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There is one particular Bloomsday experience I will never forget. Just after completing my dissertation at the University of Miami, a local Irish cultural group invited me to speak at their2015 Bloomsday celebration. The schedule of events was a short reading from the organizers, my presentation, and then we formed a procession led by uilleann piper to an Irish pub on the next street.
Being a textual scholar, but not wanting to bore the audience of non-academics, I decided to tell them about the textual evolution of Bloom’s potato. I explained how it grew from a mystery in the manuscripts and early drafts to a folk remedy, to a memento of his mother, to a mythic talisman that saves Bloom and Stephen from the evil forces of Dublin’s Nighttown. This is a funny element in the novel that turned out to be the perfect topic. My wife suggested that I bring a bowl of tiny potatoes to hand out after the presentation (genius idea).
The audience was primarily local retirees and their reluctant spouses, but as soon as I finished my presentation and invited them to take a tiny potato as a “preventative against plague and pestilence,” they flooded the lectern and nearly came to blows over the tiny tubers. There were plenty of potatoes to go around, however, so we followed the piper to the pub, potatoes in pockets. Once there, I was presented with a pint of Guinness from one of the attendees who showed me their potato. That was followed by three more pints from potato-wielding patrons. I was invited from table to table, given pint after pint, and asked how I knew so much about potatoes. Never in my academic career before or since has anyone showed such enthusiastic interest in my work—not even my amazing dissertation advisor or my parents. I am forever grateful to the Miami Emerald Society and the confidence they instilled in me that day.