Time to re-Joyce! A celebration of Irish-Montreal heritage, culture and literature

Festival Bloomsday Montreal

Sláinte—to your health! You don’t have to be Irish and you don’t have to have read Ulysses to enjoy the 11th annual Festival Bloomsday Montreal, June 11-16, 2022. This year celebrates 100 years since James Joyce’s groundbreaking novel was published.

There are worldwide festivities on Bloomsday, June 16, the day in 1904 that the story’s main character Leopold Bloom took his now-famous walk around Dublin.

Festival Bloomsday Montreal is the largest Bloomsday Festival outside Dublin with events spread over six days. This year most events will be hybrid: accessible in person and/or online through Zoom livestreaming. Forty percent of Quebecers have some Irish ancestry and this eclectic festival boosts local pride along with building awareness of diverse cultures and identities. Festival Bloomsday Montreal president Kevin Wright is pleased to invite Montrealers and people from around the world to this Irish culture fest rich with music, literature, cuisine, discussions and art, starting on June 11 and leading up to Bloomsday, June 16, when local actors and Joyce enthusiasts read selections from Ulysses. This year honours 100 years since James Joyce’s masterpiece was first published. Most events are free or pay-what-you-decide.

“James Joyce had a quirky interest in numbers. To him, the number 11 was the number of ‘start over’. This year, Festival Bloomsday Montréal marks its eleventh anniversary, ready to start over in a number of ways. Most importantly, it will re-start having events in person. The numbers will be limited but the audiences will be live,” said Wright.

One highlight in this milestone year is the Canadian première of Ukrainian composer Thomas de Hartmann’s “6 Commentaries from Ulysses by James Joyce”. Rarely performed, this modernist, lyrical work has a surprising Montreal connection; De Hartmann’s heir is retired Montreal math teacher, Thomas A. G. Daly. Daly, who owns the rights to the piece, explained the back story, “De Hartmann and his wife Olga survived World War II in Garches, near Paris. They lived in a deserted house because the Germans had occupied their own, but a piano was there and, inspired by Verlaine, Proust and James Joyce, Thomas set their works to music. I am delighted that this suite of songs is going to be performed for the first time in Canada, and I can’t wait to hear it live.” Mezzo soprano Geraldina Mendez will be accompanied on the piano by Maria Teresa Vera. This will be followed by another Canadian première, Of Thyme and Rosemary, a one-act play by Debra Weiss.  The play is a comical encounter between James Joyce and Marcel Proust. Actor-playwright Arthur Holden and creative director John Hernan will bring, arguably, ‘the two greatest writers of the 20th century’ to life.

Jam-packed events for the 6-day program
Events this year include an introduction from the Ambassador of Ireland to Canada, Eamonn McKee in lively conversation with renowned Joyce scholar and Bloomsday favourite, Professor John McCourt; an exploration of the work and career of poet and performer Rachel McCrum; a gourmet meal and cooking class at Appetite for Books with star chef, Jonathan Cheung; an eclectic academic panel of Joyceans including Dr. Andre Furlani of Concordia and multi-faceted musician Benjamin P. Wentzelberg of Harvard; a Haunted Old Montreal walk led by Irish-Canadian historian Donovan King; and a concert by outstanding fiddle duo, Archetype Trad (Kate Bevan-Baker & Émilie Brûlé ).

Other artists and personalities contributing to this year’s festival are veteran broadcaster Dennis Trudeau; Joyicity editor Samara O’Gorman; author Anne Lewis; New York-based Joycean, Elizabeth Salerno; caricaturist Craig Morriss; and Order of Canada recipient, stage director Elsa Bolam.

Now that people can gather in public, the Sunday Brunch is back; June 12, at 11:30am at the Burgundy Lion. Their $20 brunch menu has something for everyone. This is a great opportunity to join Bloomsday supporters and friends and raise a glass of Irish cheer.

As always, Bloomsday itself, June 16, is dedicated to readings from the famous novel. Banned and celebrated for its sex and anticlericalism, shunned and cherished for its stylistic complexity, the book is best savoured by hearing it read aloud. For the occasion, Wright has cherry-picked some of his favourite passages. Readers gathering at the Westmount Public Library include stalwarts Pat Machin, Liam Phelan-Cox, and the ever-popular Curran sisters, Peggy and Colleen, who can always be counted on to ‘bring the craic’. Finally, Festival Bloomsday Montréal Artistic Director Kathleen Fee brings the festival to a close with Molly Bloom’s bedroom musings. Actor and character voice artist Fee has been reading from the final section of Ulysses since the beginning of the festival. This last, challenging chapter is a reverie of yearning, regret and ultimately, acceptance. As festival founder Dave Schurman described it many years ago, “James Joyce’s Ulysses is about love, betrayal, forgiveness, nationalism, otherness, compromise, memory and music. But at its core, it’s about a man and a woman, living in a city, asking lots of questions and remembering the past. Basically, it’s how we all make it through the day.”

For the entire event schedule, venues, updates and registration information:  www.bloomsdaymontreal.com or 438-969-2528. Many events fill up quickly.

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