LOVERS of Irish literature and music are being invited to join a celebration of the writer James Joyce.

The 40th annual Oxford Bloomsday, which takes place tomorrow, will feature songs, poetry and readings, and for the first time, will be online.

Bloomsday is celebrated all over the world on June 16 and commemorates the work of Joyce – one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

June 16 is the day on which his 1922 novel Ulysses is set. The event is named after the book's main character Leopold Bloom.

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The Bloomsday celebration was launched by Oxford musician Michael Henry, famed for his repertoire of Irish songs, and is usually held upstairs at Oxford’s Port Mahon pub.

Due to the lockdown it will be streamed in the form of a film with contributions recorded by writers Terry Eagleton, Tom Paulin, Iggy McGovern, Keith Hopper and Bernard O'Donoghue, and by musicians Gerald Garcia, Pam Cooper, John Pethica, Teresa and Caitriona Moran, and Nick Hooper – who wrote the scores for two of the Harry Potter films.

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Mr Henry, 80, was born in the West of Ireland and moved to Oxford in his early 20s. He said: "The Joyce night has been celebrated in Oxford for 40 years. This wasn't the 40th anniversary we expected, but with it being shown on the internet we hope many people can enjoy what we have been enjoying doing for so long."

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Adrian O’Neill, Irish Ambassador to the UK, praised the event, saying: “I am delighted to extend my best wishes to Oxford’s Bloomsday celebration on this especially auspicious occasion, which marks the 40th anniversary of the event. It is also Oxford Bloomsday’s first celebration in this new, socially distant but virtually connected space. While different in character, I have no doubt it will be equally impactful.

"Mick Henry deserves enormous credit for promoting a successful Bloomsday each year. To everyone partaking in this Joycean celebration, I wish you a happy Bloomsday. 'Beir bua agus beannacht'.”

Poet Bernard O'Donoghue said: “Apart from the Bloomsday events, Mick Henry has been the main organiser of Irish cultural events in Oxford for more than 40 years.

From 1986 to 1990, he organised a series of festivals called Oxford-Ireland from 1986, which brought a major galaxy of Irish stars to Oxford. We should acknowledge his importance to Irish cultural life in Oxford at this extraordinary juncture this year."

Also performing is Mr Henry’s daughter, Anna Henry. She said: "The Joyce night was started 40 years ago when my dad met Richard Ellman, Joyce's biographer. He read at the first-ever Oxford Bloomsday and every year Oxford has carried on the celebration of Joyce's work.

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"With my dad's lack of IT skills, my siblings and I decided to take it forward in an online form, that we hope everyone enjoys, as it holds such great memories for us. We look forward to welcoming the people of Oxford and beyond tonight."

Oxford promoter Autumn Neagle, is helping to organise the evening. She said: "It's been fantastic to help out with the event, even if it's just from my living room, as so many amazing events in Oxford have sadly been cancelled or put on hold during lockdown.

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"Everyone has really come together to make it happen, from Oxford and even over in Ireland. The performers jumped at the chance to contribute with readings or music, and it's been quite a family affair with Mick's sons and daughter getting behind it, working hard to get in touch with the artists and overcome these challenges.

"Amazingly a family friend offered to edit the film together and screen it online, so the show will go on!

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"In such difficult times for all, it's heart-warming to see such talented and creative people gather together and reach into people's homes, to celebrate Irish culture but, more importantly, to hopefully bring a smile to people's faces and maybe even a jig around the kitchen.

"Tune in, come for the Craic, but stay for an evening of music, poetry and song to remember - and don't forget to raise a glass!"

The evening starts at 7.30pm tomorrow (Tuesday) and can be viewed at oxfordbloomsday.live/2020

Who is playing:

  • Award-winning poet Bernard O'Donoghue a former emeritus fellow of Wadham College, Oxford
  • Literary theorist Terry Eagleton
  • Northern Irish poet and critic Tom Paulin, of Hertford College, Oxford
  • Classical guitarist and composer Gerald Garcia
  • Film and TV composer Nick Hooper
  • Oxford University teacher and writer Keith Hopper
  • Irish poet and academic Iggy Mcgovern
  • Musicians Pam Cooper, John Pethica,Teresa and Caitriona Moran and Anna Henry