PORTLAND – It was standing room only in an upstairs room at Bull Feeney’s Pub on Tuesday night as close to 100 spectators, many of them draining mugs of Guinness stout, gathered in the Old Port to learn more about James Joyce’s epic novel, “Ulysses.”

Eighteen chapters and 1,000 pages long, the book published in 1922 still generates interest that surprised even Susan Reilly, one of the event’s organizers.

“It can be dense and somewhat difficult for people to read,” Reilly said. “What we are trying to do is to make ‘Ulysses’ more accessible to the general public.”

Reilly’s husband, Tony, read the book and condensed it into a one-hour presentation, called “Ulysses for Beginners.”

“To really appreciate it, you have to study it. What (Joyce) did was brilliant,” Tony Reilly said.

Tuesday’s event at Bull Feeney’s was Portland’s effort to recognize Bloomsday, the day on which the Irish author’s novel takes place.

Cities in more than 40 countries were scheduled to celebrate Bloomsday.

Members of the American Irish Repertory Ensemble performed “Ulysses for Beginners” at Bull Feeney’s.

The hour-long program used scenes, songs and humor to help people understand the novel’s story line.

Tony Reilly started off by reading a few lines from “Ulysses,” and promptly started to snore before announcing, “That’s about as far as most people get.”

Reilly said the novel is basically a simple story chronicling the passage of Leopold Bloom through Dublin on an ordinary day — June 16, 1904.

The novel establishes parallels between its characters and events in Homer’s “Odyssey.”

“This presentation was designed for those who will never read ‘Ulysses,’ ” Reilly added.

Michelle Doyle of Portland came to the event to learn more about “Ulysses” and to be entertained.

She said she started to read “Ulysses,” but when asked how much she read, Doyle confessed, “not much.”

The celebration will continue today at the Maine Irish Heritage Center on Gray Street. Portland Mayor Nicholas M. Mavodones Jr. will join WCSH 6 anchorman Pat Callaghan and others in reading excerpts from all 18 chapters of “Ulysses.”

The program is scheduled to start at 5 p.m.

It will feature live music, films and refreshments.

Longfellow Books in Monument Square is offering a 20 percent discount on all books by Joyce during the month of June.

A six-week course on “Ulysses” will begin on July 1 at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Southern Maine.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]