THE FIRST BLOOMSDAY CELEBRATION

Dublin--16 June, 1954


"WHO CAN BE ANSWERABLE FOR JAMES JOYCE IF IT NOT BE THE JESUITS?"

--Myles na Gopaleen


The Bloomsday Pilgrims on the strand

L to R: John Ryan, Anthony Cronin, Myles na Gopaleen, Patrick Kavanagh and Tom Joyce


The day was 16 June, 1954, and though it was only mid-morning, Brian O'Nolan was already drunk.

This day was the fiftieth anniversary of Mr. Leopold Bloom's wanderings through Dublin, which James Joyce had immortalised in Ulysses .

To mark this occasion a small group of Dublin literati had gathered at the Sandycove home of Michael Scott, a well-known architect, just below the Martello tower in which the opening scene of Joyce's novel is set. They planned to travel round the city through the day, visiting in turn the scenes of the novel, ending at night in what had once been the brothel quarter of the city, the area which Joyce had called Nighttown.

Sadly, no-one expected O'Nolan to be sober. By reputation, if not by sight, everyone in Dublin knew Brian O'Nolan, otherwise Myles na Gopaleen, the writer of the Cruiskeen Lawn column in the Irish Times. A few knew that under the name of Flann O'Brien, he had written in his youth a now nearly forgotten novel, At Swim-Two-Birds and was yet to write The Dalkey Archive, in which the protagonist meets the aging James Joyce working as a barman in a pub in Skerries, north of Dublin..

The rest of the party, that first Bloomsday, was made up of the poet Patrick Kavanagh, the young critic Anthony Cronin, a dentist named Tom Joyce, who as Joyce's cousin represented the family interest, and John Ryan, the painter and businessman who owned and edited the literary magazine Envoy

Ryan had engaged two horse drawn cabs, of the old-fashioned kind, which in Ulysses Mr. Bloom and his friends drive to poor Paddy Dignam's funeral. The party were assigned roles from the novel. Cronin stood in for Stephen Dedalus, O'Nolan for his father Simon Dedalus, John Ryan for the journalist Martin Cunningham, and A.J. Leventhal, the Registrar of Trinity College, being Jewish, was recruited to fill (unknown to himself according to Tom Ryan) the role of Leopold Bloom.

Kavanagh and O'Nolan began the day by deciding they must climb up to the Martello tower itself, which stood on a granite shoulder behind the house.As Cronin recalls, Kavanagh hoisted himself up the steep slope above O'Nolan, who snarled in anger and laid hold of his ankle. Kavanagh roared, and lashed out with his foot. Fearful that O'Nolan would be kicked in the face by the poet's enormous farmer's boot, the others hastened to rescue and restrain the rivals.

With some difficulty O'Nolan was stuffed into one of the cabs by Cronin and the others. Then they were off, along the seafront of Dublin Bay, and into the city.

In pubs along the way an enormous amount of alcohol was consumed, so much so that on Sandymount Strand they had to relieve themselves as Stephen Dedalus does in Ulysses. Tom Joyce and Cronin sang the sentimental songs of Tom Moore which Joyce had loved, such as Silent O Moyle. They stopped in Irishtown to listen to the running of the Ascot Gold Cup on a radio in a betting shop, but eventually they arrived in Duke Street in the city centre, and the Bailey, which John Ryan then ran as a literary pub.

They went no further. Once there another drink seemed more attractive than a long tour of Joycean slums, and the siren call of the long vanished pleasures of Nighttown.

 

From Flann O'Brien, An Illustrated Biography -- Peter Costello and Peter Van Der Kamp