Imaginary Friends

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By Niall McArdle

James Joyce did Dublin more than one favour. It is difficult to think of the city without thinking of its most famous literary son and exile. Although he left the “centre of paralysis” for the more interesting boulevards of Paris, Trieste and Zurich, and returned only briefly in his youth before going into exile on the continent, he was obsessed with his hometown and wrote about little else. Like many an Irish emigrant, he never really managed to let go of the place, something I discuss here.


He continually asked relatives at home for details of the city so that when he composed Ulysses he boasted that if Dublin was destroyed, it could be rebuilt brick by brick from the pages of the novel. As it happens, he needn’t have worried: it gets rebuilt every year on Bloomsday.

Every year on June 16th thousands of people descend on the city for the oddest, most high-faluting cosplay event in the world.

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There is something perverse in the idea of Bloomsday: otherwise well-adjusted adults dressing up as fictional characters and ambling around the streets of Dublin, breakfasting on the inner organs of beasts and fowls, stopping into the city’s pubs for burgundy and gorgonzola, walking into eternity along Sandymount strand.

There will be a lot of Joycean enjoyment tomorrow in Dublin. A lot of music and song. You’ll see cyclists in Edwardian get-up zooming around St. Stephen’s Green. You’ll see an awful lot of linen suits and straw boaters and ashplant sticks. If you’re in Blackrock tomorrow evening you’ll see a tall drink of water and some his friends act and sing songs in A Play on Ulysses.


The tall drink of water happens to be the brother, so say ‘hello’ from me.

What does it all mean? How many of the Bloomsday participants have actually read the novel in full? And if they haven’t, does that matter? Not even Joyce’s drinking buddy Ernest Hemingway, who declared the novel “a damn fine book”, bothered to read the whole thing.


Is Bloomsday good or bad for the city? Is it good or bad for literature? The Joycean Cult seems to grow bigger each year; only Trekkies or perhaps Dudeists can rival Joyceans for devotion to imaginary people.

If you haven’t read the book, you can pick up a copy here.

Or you can read the whole thing 140 characters at a time on Twitter.

There are scores of books devoted to Joyce’s masterpiece. One that I would recommend highly is Declan Kiberd’s marvellous Ulysses and Us


STATELY, PLUMP BUCK MULLIGAN CAME FROM THE STAIRHEAD, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressing gown, ungirdled, was sustained gently-behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

Introibo ad altare Dei.

Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called up coarsely:

— Come up, Kinch. Come up, you fearful jesuit.

Solemnly he came forward and mounted the round gunrest. He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding country and the awaking mountains. Then, catching sight of Stephen Dedalus, he bent towards him and made rapid crosses in the air, gurgling in his throat and shaking his head. Stephen Dedalus, displeased and sleepy, leaned his arms on the top of the staircase and looked coldly at the shaking gurgling face that blessed him, equine in its length, and at the light untonsured hair, grained and hued like pale oak.

3 thoughts on “Imaginary Friends

  1. I think perhaps people willing to do this sort of thing are actually more well-adjusted than those who are too uptight to consider letting their imaginations take over for a time.
    I’m visiting from the A to Z challenge list. One of the blogs that my team participated in the challenge with is Poetry of the Netherworld.


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