June 16 began for my friend Mary and me in Dublin’s city center. We started our celebration in St. Stephen’s Green at the bust of James Joyce. The morning was sunny and cool. On Grafton, as visitors strolled the cobblestone street before the festivities got underway, the mood was peaceful. Flower vendors were busy setting up their stalls and the cacophony of Dublin’s street musicians had not yet started. We entered the park through the Fusiliers stone gates and went first to the central fountains. We’d hoped to spot some of the characters in Edwardian dress there but, true to Ireland, it was too early.
We visited the bust, near the bandstand, and paid homage to the man of the day. The park began filling with families and tourists. The celebration of Joyce’s Ulysses wouldn’t start until after noon.
We traveled back down Grafton, past Duke Street, and made our way up O’Connell to the statue of Joyce that stands on North Earl Street. Admirers were queued to take photos with the life sized likeness, snuggling up to the figure, and we did likewise. We passed groups of tourists being guided on Bloomsday walks, retracing Bloom’s route across the Liffey, through Temple Bar, and down the shore.
By one o’clock we made our way back to Duke Street for lunch at Davy Byrnes where we shared the back room tables with several Bloomsday regulars, some in full Edwardian dress. Many patrons opted for the Gorgonzola sandwich with a glass of burgundy but we were not so brave and instead chose cold plates. Fancy hats were in abundance on both men and women, and across the street, at the Bailey, straw boaters were distributed with black bands and red lettering that read, “Bloomsday at the Bailey, 2013.” The Bailey restaurant and bar is where the idea of Bloomsday was first born on June 16, 1954 by John Ryan and Brian O’Nolan.
Later in the afternoon, we visited the International Bar’s basement room for a series of performances by the Balloonatics where we heard interpretive readings from several chapters, including The Sirens and The Cyclops, accompanied by music. The room was small and tightly packed and the appreciative audience cheered the performers’ dramatizations. At the end, a hat was passed and coins were tossed in, in support of the three performers.
Throughout the afternoon we saw parades of costumed revelers and, as the weather continued to be fair, had plenty of opportunities to admire their sartorial splendor and fine millinery. The crowd on Duke Street grew larger and more vocal as the day wore on and the side streets all around Grafton buzzed with excitement. Some who’d spent the better part of their day engaged in pub crawls were more than a bit worse for the wear. Still, Bloomsday (or La Bloom, as the purists call it) 2013 was a smashing success.