A great Bloomsday was had by all

June 27, 2024 in Featured News, News

Over 400 people came to Gardiner St Church for a novel Bloomsday event on Sunday 16 June 2024. Recently retired RTE newscaster Eileen Dunne and ex-RTE producer/presenter Gerry McArdle marked the 120th anniversary of the first Bloomsday by presenting ‘Joyce and the Jesuits’ in the inner city Dublin church.

Gerry is an actor, writer, and broadcaster. He played Buck Mulligan in the much-lauded 1982 RTÉ recording of Ulysses (available online »). For this event, he put together a 60-minute programme of readings from Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses, all of which highlighted the Joyce/Jesuit connections.

Songs from Joyce’s books and stories were also a feature of the event. Gerry was joined by Raphael Kelly and Suzanne Mangan, both well-known figures in Irish musical circles, and Eileen Dunne hosted the performance. According to Gerry, the large audience was “really receptive” to the songs and the readings. Many of them had begun the day with a Bloomsday breakfast at Belvedere College SJ. This was the school Joyce attended after his father could no longer afford the fees at Clongowes Wood College SJ.

The first reading was from A Portrait of the Artist, Gerry McArdle channelling Fr Arnall SJ’s sermon on hell. Readings and songs from Ulysses, and Dubliners followed. Read below a summary from Gerry McArdle of Joyce’s relationship with the Jesuits.

Admission to the performance was free but a voluntary collection raised a significant amount for the ongoing work on the church.

Joyce and the Jesuits

Ulysses was finally published in book form in 1922 when, according to Fr. George O’Neill SJ, one
of his teachers at Clongowes Wood College SJ, James Joyce was enjoying “regrettable celebrity”.

The main response to Ulysses in Ireland was to attack it on the grounds that it was anti-Catholic. Joyce
did have major issues with the Irish Catholic Church of the time, which he saw as ignorant, insular
and bullying, but his writings were steeped in Church history, philosophy and theology, which he
knew far better than the majority of Irish Catholic clerics who denounced him.

His notoriously anti-clerical brother, Stanislaus, said that “The earliest and most lasting influence on Jim’s life was Italian – the Roman Catholic Church”, and, if we’re honest, most of us today would find many of
the Irish Catholic practices of the early 20th century were somewhat strange and unacceptable.

Critic, historian, writer, and biographer Stephen Gwynn, one-time Irish Parliamentary MP and Protestant
advocate of Home Rule, whose wife had converted to Catholicism and whose eldest son, Aubrey,
was a Jesuit priest, wrote that: “Mr. Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus is the Catholic by nature and tradition,
who must revolt under the stress of an intellectual compulsion, to whom truth – the thing he sees as
true – speaks inexorably”.

So gradually, acceptance of the importance of Joyce to Irish literature became widespread, by
people of all faiths and none. In 1957, Fr JC Kelly SJ wrote,“James Joyce was not
primarily interested in Catholicism. His interest was in constructing works of art out of his raw
material, which was Dublin and Dubliners: a city and people predominantly Catholic.”

Poet Patrick Kavanagh claimed,“For Irish readers, the most remarkable fact about the conversion of Thomas Merton (Catholic monk and mystic) will be the large share the Irish Jesuits had in it, and the Jesuit
boy, James Joyce”. Joseph Strick, when he came to make his 1964 film of Ulysses, found the Jesuits completely cooperative, even allowing him to borrow the unique winged Jesuit cassocks of the period to dress his actors.

So claims that James Joyce hated the Catholic Church are vastly exaggerated, and we shouldn’t see
Stephen Dedalus as Joyce’s alter ego, but as a fictitious character based on the author. He had
problems with the brand of Catholicism practiced in Ireland in his day, and maintained a love-hate
relationship with the Church of Rome.

Even though he does poke gentle fun at certain individuals in the Society of Jesus, his affection for the Jesuits who educated him is palpable in his writings, and so it’s fitting to bring him back home to the inner city Jesuit Church of St. Francis Xavier in Dublin’s Gardiner St, a location which, alongside the nearby Belvedere College SJ, features in much of his work.

Gerry McArdle,

Bloomsday, 16 June, 2024.