Bloomsday Anniversaries

“And I ask you, friend
What’s a fella to do
’cause her hair was black and her eyes were blue
So I took her hand
And I gave her a twirl
And I lost my heart to a Galway girl”

–Steve Earle, “Galway Girl”

A hundred years ago today, a Galway girl gave a Dublin boy a handjob on Dollymount Strand. It was their first date, and the grateful boy later turned the day into a secular feast by setting Ulysses on the 16th of June, 1904. It’s a fine thing to celebrate: carnal delight, first love, and a gift that augured a long and loving marriage. His Nora Barnacle turned out to be as loyal as her name, and I have extra fondness for a man whose love and art were real enough to hold as his muse an earthy wife instead of a goddess. (Centenary bonus: I just collected–a few months after it was delivered to a friend’s house–a biography of that Galway girl sent by a reader of this site. Thank you!)

Three years ago today, the bodacious Caitriona married Dan De Luce. He’s stoic about celebrating the day with his bridesmaid in New York, where he’s looking for a new gig, but he misses his wife–and her five-month pregnancy bump–back in Dublin.

And June 16th, 1972, on the feast of the Dollymount handjob, my 22-year-old mother gave birth to me in a bush hospital in Zambia. Gave birth. That’s some birthday gift, when you think about it. She was thousands of miles from home, with little medical help, and it was a hard and frightening time for her. Today I’m thinking about how brave she was, and wishing I could go back in time to tell her it would turn out fine.

20 thoughts on “Bloomsday Anniversaries”

  1. Thanks! And happy belated birthday to you too, Chris. And to Jack in Nova Scotia, who I’ve just discovered is my age to the day…


  2. Happy birthday, Dervala!

    Did you see the film Nora, by – I think – Anne Devlin? It’s a wonderful, realistic portrait of marital love, I think (like I would know 😉


  3. Happy Birthday…

    And to me too, also born on 16 June ’72 in the slightly less interesting but infinitely more Bloomy location of Dublin city.

    (As you can see I also have the Joycean talent for murdering (sorry, I meant ‘reinventing’) the English language).


  4. Happy birthday! Have you ever read his dirty letters to Nora? Full of odes to her farts and other extremely racy grotesqueries.. They’re lurking somewhere on the internet.

    I’ve been reading this since SE Asia but couldn’t ever say anything that would’ve done justice to the fantastic stories of your adventures!


  5. Am just finishiing my way mucking through Ellmann’s bio of Joyce. Books by the Irish seem better than those about them. Happy 25th birthday!


  6. Ooh! Hi everyone, happy birthday Mark, and thanks so much for all the good wishes (especially as I’ve been a neglectful host of late.)

    From my modest mum, who is learning to use Hotmail and practising with me:

    “As for me being brave in Zambia I would rather suggest it was the foolhardiness of the young.”


  7. Happy belated Birthday Dervala. Now that you are one year older and wiser you will find the urge to post more.

    I like that Steve Earle song: unfortunately these days the Galway girl is bleached blonde, browned-eyed, and orange skin.

    And whats a fella to do? Nothing, that’s what.


  8. My wife and I were at the Bloom bash in Dublin last month. I think we found where the handjob the day commemorates took place. A thistle bush marks the spot. Seeds of the master.

    I just discovered your blog. Loved the account of your Inca trail trek. I was there many years ago, like the year you were born, come to think of it, and hope to return next year.


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