Bloomsday Montreal: Celebrating a classic of Irish culture

The closing event on June 16 will be a lecture by Abby Bender, who has taught in the Irish Studies program at New York University for the last 10 years.

Bloomsday Montreal, an annual festival marking the events in James Joyce’s Irish stream-of-consciousness novel Ulysses and a celebration of Irish culture in general, will present a wide variety of activities in various locales from June 12 to 16.

The festival began in Dublin June 16, 1954, to commemorate the anniversary of Irish Jew Leopold Bloom’s fictional journey throughout that famed city. Ulysses depicted Bloom’s day as having taken place June 16, 1904.

Bloomsday has since spread to other cities. Montreal, the only Canadian locale to celebrate the festival over several days, will host Joyce enthusiasts in an exploration of this city’s Irish heritage. This will include walking tours through Griffintown and Little Burgundy, an Irish brunch, academic panels delving into various aspects of Ulysses, a showing of the film The Bloody Irish, storytelling, a depiction of Ulysses character Molly Bloom and dramatic readings of the novel.

A highlight of the festival will be its closing event, a lecture by Abby Bender on An Epic of Two Races: Jewish and Irish Memory in Joyce’s Ulysses, being held at the Jewish Public Library, 5151 Côte Ste. Catherine Road, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday June 16.

Bender, assistant professor of the Practice in English at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale, New York, has taught in the Irish Studies program at New York University (NYU) for the last 10 years.

“I’ll be speaking about the way that Joyce noticed that the Jews and the Irish remember the past, and the kind of convergences and differences involved — in particular the uses of the Exodus story as a narrative of liberation,” Bender told The Suburban in a phone interview. “Joyce takes what was, at that point, a stale cliché — the story of the Israelite liberation from Egyptian bondage as an analogy for the Irish anti-colonial struggle — and renews it in Ulysses, after the Irish have already moved on to a New Testament narrative of liberation. Joyce goes back and finds how the Exodus story is, in fact, much more complicated, ambivalent and interesting.”

Bender, who also studied in Dublin, is looking forward to speaking to attendees at the Jewish Public Library. “The audience will include the Joyceans and the Jewish community, and that kind of combination is ideal for this talk.”

For more information on the festival, consult bloomsdaymontreal.com

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