In his 1964 novel The Dalkey Archive, Irish satirist Brian O'Nolan (known better by his noms de plume Flann O’Brien and Myles na Gopaleen) envisions a world where whiskey can be aged to perfection in a matter of days and a mad scientist named de Selby poses a serious existential threat to humanity. Almost entirely separate from these imaginings comes a scene in which the late literary behemoth James Joyce is alive and well and working as a bartender near Dalkey. Bewildered by the author’s sudden appearance, O’Nolan’s protagonist, Mick, asks him about Ulysses (1922). Joyce responds, “I don’t want to talk about that exploit. I took the idea to be a sort of practical joke.”
Bloomsday, for the uninitiated, is the annual June 16 celebration of all things Ulysses. The holiday takes its name from Ulysses’ protagonist Leopold Bloom, whose wanderings about Dublin on June 16, 1904 Joyce so painstakingly chronicled. Since most of the action of the novel takes place in real locations in a meticulously rendered Dublin, enthusiasts and devotees take it upon themselves each year to visit such Dublin locales as Davy Byrne’s Pub and Martello Tower.
In recent years, the celebrations have expanded beyond retracing Bloom’s steps (which, at the face of it, comes to resemble a pub crawl) and beyond Dublin. Joyce-lovers from New York to Hungary stage dramatizations and readings of Joyce’s text (most of which take longer than the one-day span of the novel), feast on the sort of traditional Irish fare in which Bloom indulged, and gallivant about their cities in Edwardian costumes. One group of celebrants even endeavored to tweet the entirety of Ulysses over the course of the day.
Following the tower visit, the party commissioned two horse-drawn cabs, of the sort Bloom and company took to Paddy Dignam’s funeral. From there, the day took a decidedly boozy turn, with many in the party drinking so much that they felt compelled to relieve themselves in public à la Stephan Dedalus.
By the time they reached John Ryan’s pub, The Bailey, they were drunk, exhausted, and unwilling to go on. Like so many readers who came before them, the group gave up on Bloom’s wanderings halfway through, opting instead for a few sedentary pints. If O’Nolan is to be believed, this is precisely the sort of irreverence that Joyce himself would have applauded.