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Ross O’Carroll-Kelly: ‘Bloomsday is God’s way of telling middle class people they have too much time on their hands’

It’s a big book – who’s to say what Kitty Ricketts did or didn’t do within its 1,000-or-so pages?

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Ross O'Carroll-Kelly: Charles. Illustration: Alan Clarke.

I’m standing outside the famous Galloper on the Stillorgan dualler when Ronan rocks up. He’s as surprised to see me as I am to see him?

He goes, “The fook are you doing here?” which is a lovely way to speak to your father.

I’m there, “My old man said to meet him here. Said he had a big surprise for me.”

“Said the sayum to me.”


Thirty seconds later, a quite literally minibus pulls up in front of the pub and the old man is standing in the doorway of the thing, wearing a bowler hat and a bow tie.

I go, “Oh, fock – what day is it today?”

Ronan’s there, “It’s the 16th of Joowunt, Rosser. In utter words–”

“Focking Bloomsday!”

“Hurry up!” the old man goes. “Climb on-board! Time is what we want most, but use worst – as Father John what’s-it says to Gerty MacDowell in the Good Book!”

So – yeah, no – I follow Ronan on to the bus, which turns out to be full of the old man’s mates, we’re talking Hennessy Coghlan O’Hara obviously, but then a load of other randomers he knows from the Horseshoe Bor, the Law Library and The Irish Times. Most of them are dressed like my old man and the smell of drink is strong enough to anaesthetise a decent-sized town.

I’m like, “What are we doing here?” as the bus pulls on to the road again. “As in, what the actual fock?”

The old man goes, “Well, Ross, myself and the chaps are members of an invitation-only society that celebrates the famous Lá Bloom by observing certain scenes from Ulysses.”

Ronan goes, “Hee-or, Heddessy, what’s with the dog?”

Yeah, no, I should have mentioned that Hennessy has a Dalmatian and he’s spoon-feeding it cold beans from a tin.

Hennessy’s there, “Stephen Dedalus fed beans to a Dalmatian in Ithaca.”

Then everyone on the bus goes, “Cold beans! Cold beans! Swally them down! Swally them down! Begod, tis a meal fit for Heracles!”

“Oh,” the old man goes, “we all have to say that every time the breed of dog is mentioned! Leopold Bloom’s famous exaltation!”

I’m there, “Sorry, I’m still struggling to understand what the fock me and Ronan are doing here.”

“Well,” the old man goes, “it can’t have escaped your attention that the members of our society are – shall we say – gaining in years! And what we need is new blood!”

I’m like, “Er, that’s why we’re here?”

“Oh, come on, Kicker – get into the spirit of the thing!”

Ronan’s there, “What else does the day involve, Cheerlie?”

“Well, as you may have already intuited,” the old man goes, “we’ve just spent a couple of hours in the famous Davy Byrne’s Tavern, and right now we are bound for Sandycove! In a moment, we’ll have the contest where the two men among us who are judged Best Dressed will attempt to eat a pork chop suspended from a piece of string just like Blazes Boylan and Barney Kiernan did in, em–!”

“Oxen of the Sun,” Hennessy goes.

“Quite correct! Then, as we arrive in Sandycove, as per tradition, we will all roll up one trouser leg and sing Follow Me Up to Carlow, just like good old Leopold did in – I think I’m right in saying – Aeolus?”

I’m there, “Bloomsday is God’s way of telling middle class people that they have too much time on their hands.”

“Then it’s into wonderful, wonderful Cavistons,” he goes, “where we shall feast on Buck Mulligan’s favourite crayfish and onion bisque and Hennessy and I will re-enact the famous oyster-shucking race from – which episode, old scout?”

Hennessy goes, “Cyclops.”

“Cyclops indeed! Then a woman dressed as Kitty Ricketts will pour mead made by Bunratty monks into each of our mouths, before we proceed to the famous Joyce Tower, stopping off on the way to feed sardines to the seagulls, just as Buck Mulligan and Leopold Bloom did in, em, Hades.”

I’m like, “For fock’s sake!”

The old man goes, “We want you two to join the society because, well, someone is going to have to continue these traditions when we are all dead and gone.”

That’s when Ronan says it. He’s like, “That’s all veddy weddle, Cheerlie, but none of that ebber happened.”

The old man’s there, “I’m not following you.”

Ronan goes, “There’s no Dalmatian in Ulysses and no mention of cowuld beans. No one eats a powurk chop off a piece of sthring or sings Foddy Me Up to Cardow eeder.”

“They must!” the old man goes. “This society has been following these traditions since 1954!”

Ronan’s there, “Sounds like you’ve been making them up as you go along. You hab read the buke, hab you?”

The old man’s there, “Yes, of course – it was, em, a few years ago now! Hennessy, you’ve read it, haven’t you?”

“Bits of it,” Hennessy goes.

Ronan’s there, “Well, I’ve read the entire thing. There’s no oyster-shucking race in it or addy crayfish and odion bisque. And Kitty Rickett’s dudn’t pour addything into addyone’s mouth.”

Ronan looks around at all these randomers, all staring at him open-mouthed, like he’s a focking donkey reading out the business news. He goes, “Has addyone on this bus ebber read Ulysses? And doatunt lie to me!”

There’s, like, a lot of muttering under breaths.

“These are busy people!” the old man goes. “Important people! John there is a former minister for something or other. Alex was the Irish ambassador to – where was it again, Alex?”

“Zambia,” the dude goes.

The old man’s like, “Zambia! Plus, it’s a big book – who’s to say what Kitty Ricketts did or didn’t do within its 1,000-or-so pages?”

I’m there, “Er, someone who’s actually read the focking thing?”

Ronan goes, “It’s all boddicks, Cheerlie – everything you’re arthur saying.”

All the members of the society look at each other sadly – their day ruined.

Hennessy’s there, “This Dalmatian cost me €500 to hire for the day.”

“Driver,” the old man suddenly goes, “could you pull over here please?”

The bus grinds to a halt at the top of the – yeah, no – Noggin Hill.

I’m like, “What the fock are you doing? You can’t leave us in the middle of Sally literally Noggin.”

The old man goes, “I don’t think you’re right for our society,” pulling us out of our seats, then hooshing us towards the door. “As the famous Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker said to Shem the Penman–”

Over his shoulder, Ronan goes, “They’re out of Fiddegan’s Wake, Cheerlie.”

And the old man’s like, “ – bugger off, chaps!”

Ross O'Carroll-Kelly

Ross O'Carroll-Kelly

Ross O’Carroll-Kelly was captain of the Castlerock College team that won the Leinster Schools Senior Cup in 1999. It’s rare that a day goes by when he doesn’t mention it