Bloomsday – Ireland

June 16

June 16 is Bloomsday (also Blooms Day) in Dublin, but it’s not a spring or solstice festival and it has nothing to do with Irish wildflowers.

Irish wildflowers © Jenny Seawright
Irish wildflowers © Jenny Seawright

No, Bloomsday honours Leopold Bloom, who spent a day traipsing through the streets of Dublin on June 16, 1904—in James Joyce’s classic novel Ulysses.

Each year on Bloomsday, Joyce lovers retrace the steps of the fictional characters Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus. Many old landmarks remain, though their functions may have changed:

“The house at 7 Eccles Street [Bloom’s home] now serves as home to part of the Mater Hospital Private Clinic… All Hollows Church, now Saint Andrews Church, still stands, as does the chemist shop where Bloom purchased a bar of lemon soap… Bella Cohen’s brothel now serves as a retreat house for Sisters of Our Lady of Charity.”

— James Joyce’s Ulysses, by Bernand McKenna

Martello tower in Sandycove now hosts the James Joyce Museum. Here, and along O’Connell Street, aficionados begin Bloomsday by enjoying a hearty breakfast, emulating that of Leopold Bloom…although many choose to skip the “grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine” in favor of extra sausages and Guinness.

First published in its entirety in 1922, most of Ulysses had been serialized in Margaret Anderson’s The Little Review from 1918 until 1920, the year it was banned in the U.S. due to frank descriptions of bodily functions and sexuality, as well as its commentary on organized religion and social mores.

In the 1933 New York Court case United States v. One Book Called Ulysses, Judge John Woolsey overturned the ban, declaring that the story:

“did not tend to excite sexual impulses or lustful thoughts but that its net effect on [my colleagues] was only that of a somewhat tragic and very powerful commentary on the inner lives of men and women.”

Ulysses was the original ‘24‘, and Bloom its Jack Bauer. Each of its 18 chapters documents approximately one hour in the life of Leopold Bloom (though the first few chapters follow Stephen Dedalus). The entire novel takes place in under 24 hours, beginning around 8:00 am on Thursday, June 16, 1904, and ending before dawn the next day.

With its stream-of-consciousness narrative, Ulysses was both a watershed moment in 20th century literature and the bane of English students for generations to come.

Joyce’s title juxtaposes the mundane experiences of Bloom’s romp through Dublin with the grandiose adventures of the ancient Greek hero Odysseus (Ulysses). Bloom’s wife Molly represents Penelope, and Stephen Dedalus (Joyce’s  alter-ego from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) mirrors Telemachus.

For all the immortalizing Joyce did for the city of Dublin, the author supposedly never set foot in the town after 1912. He spent the last two decades of his life in Paris and Switzerland, and  died in 1941 in Zurich after an ulcer operation.

And as for the date, June 16, 1904—that was the day of Joyce’s first date with his wife-to-be Nora.

James Joyce, ca. 1918
James Joyce, ca. 1918

— God, he said quietly. Isn’t the sea what Algy calls it: a great sweet mother? The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea. Epi oinopa ponton. Ah, Dedalus, the Greeks. I must teach you. You must read them in the original.

— Buck Mulligan in Ulysses

Rare recording of James Joyce reading his own work – mp3 [Note: often audio books make great literature easier to read. This is the exception.]

St. Patrick’s Day around the world

March 17


I’m tired of these @#$%! snakes
on these #$%@$! Irish plains!
— St. Patrick, 433 AD

When the going gets tough, the tough go green. And the hard times haven’t dimmed the green glow (or watered down the green beer) of St. Patrick’s Day from the Emerald Isle to North America.

For a run-down of the slave-turned-priest who we celebrate today, check out last year’s St. Patrick’s Day post: Green is Good.

This year we travel around the world to see how St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in different cities.

American Servicemen and women in Baghdad held their first (and possibly last) St. Patrick’s Day Parades. It was considerably smaller than, say, New York’s festivities, but the tiny procession drew a respectable amount of confused looks from curious Iraqis. AFP

In New Orleans, the St. Patrick’s parades are second only to Carnival/Mardi Gras. Instead of throwing beads, float-riders threw food: full heads of cabbage, carrots, and potatoes. “Everything you need to make an Irish stew, minus the meat,” says New Orleans native Odin (yes, that’s his real name). And that’s exactly what participants do with it. “And if you’re a mother with kids, forget it.You’ll go home with more food than you could eat in a month.”

But watch out for large flying edible projectiles!

The St. Patrick’s Day parade in Toronto is relatively young, but gaining in popularity. The Irish have a long tradition in Canada’s largest city. According to

In 1847, when the city of Toronto was only 13 years old and had only 20,000 residents, more than 38,000 Irish refugees of the Great Famine — which lasted from 1845 to 1851 — arrived in the city.

In the U.S. the two most famous celebrations are the parades in Boston and New York.

John “Wacko” Hurley has helped organize the Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade for a half-century and has been its lead organizer for the past two decades.

The New York parade dates back to 1766 and is one of the city’s oldest annual traditions. It was originally organized by military units before falling upon the shoulders of Irish fraternal clubs in 1811.

A few years back the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade counted 150,000 participants. That’s marchers alone, not spectators. The people lining the parade route and watching on TV numbered in the millions.

And of course there’s Ireland. Surprisingly Ireland held a disappointing, lackluster St. Patrick’s Day celebration until recently. It wasn’t until 1996 that Dublin, inspired by the success of fanfare overseas, held it’s first major St. Patrick’s Day festival. Amazingly, that first crowd numbered over 400,000. Today the festival has grown to six full days of activities, and visitors to the festival number over a million.

Wherever you celebrate today, there’s a good chance you’re a stone’s throw away from an Irish pub.

And if not, you can always go throw cabbage at someone.

Let us know how that goes!

St. Patrick’s Day – “Green Is Good”

March 17
Everyone knows where the world-famous Saint Patrick is from. Scotland.

That’s right. Patrick was a wee lad by the name of Succat living in Scotland when he was kidnapped by Irish pirates at the age of 16 [“Kidnapped by pirates is good!” – Fred Savage, The Princess Bride] and sold as a slave.
In Ireland he herded a Celtic chieftain’s sheep for six years, until one day he ran away and traveled 200 miles across Ireland to escaped to France on a ship.

In France, he studied under the Bishop Germanus at the Auxerre monastery in Gaul. Patrick returned to Britain a priest, but heard the land of his captivity calling, and returned to Ireland in 430 A.D.

St Patrick
St. Patrick and snakes

Patrick’s experience living in Eire gave him an advantage over previous missionaries.

During the Druidic festival of Beltraine, which celebrated the coming of spring, the King Laoghaire lit the annual bonfires. The law of the land said no other fires could be lit that night under penalty of death. Patrick defied the law by lighting a flame in clear view of the capital, to remember the resurrection we know as Easter.

Patrick was ordered before the King to explain himself. Legend says this was the first of many times Patrick picked up three-leaf clover and used it to illustrate the Holy Trinity. The number 3 was particularly revered by the Gaelic people, so Patrick often emphasized the Trinity in his teachings. King Laoghaire was surprisingly receptive to Patrick, the former slave, and later asked him to codify Irish law.

St Patrick and King Laoghaire
King Laoghaire (left) and Saint Patrick (dramatization)

Saint Patrick feat is remarkable in that he converted an entire people to Christianity without bloodshed. He didn’t have to die a martyr’s death for his beliefs, nor did he execute or threaten to execute anyone who did not share them.

But his most famous conquest was as the “Samuel L. Jackson” of the Emerald Isle. According to legend, Saint Patrick cured the Irish plains of their snake infestation. And to this day there are no snakes in Ireland, iron-clad proof of the great Saint’s miracle!

I have had it with these @#$%&! snakes on these @#$%&! Irish plains!

Saint Patrick, Snakes on a Plain, 433 A.D.

Fanciful Irish History

St. Patrick: Enlightener of Ireland

The St. Patrick’s Battalion

September 12

Today the Irish are as inseparable from the American identity as the stars on the red, white, and blue. But at one time the Irish were as discriminated against as any ethnic group. Immigrants who had crossed the Atlantic, fleeing the Emerald Isle’s deadly potato famine in the 1840s soon learned what N.I.N.A. stood for–No Irish Need Apply.

The wave of German and Irish-Catholic immigration in the mid 19th century was met with an equal wave of xenophobia called Nativism, an anti-Catholic, anti-foreigner movement sweeping through the mostly-Protestant states. This patriotic sentiment was compounded with a territorial war with our neighbor to the south, Mexico, in the 1840s.

John Riley, a native of Clifden, County Galway, was a young veteran of the British Army when he entered the U.S. through Canada. He joined the army in Michigan, and served in the 5th U.S. Infantry Regiment. But the animosity he experience against his religion and his countrymen caused him to desert the army prior to the Mexican-American War.

All told around 1000 Irish deserted the army before and during the war. They were not the first soldiers to do so, but 200 of them did the unforgivable. They banded together and enlisted with their fellow Catholics in the Mexican Army.

The St. Patrick’s Battalion, or San Patricios, fought in all five major battles of the Mexican-American War. General Santa Anna once said, had he a hundred more troops like Riley’s men, he would have won the war.

At the Battle of Churubusco in 1847, the San Patricios met their end. Of approximately 200 men, 35 were killed and 85 were taken prisoner. Nearly 50 prisoners were sentenced to death by hanging. Riley escaped execution because he had deserted prior to the declaration of war. He was merely given 50 lashes on the back, branded with the letter “D” (for deserter), and forced to wear an iron yoke around his neck for the duration of the war.

The prisoners were hanged between September 10 and September 13, by order of General Winfield Scott, in full view of both armies at the battle of Chapultepec, and were forced to watch from the gallows as the U.S. flag replaced the Mexican flag above the town. The victims included one soldier who had had both legs amputated the day before.

The U.S. Army denied the existence of the St. Patrick’s Battalion until a Congressional investigation in 1915.

In Mexico, the Irish martyrs are remembered during two holidays: St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, and the Commemoracion de los San Patricios on September 12, the anniversary of most of the executions.

And on this one day, Riley’s hometown of Clifden, Ireland, flies the Mexican flag in honor of the men of St. Patrick’s Battalion.

Deserters or Unsung Heroes?

St. Patrick Battalion

Rogue’s March

No Irish Need Apply – Fact or Fiction?