“my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes”
“Penelope Episode”, Ulysses – James Joyce
My feet hurt, my head was BANGING this morning and I definitely have the Bloomsday blues – yup – it is June 17th. Yesterday was my 4th year on the James Joyce Centre Bloomsday team, which means that it is 3 years and a week since I moved up to Dublin.
My first Bloomsday was exciting but really scary, I was working in the centre for all of a week when this mob of hard core Joyceans descended on North Great George’s St in all their period costumes – feathers and lace everywhere. It was mayhem, the breakfasts were served downstairs in a room that was definitely too small, the staff members had to cradle trays of glasses of messy Guinness through the crowds of tourists into the room where 60 people and a merry group of actors were tucking their way into Denny’s sausages, rashers and yes, KIDNEYS!
I’m glad to say that in the Bloomsdays following that first one, the Centre manages to keep on improving the festival each year. The second year, the breakfasts were moved upstairs to two adjoining rooms, leaving the staff a lot more room to manoeuvre; the readings were moved to their now permanent home in Meeting House Square, Templebar which makes it a lot safer and enjoyable for Joycean enthusiasts and passersby to relax in the sun and take in some wonderful readings of Ulysses, the Centre has also developed their walking tours to now offer a shortened tour on Bloomsday with more guides, so that more people can get going on a Joycean walking tour around Dublin on Bloomsday.
The thing with the Centre is that June 16th is their Christmas day really, and the rest of the year sadly is a struggle for the Centre to keep its head above water. For one beautifully sunny day in June each year, the Centre can bask in its beautiful glory, with costumed merry makers posing in front of its front door, or even the Door to No.7 Eccles St (in the court yard to the rear, this is the house that Leopold Bloom lives in in Ulysses – unfortunately the house is no longer there as a hospital has been built where it once stood however the door and its frame were preserved…..have you any idea how many times a day the staff at the Centre have to explain that to visitors?!).
The staff at the Centre, which I’m glad to say have not changed too much over the last 4 Bloomsdays, almost have the day down to a fine art. At the very least, we enjoy the mayhem and the madness. Tourists get upset when they can’t get a seat at the Breakfasts, the biggest “characters” claiming to be the biggest fan ever of Joyce appear out of the woodwork in the zaniest and most over the top costumes ever seen, one year we had a guy visit the Centre each day over the period of say, 5 days, each day he dressed entirely in purple….we dubbed him Purple Boy….I wonder where Purple Boy is now! We bask in the craziness of it all.
The readings this year were superb, even better than last year. Eamonn Owens did an energetic performance fo Stephen’s classroom scene in the Nestor episode, Councillor Mick Rafferty and Maureen O’Sullivan read together from the first episode, Telemachus, Joyce’s nephew Ken Monaghan, despite ill health read an especially poignant piece from Wandering Rocks, Alan Stanford made an outstanding MC, however my highlight of the day was amazingly talented Tenor, Morgan Crowley’s performance of “Love’s Old Sweet Song” – I think the whole of Meeting House Square was bowled over by that one.
So, the snobs can say what they want about the kitchiness of Bloomsday or how the people who celebrate Bloomsday don’t really know anything about Ulysses, but as far as I’m concerned, Bloomsday celebrations embody that which Joyce was also passionate about – the beauty of everyday life, the music, the words, the fashion and the sunshine – oh and a few drinks to keep you cool in the sun!
Here’s a few pics that I managed to snap in between running around backstage: