Bloomsday: Skeleton onesies, period dress and at least 88 full Joycean breakfasts

Gravediggers Bar deputised for Barney Kiernan’s as backdrop for performance of Cyclops episode

It was a “true Bloomsday”, falling like the original on a Thursday. And since some things haven’t changed in 118 years, that also meant it coincided with the Ascot Gold Cup, the 1904 version of which was immortalised in Ulysses.

Mind you, the fame of James Joyce’s book remains a work in progress among his native Dubliners, as an exchange outside the Joyce Centre in North Great Georges Street on Bloomsday 2022 illustrated.

Spotting Joyce lookalike John Shevlin entertaining a group of Americans in period dress, The Irish Times stopped to chat and then joked that we were “off to Poor Paddy’s funeral – did you hear he’s dead?”

Whereupon a passing local – not in period dress – paused to interject: “He won the 1905 Derby.”


“Who did?”

“Paddy – it’s in the buke.”

The Irish Times explained gently that it couldn’t be in the book, because that was set in 1904, and although Leopold Bloom did accidentally forecast the winner of the Ascot Gold Cup later that afternoon, he had no tips for the following year’s Derby, Epsom or the Curragh.

“You’re the expert,” said the man, a little accusingly, and continued on his way

Poor Paddy

Out in Glasnevin, in an annual re-enactment, the chances of Poor Paddy winning anything were buried with the rest of him. Confirming that his race was up, mourners this year included somebody in a skeleton onesie, complete with a placard reading “Paddy Dignam: 1865-1904″.

The person inside turned out to be Edia Connole, from Clare originally but now a teacher at the ISI language school in Dublin, who had brought 30 of her students along for the mock funeral.

Back in town, at the tiny Sweny’s Pharmacy, PJ Murphy and the other volunteers dispensed lemon soap as usual, while the roomier premises opposite, Kennedy’s Pub, dispensed free Bloomsday breakfasts and theatrical performances.

Asked how many Full Joyceans – kidney, liver, bacon, sausage, egg, mushroom, fried potato and soda bread – he had served so far, proprietor John Mahon said “87″ before insisting that The Irish Times have No 88, accompanied by an Irish Coffee that had a kick worthy of an entrant for the Gold Cup.

The breakfast was seasoned by a saucy performance of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from Rose Lawless, sitting in a nearby window. Perhaps reflecting the visit to Sweny’s last year by Emmanuel Macron, when part of the same soliloquy was read in French, the performance was recorded by a French TV crew, here to confirm rumours of the sexy Irish.

Among the crowd in Kennedy’s was Stella Xenopoulou, born in a place her husband Shay describes as “the Birr of Greece”. Thirty years ago, she did a post-graduate degree in Wales, from where she took what was meant to be a daytrip to Ireland.

One thing led to another and she still hasn’t left. “I stayed for the Irish wit,” she explains, although she also picked up Shay along the way. Now she’s president of the Greek Hellenic Community of Ireland and participates in Sweny’s weekly group readings of Ulysses in Greek.

Hibernicising Greece

Naturally, Ireland being Ireland, her brother-in-law is married to PJ Murphy’s sister. Whether this is an example of what Joyce’s Buck Mulligan meant when he vowed to “hellenise Ireland”, or the plan has backfired and Ireland is now hibernicising Greece, is unclear.

An hour later, in Glasnevin, the Gravediggers Bar provided the backdrop for a performance of the comic Cyclops episode. Strange to say, this famous and venerable Dublin pub did not get a mention in Ulysses. Then again, Barney Kiernan’s did and that’s long gone. It fell to the Gravediggers to deputise, with the scene moved outdoors in the balmy temperatures.

Among the sun-drenched audience was a group from Buffalo, New York, including Anna Luce and Martin Penkala, who had seen many Bloomsdays in Buffalo and produced and directed some of them too but were experiencing the phenomenon at source for the first time.

Descended from Irish great-grandparents, one of whom emigrated in Black ‘47, Anna was the first member of the family ever to have made it back. “It’s a life’s dream,” she said.

Over in Ascot, there was no repeat of the 1904 upset when rank outsider Throwaway won. The 2022 race went to the favourite, Aiden O’Brien-trained Kyprios.

About 10 minutes later and back in Dublin, meanwhile, Barry McGovern completed the performance of the week with a finishing burst – “and yes I said yes I will yes” that took him past the finishing post after a full reading of Ulysses that began last Friday. The Peacock Theatre was long sold out for the final day. As they say in horseracing: “Winner all right”.