Two years ago I hopped on a plane for the first time in my life and took an international flight. This wasn’t just for a whirlwind vacation; my fiance and I were traveling to Dublin to get married. We were kind of eloping, but our families and friends were aware of our intentions. While some people rush off to Vegas for a quickie chapel wedding done by an Elvis impersonator (an option we considered) or to some exotic island to share nuptials on a beach, we chose to instead spend a week during the summer in a country known mostly for rain and temperatures that stay pretty consistently in the low to mid 60s. Neither of us had ever been to Ireland and we didn’t have family (that we knew of, at least) in Ireland.
But we wanted to get married on June 16th, Bloomsday, right where the events of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses takes place.
We met while taking a few of the same literature classes in college. Ulysses and James Joyce’s work has always been something we’ve shared together. Every year we tried to celebrate Bloomsday, whether it be attending events in the city or just taking some time to read our favorite passages from the novel. It had been a dream of ours to someday visit Dublin and see all of the places mentioned in the book. After our engagement we spent a lot of time putting off wedding plans until one day it came to us like a divine intervention—we should get married in Dublin ON Bloomsday. And in four months after that decision was made, we were touching down in Ireland, getting ready to embark on the literary journey of a lifetime.
The next few days were jam-packed with literary and historical events. We visited the James Joyce Centre and the Dublin Writer’s Museum. Standing in a recreation of the room Joyce wrote Finnegan’s Wake in, staring at Joyce’s death mask, getting to knock on the actual door from 7 Eccles Street, and touching Joyce’s piano were all positively surreal experiences. We also visited Ulysses Rare Books where, while we didn’t have €30,000 to spare on the first edition of Ulysses, we splurged on the 1947 hardcover Random House first edition (and a first edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slapstick because, why not?). Soon enough, it was time for our big day.
We were married at St. Joseph’s Church on Berkeley Road with two of our dear friends as witnesses. After the small ceremony, some photo ops and a few celebratory glasses of champagne, we were ready to embark on our proper Bloomsday adventure. To summarize Ulysses (as best I can), the narrative follows the protagonist Leopold Bloom through his appointments and encounters in the course of an ordinary day, June 16, 1904 (this day was chosen because it was when James Joyce and his wife Nora Barnacle had their first date). During the day, Bloom befriends a young man by the name of Stephen Dedalus, who is a version of Joyce himself at age twenty-two, who also appeared as the main character of Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Many different locations are visited throughout the course of Ulysses, and we made it our mission to see as many of them as possible.
“He entered Davy Byrne’s. Moral pub.”
Our first stop was Davy Byrne’s bar. The whole street was filled with Bloomsday reenactors, all dressed as if they just stepped out of the early 1900s, complete with parasols and straw hats. The bar was packed, understandably so, but we were still able to grab a seat at the bar and get a plate of Gorgonzola and a nice, refreshing glass of burgundy. While we were there, many people noticed my veil and my husband and I were stopped by multiple people to have our pictures taken, be sent well wishes, and even sang to—we felt like celebrities! And while we could have relished that experience for hours, it was time to move on to the next leg of our journey: acquiring some lemon soap!
“Mr Bloom raised a cake to his nostrils. Sweet lemony wax.—I’ll take this one, he said.”
One of the most surreal experiences was going to Sweny’s, the actual pharmacy mentioned in Ulysses, and meeting James Joyce’s nephew (who bares a very striking resemblance to his author uncle). We were serenaded to (once again!) by the lovely staff at Sweny’s and had many riveting conversations about the novel with fellow fans, before departing with our bars of lemon soap in our pockets.
“They halted while Haines surveyed the tower and said at last:—Rather bleak in wintertime I should say. Martello you call it?”
Next up, it was time to hop on a train and head to beautiful Sandycove. Despite Ireland’s usual gloomy weather, we were blessed with a gorgeous day filled with sunshine. People were diving off of the rocks and swimming in the ocean!
While there, we visited Martello Tower, where the opening scenes of Ulysses are set and where Joyce himself spent six nights in 1904. Inside the tower is another museum dedicated to Joyce and his works.
After that, we journeyed back to our hotel. No visits to a maternity hospital or Bella Cohen’s brothel for us. It had been a pretty long day and we were ready for a nice meal and a good night’s rest. Man, I don’t know how Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus did it! They packed so much into one day, I would never have been able to keep up! From now on when my husband and I celebrate Bloomsday, we’ll also be celebrating our wedding anniversary—and the most amazing experience of our lives. I couldn’t be more happy to have had such a literary experience on the day I said I do… or as I should say: and yes I said yes I will Yes.
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