Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I’m very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.Bill Shankly, 1981
James Joyce leaves us in no doubt that the events portrayed in his novel Ulysses take place on 16 June 1904. Unfortunately, he is not as forthright in providing an equivalent date for Finnegans Wake. Instead he provides only riddles wrapped in mysteries inside enigmas. But, perhaps there is a key.
In “Wake” Rites, George Cinclair Gibson explores three major theories regarding the controversy surrounding the date of the Wake: Easter, the vernal equinox, and the Celtic May Day (Beltane).1 He presents compelling evidence that the Wake is actually based on the Teamhur Feis (Festival of Tara) conducted on Easter Sunday, A.D. 25 March 433, and the extraordinary convergence of Christian, pagan, and seasonal events occurring on that day.
Prior to reading “Wake” Rites, I had started my own research into the possible date of the Wake. While the Teamhur Feis may indeed be the definitive model for Finnegans Wake, I believe I can establish a modern-day equivalent for at least a portion of the Wake. The events in chapter 11 (Book II.3, pages 309–82) occur inside HCE’s public house. The key is the radio or, to be more precise, what we hear and what Earwicker and his patrons hear on the radio. Joyce left us an indisputable factual clue to the exact date of the proceedings inside the tavern.
Throughout the chapter, the transmission of a radio broadcast is [End Page 362] heard in the background noise of the pub. At FW 378.17–19, we read the following: “He’s alight there still, by Mike! Loose afore! Bung! Bring forth your deed! Bang! Till is the right time. Bang! Partick Thistle agen S. Megan’s versus Brystal Palace agus the Walsall! Putsch!” The names of four association football (soccer) clubs are coupled in this passage: Partick Thistle, St. Mirren, Crystal Palace, and Walsall. Their placement together suggests a specific date when these teams competed and the results of the matches then broadcast over the radio that night. I checked the number of times the teams played each other in their respective leagues from the date of the publication of Ulysses in February 1922 to that of Finnegans Wake in May 1939.
During these years, Partick Thistle and St. Mirren competed in the Scottish Football League (First Division). In the eighteen football seasons spanning these years, they faced each other a total of thirty-seven times.2 There were thirty-three league games, three Scottish Cup games, and the Paisley Charity Cup Final in 1936. Crystal Palace and Walsall competed in Division Three (South) in England, and from 1922 to 1939, they had fourteen league encounters.3 These two English teams met less frequently than their Scottish counterparts since Walsall played only seven seasons in the southern section during this period.
In the seventeen years Joyce was writing Finnegans Wake, the twin pairing of Partick Thistle versus St. Mirren and Crystal Palace versus Walsall occurred once and only once. On that day, St. Mirren played host to Partick Thistle in a 2–2 draw, “afore!” at Love Street, Paisley, Scotland. At Selhurst Park, London, Walsall was defeated by a four-goal margin ("Loose afore!"), as Crystal Palace secured a 5–1 victory at home. The reporting of the results of these two specific football matches accounts for the simultaneous mention of all four teams on the radio sports bulletin heard that evening in HCE’s pub.
The day is Saturday, the date, 7 April 1928. It is Holy Saturday. The following day is Easter Sunday.
The following entries are in one of the last notebooks to be compiled by Joyce circa late 1937-early 1938 (JJA 39:79, 89–90).
Then in a handwritten notation, Joyce incorporates these lines into the typescript (JJA 55:512), probably in 1938, according to David Hayman...