles. Unfortunately, the event took place a little late, on 29 June not 16 June.
The first Bloomsday celebrated in Ireland was in 1954, the fiftieth anniversary of the first Bloomsday, when the writers Patrick Kavanagh and Flann O’Brien visited the Martello Tower at Sandycove, Davy Byrne’s pub, and 7 Eccles Street, reading parts of Ulysses and drinking a great deal as they went! Today, Bloomsday is celebrated by Joyceans across the globe with readings, performances, re-enactments, and a host of other events.