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Bloomsday: a Joycean celebration

It’s June 16, 1904, and Dubliner Leopold Bloom goes out for breakfast.

As another day in his life unfolds, he sees, feels, reflects and remembers. It is all a part of James Joyce’s Ulysses, a masterwork considered one of the most difficult in modern literature.

Though the character Bloom springs from Joyce’s own imagination, the portrait of Dublin and the author’s world are universally real, as Joyce’s work is imbued with an absolute realism that is best achieved in fiction.

It is Bloom, one of the main protagonists in the book, that gave rise to Bloomsday, now celebrated in more than 60 countries on June 16 in honour of Joyce and his art.

Dave Schurmann discovered Ulysses as a university student in 1964 and read it several times over the next 25 years. “I kept reading it — four complete read-throughs cover-to-cover.

Then, an epiphany. “It is not a book that has to be read in any sequence,” Schurmann realized. “You can start anywhere. Now I just open it randomly and get a whole lot of stuff out of it.”

In 2011 Dave launched a Ulysses study group at the McGill Institute for Learning in Retirement. His wife of 43 years, Judith, also a Joyce devotee, was one of 15 people who signed up.

The couple experienced their first Bloomsday on a 2007 trip to Ireland.

They saw “how wonderful Bloomsday was in Ireland, how you see people outside reading from Ulysses in different languages,” Judith said.

That inspired local Ulysses’ lovers, with the help of the McGill institute, to launch the first Festival Bloomsday Montréal five years ago. It is also the only Bloomsday in the world that is held over several days. A large number of Quebecers, 40 per cent, can claim some Irish ancestry, Judith says.

The festival kicks off June 12 with walking tours, in English and French, of once mainly Irish Griffintown.

On June 13 a musical event, Stories Told and Sung, at the Atwater Library, features readings and songs from the book.

One of the most popular events, on June 16 at the Westmount Library, features dramatic readings from Ulysses by local media personalities and actors. But rather than straight readings, participants take different roles and act out scenes from the text.

Other events June 12-16 include a Bloomsday Brunch with a special menu, Molly Bloom, performed by Kathleen Fee at the Irish Embassy Pub & Grill, and a talk by experts from Concordia’s School of Irish Studies.

A film, The Bloody Irish, will be shown only once in Montreal, June 13th, 6:30pm, at Cinema du Parc followed by a Q & A there. The film is of the musical about the Easter Rising.

On June 16 there will be a closing lecture at the Jewish Public Library, An Epic of Two Races: Jewish and Irish Memory in Joyce’s Ulysses, by New York University’s Abby Bender, a professor of Irish Studies, with music and a reception.

For the complete program visit bloomsdaymontreal.com.

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