Bloomsday brings literature to life by transforming Dublin into the day immortalised in James Joyce’s Ulysses: 16th June 1904.
Ulysses itself follows the adventures of Leopold Bloom and companions around Dublin over the course of a single day. His memories travel further back, and he encounters a colourful cast of characters, from Irish Nationalists and drinkers through to his wife, Molly, waiting at home.
But the essence of the book is what happens on 16th June 1904 (nothing and everything in true literary style.)
This key paragraph introduces Mr Leopold Bloom:
Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards…
And so, Dubliners begin their day with fried innards and eggs while men and women in period dress sing songs and recite key verses across the town.
Not surprisingly, the James Joyce Centre takes part with gusto, as does Belvedere College, Joyce’s alma mater. It invites revered guests and celebrities like Stephen Fry to debate the role of literature today (and to make one or two comments about grindr.)
As well as central Dublin, the book heads to the Glasnevin Cemetery, now an award-winning exhibition and museum. Beyond that, Ulysses covers the wind and heather swept cliffs of Howth and Sandycove, where youngsters leap into the not-too-warm waters of the Forty Foot bathing area.
It’s a celebration of both a book and a city in one and, unlike a Guinness themed event in Dublin, this at least leaves you feeling cultured and even a little bit smug.
Dublin is one of those cities that keeps on giving.
If you visit as a student, there’s Guinness, Jameson and Temple Bar.
For children, there’s a zoo and the National Leprechaun Museum
And when you reach, er, a certain age, the earlier fascination with breweries morphs into more of one with literature, history and the great outdoors.
Dublin is so impressive on the bookish front it became the fourth city in the world to win UNESCO City of Literature Status.
From a city with a population of less than a million, have come the following masters of their trade:
Oscar Wilde: We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
Bram Stoker (Dracula): No man knows till he has suffered from the night how sweet and dear to his heart and eye the morning can be.
W.B. Yeats: But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
The Dublin Writers Museum helps you to soak up all that genius while also pondering how anyone wrote anything when you had to use a quill pen.
For livelier literature, join one of the many literary festivals that take place throughout the year (Bloomsday on the 16th June explores both Ulysses and the city of Dublin at the same time.)
And then there is the Chester Beatty Library, free to access and holding beautiful, rare manuscripts from Egyptian Papyrus to the Qur’an.
Beyond the books (and of course, there is also THE Book of Kells in Trinity College) there’s the history.
Lots and lots of history: most of it sad, some of it uplifting.
Dublin has revamped, if that can be the expression, one of its main cemeteries and transformed it into a memorial to the history of the people who once lived and died here.
At the Glasnevin Cemetery, you can pay your respects in the graveyard and then visit the museum, the first of its kind in the world .
Not that Dublin’s all bleak and bookish, of course. It’s clearly a place that prides itself on having a good time, no matter the weather (which is just as well.)
But if the sun does happen to be shining then stroll along the clifftops of Howth or plunge into the Forty Foot bathing area in Sandycove.
Dublin’s a small capital that’s easy to get around, with frequent flights to the UK, mainland Europe and a good connection with the US through New York City.
On Bloomsday, head to the Martello Tower to find Molly and Leopolds in fancy dress and people reading extracts from Ulysses itself.
Use the hop on, hop off bus to explore the full extent of Dublin’s culture. Although the centre of the city is compact, you’ll miss things if you only stay there.
Did You Know?
– 10 million pints of Guinness are produced in Dublin every day
Dublin has the largest enclosed city park in Europe
Handel’s Messiah was first performed in Dublin
Seeing a city brought alive by a book written a long time ago – and finding the secret pleasure in searching for landmarks laid down in literature