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A Hundred Bloomsdays Flower : How Writers Have Remade Joyce’s Feast Day


A paper written by Philip Harvey for Bloomsday in Melbourne, 16th of June 2023 and read at the annual seminar upstairs at the Imperial Hotel, corner Bourke and Spring Streets in Melbourne, on Sunday the 18th of June. 


Who killed James Joyce?
I, said the commentator,
I killed James Joyce
For my graduation.

What weapon was used
To slay mighty Ulysses?
The weapon that was used
Was a Harvard thesis.

How did you bury Joyce?
In a broadcast Symposium.
That's how we buried Joyce
To a tuneful encomium.

Who carried the coffin out?
Six Dublin codgers
Led into Langham Place
By W.R. Rodgers.

Who said the burial prayers? —
Please do not hurt me —
Joyce was no Protestant,
Surely not Bertie?

Who killed Finnegan?
I, said a Yale-man,
I was the man who made
The corpse for the wake man.

And did you get high marks,
The Ph.D.?
I got the B.Litt.
And my master's degree.

Did you get money
For your Joycean knowledge?
I got a scholarship
To Trinity College.

I made the pilgrimage
In the Bloomsday swelter
From the Martello Tower
To the cabby's shelter.

(Kavanagh 239) 

Patrick Kavanagh’s poem "Who Killed James Joyce?" was written in 1951, three years before the famous Bloomsday excursion Kavanagh, Flann O’Brien and their literary friends made from Sandy Cove Martello Tower on the day in question, making it as far as the second pub. The poem encapsulates a view held by Dublin writers of the time, that James Joyce had become a product of American academe, separated from Joyce’s proper place in the heart of the Hibernian Metropolis. They were out to reclaim Joyce for Ireland.

The word Bloomsday does not appear in ‘Ulysses’. To believe Richard Ellmann and other biographical sources, the word emerged into usage in Parisian literary circles during the 1920s, as the meaning of One Day in the Life of Leopold Bloom, a wordplay on Doomsday. The word took imaginative hold of the readership. June 16 was set aside for parties of the cognoscenti, for celebratory readings and discussion of this amazing new fictional tour de force in the French capital. It was a case of being in-the-know. 

Today it is commonplace to describe Bloomsday as a literary secular feast day. The global outbreak of celebrations that began in the 1990s has still not been adequately analysed as a cultural phenomenon. This happened 70 years after publication of ‘Ulysses’ and coincidentally, or not, with the takeover of the computer and online as universal means of communication. The biblical 70 years represents a whole lifetime of absorbing the shock of the new. Documentation of Bloomsday today has reached extravagant proportions, though not as extravagant as the literature surrounding ‘Ulysses’ itself. 

One creative response to the Bloomsday phenomenon comes in the form of fiction. Today I wish to introduce you to six novels (there are others) in which Bloomsday is a main theme and driving force of narrative. Read in chronological order they describe the changing nature of Bloomsday celebrations in the past sixty years and writers’ different ways of responding to ‘Ulysses’ in creative acts of fiction. They are a subset, too, of Ulysses reception history.      

My readings of these books are posted individually on this site under the heading ‘Bloomsday Novels’. The posted readings are longer than in the paper itself, which had to be tailored to 30 minutes reading time: 

‘The James Joyce murder’, by Carolyn Gold Heilbrun, writing under the penname Amanda Cross (1967, American)

‘Cicada Gambit’, by Martin Johnston (1983, Australian)

‘The Death of a Joyce Scholar’ by Bartholomew Gill (1989, American)

‘The Bloomsday Dead’, by Adrian McKinty (2006, Irish)

‘South of Broad’ by Pat Conroy (2009, American)

‘Further Adventures of James Joyce’ by Colm Herron (2010, Irish) – unavailable at time of writing

‘Dublinesque’, by Enrique Vila-Matas (2012, Spanish) 


I wish to conclude with a second Bloomsday poem, this one published online in 2021 by the Irish poet Mary O'Donnell, “My Mother says No on Bloomsday.”

It is not easy, it is not easy
to wheel an old woman to the shower

on Bloomsday, when the world
and Molly cry yes, yes, yes,

and she is saying no, no, no,
because what’s left of her life

depends on the freedom of No.
How Joycean of her

to resist the cleaned-up conscience
of filial attention, your need

to fix her taints and odours,
wash hair and teeth,

attend to toes when all she wants
is to float on the lily-leaf of her own

green bedspread, drowsing Molly
in a tangle of snow-white hair.

Now, dreams enclose her
more than talk of showers or meals,

the flowing waters of memory
rise and touch her skin

just where the mattress eases
spine and bones

in that yellow-walled room.
Hello, my darling, she greets

his photograph, flinging kisses
towards mottled frame.

To her then,
the logic of love,

to her, the logic of No,
her tongue untameable.


Eileen Battersby. ‘Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas : a delicious Joycean picaresque’, in The Irish Times, 16 June 2015: 

Pat Conroy. South of Broad. Doubleday, 2009 

Peter Costello & Peter van de Kamp. Flann O’Brien : an illustrated biography. Bloomsbury, 1987 

Pedro M. Domene. Enrique Vila-Matas: the last writer, an interview with Vila-Matas in Literal Magazine No. 21: 

Richard Ellmann. James Joyce. New and revised edition. Oxford University Press, 1983 

Curtis Evans. ‘Antic hay : The James Joyce Murder (1967), by Amanda Cross’ in The Passing Tramp blog, 29 January, 2021: 

Curtis Evans. ‘Town mouse, country mouse : Richard Nunley on Amanda Cross’s The James Joyce Murder (1967), in The Passing Tramp blog, 30 January, 2021: 

Desmond Fennell. Bloomsway : a day in the life of Dublin. Poolbeg Press, 1990 

Bartholomew Gill. The Death of a Joyce Scholar : a Peter McGarr mystery. William Morrow, 1989 

Carolyn Gold Heilbrun (penname, Amanda Cross). The James Joyce murder. Macmillan, 1967, reprinted Ballantine Books, 1982 

Colm Herron. Further Adventures of James Joyce. Colm Herron Publishing, 2010 

The James Joyce Society (New York City): 

Martin Johnston. Cicada Gambit. Hale & Iremonger, 1983 

James Joyce. Ulysses. The Bodley Head, 1937 

Patrick Kavanagh. The complete poems. Collected, arranged and edited by Peter Kavanagh. The Peter Kavanagh Hand Press; The Goldsmith Press, 1972    

Jonathan McCreedy. ‘The death of a Joyce scholar and Further adventures of James Joyce’ in Joyce Studies in Italy, 13, Edizioni, 2012   

Adrian McKinty. The Bloomsday Dead.  Simon & Schuster, 2006

Enrique Vila-Matas. Dublinesque. Harvill Secker, 2012 

Mary O’Donnell. ‘Poem of the week: My mother says No to Bloomsday, by Mary O’Donnell’ presented by Carol Rumens in The Guardian online, 14 June 2021:

Nadia Wheatley, Remembering Martin Johnston. Online:







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