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Dubliners kick off Bloomsday celebrations

Tourists, literary experts laud James Joyce's 'Ulysses'
/ Source: The Associated Press

Several thousand Dubliners, tourists and literary experts filled the capital’s major boulevard Sunday to celebrate the fictional anniversary of “Ulysses,” James Joyce’s famously complex epic set on a single Dublin day 100 years ago.

Many of them wearing Edwardian-period suits, dresses and hats, celebrants lined up for free breakfasts on O’Connell Street in the biggest-ever event connected to “Ulysses.” The meal kicked off a week of celebrations across the capital tied to Joyce’s masterwork.

“This is so rare to see — a city celebrating its greatest artist,” said Maurizio Pastore, 30, an Italian studying law in Dublin.

“In Italy we don’t celebrate Dante or Michelangelo. We should,” he said. “I’ve tried to read ‘Ulysses’ before, but only got to about page 25. He was the first author to make a novel’s style so fluid, so psychological. ... I will have to try again.”

The book, published in Paris in 1922, is considered among the greatest but most difficult novels of the 20th century. It charts the June 16, 1904, wanderings of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus among Dublin streets and beaches, museums and galleries, pubs and brothels — and most challengingly of all for readers, through the ebb and tide of their memories and emotions.

Many in attendance hadn’t read Episode 4 of “Ulysses,” when Bloom cooks himself and his wife, Molly, organ meats for breakfast — complete with “grilled mutton kidneys” boasting “a fine tang of faintly scented urine.” Sunday’s breakfast was a comparatively dull offering of sausages and blood pudding in a thick bread roll.

“Ever since the mad cow scare, the food regulations have come down hard on organ meats. It’s awfully hard to serve offal at all,” said Philomena Caulfield, 60, a Bloomsday veteran wearing a straw bonnet with a bright green ribbon.

She and three golfing friends, all dressed in a range of period dresses and hats, plan as usual to attend the more intimate Bloomsday street party Wednesday in the south Dublin district of Sandycove, where Joyce once lived — and where his fictional alter ego, Dedalus, starts “Ulysses.”

“This is so much bigger than any Bloomsday before,” she said of the O’Connell Street scene, which featured actors in costumes, Edwardian barbers offering free shaves, trapeze artists and a circa-1904 electric tram. “It’s great to see some real Dubliners. Bloomsday is normally a much smaller affair for an academic crowd.”

Sunday’s crowd did include scores of Joyce experts who arrived over the weekend to speak at a biennial international conference devoted to the author’s works.

On Wednesday, the official anniversary, O’Connell Street will close down again for a “Ulysses”-themed parade and stage show. Across the city, a range of art, music, film and drama events have been honoring Joyce since April. A light show along the River Liffey concludes the main celebrations Saturday.