andrew burke





Bloomsday Halifax: Hades at Holy Cross Cemetery

Posted on: 2024-07-02

I'm describing my big Bloomsday Halifax project by writing up what I did for each episode. This is the sixth in the series, covering Episode 6 of "Ulysses": "Hades".

In episode 6, Bloom rides with several others to the Glasnevin Cemetery at the edge of town to the funeral of their friend Paddy Dignam, paralleling Odysseus' visit to Hades in the Odyssey.

I had many ideas for this episode, but none of them really worked out, to be honest. I think it still worked as an experience, since it's an interesting place to visit anyhow, but there weren't any elaborate handmade props or special performances or anything.

The first challenge was to figure out where in Halifax to set this episode. To match the book, perhaps the Fairview Cemetery at the edge of the peninsula would have been more geographically accurate. However, we have plenty of interesting cemeteries closer to the core. My first thought was the famous Camp Hill Cemetery, which features the famous and popular graves of Alexander Keith, Joseph Howe, Robert Stanfield, and Viola Desmond, among others. However, it's mainly a protestant cemetery. Instead, the Catholic Holy Cross Cemetery several blocks to the south, with many Irish names, seemed much more appropriate. It too is fascinating, the resting place of one of Canada's briefest-serving Prime Minsters, and home to a chapel which was built in one single day in 1843 by 2000 volunteers.

I spent an afternoon looking at every tombstone in the cemetery (it turns out only 10% or so of the 25,000 people buried there have one) looking for a "Dignam" that Bloomsday participants could gather around. I couldn't find one, alas, nor could I even find one with a name similar to any of the characters in Ulysses.

Near the end of the episode, Bloom notices a mysterious man in a Mackintosh raincoat standing alone among the graves. He's never given a name, and doesn't do anything in particular (though he's randomly mentioned later in the book) but he's been an enigma that has puzzled readers for over a century now. I had hoped to maybe have someone standing around in a raincoat at the cemetery between 10 and 11am, but it didn't work out. I thought about doing it myself but I don't have an appropriate coat and had a lot of other things going on that day. Hopefully next year.

Speaking of next year, while going back through my own version of the app while writing this I tried to access the content for the Hades content even though I hadn't visited the cemetery on Bloomsday, and came across what I call my "brigadoon box":

An app popup reading Bloomsday 2024 is over. You can no longer visit new locations - but you can review the ones you visited. See you again in 2025!

While I wasn't strict about the specific times of day for the Bloomsday episodes, it was important for me to make this a single day event. In this world of always-on entertainment and stream-on-demand media, I think it's good to sometimes lock things down to only a very specific timeframe. The original versions of this software were designed for the live performances of "This Is Nowhere" and it felt natural to keep the limited performance spirit even in this less structured experience. (It also of course helped that the software already supported start and finish times.)

I refer to this limitation as "Brigadoon", after the mythic Scottish village that appears only for one day every century. Making things time-limited can make them feel more special. Just ask Supreme.

That said, since Bloomsday 2025 will be on a Monday, I might extend it to include the previous weekend.

Finally, for the background image, I mashed up an archival image of the gates of the Glasnevin Cemetery with the big colourful sign and Canadian flag at the entrance to Holy Cross. I'll admit it's not the finest of the Bloomsday backgrounds, but it gets the job done!

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