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Bloomsday Again

Bloomsday — james-joyce

21st Annual Celebration of Irish Arts

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Program: 4-9 p.m.

Drexel Hall, 15 W. Linwood, K.C. MO 64111

On Thursday, June 16, the Kansas City Irish Center presents the 21st annual “Bloomsday” celebration in honor of James Joyce’s novel, Ulysses.

Joyce’s Ulysses is the story of 24 hours in the life of Leopold Bloom who, like his Greek counterpart of old, confronts cyclops and sirens while navigating the streets, pubs and bordellos of 1904 Dublin in search of home. It’s a vivid portrait of a city and time never to be seen again.

In Ireland and around the world, June 16 is commemorated as “Bloomsday” and manifested by tributes to Joyce, marathon readings of Ulysses, and celebrations of Irish literature and music.



 Here’s a schedule of the festivities on June 16 at Drexel Hall, 15 W. Linwood:

  •  4-5:15 p.m.: A showing of the documentary Joyce to the World.
  • 5:30-6:45 p.m.: Local Irish troubadour Eddie Delahunt sings traditional Irish music.
  • 7-9 p.m.: The play BLOOMSDAY: DUBLIN, 16 JUNE, a script-in-hand dramatization directed by Katie Gilchrist and performed by the Bloomsday Players. The show culminates with the beautifully erotic soliloquy of Molly Bloom.

Admission is free. Free parking is available next to Drexel Hall. Parental discretion advised due to adult language and situations.

For more information: Nancy Wormington, executive director of the Irish Center at; 816-474-3848; or Tom Shawver,, 816-210-1290


A Down Under Coincidence

IMG_1642Sleet lashed against the beveled windows of the Wellesley Club bar as my wife and I settled into leather chairs next to a roaring fire.  I was knackered from my efforts on the rugby pitch earlier and was happy to have found this quiet shelter after a challenging, but immensely enjoyable, week in Wellington, New Zealand.

In November 2006, we had journeyed to this far side of the world with the Colorado ‘Ol Pokes, a harlequin team of mountain men and their significant others, to participate in the sixteenth international Golden Oldies Rugby Tournament.  Nancy and I are lowlanders from Kansas City, but the Pokes have welcomed us on these international forays that are held every two years alternating between countries in the northern and southern hemispheres.

Dating back to 1891, the Wellesley is housed in an historic brick and marble building on a secluded street near Wellington Harbor.  Stag heads and caricatures of old Wellington society grace the wood-paneled walls.  It’s the kind of place where the bartenders wear starched white vests, call women ‘madam’ and men ‘gentlemen,’ and serve wine from carafes.  Asking for a second helping of crumpets, Nancy and I felt like characters in a P.G. Wodehouse novel.  It’s not a rugby club, but it counts former All Blacks among its illustrious members.

IMG_1911cropBy 5 p.m. the rain had stopped and it was time to head back to our hotel.  On the walk along the harbor we came upon bronze plaques set in remembrance of the American 2nd Marine Division which had used Wellington as a staging point for the Pacific battles of World War II.  Seeing the eagle, globe and anchor emblem in that unlikely setting reminded me that it was November 10, the Marine Corps’ birthday.  My record was about to be broken—I hadn’t missed gathering with other Marines to celebrate the anniversary in more than thirty years, beginning with my days as a young lieutenant at Quantico.

I needn’t have worried, however, because by an extraordinary coincidence the Ball came to us.  That evening as Nancy and I left our hotel room for the final party of the rugby tournament, we were amazed to encounter two American Marines in the hallway in their “dress blues”.  They told us they were on their way to the birthday celebration being held in our hotel’s ballroom. The Marine detachment from the American embassy was hosting the formal bash for other foreign embassies and their military personnel.

IMG_1918Now, the Golden Oldies Rugby festival finale is not a shindig to be missed.  The Wellington extravaganza, held under the largest tent ever erected in New Zealand, would have multiple band stages, Maori dancers, tons of food and drink and the chance to swap stories and jerseys with over a thousand ruggers from every corner of the world.  But I wasn’t about to let the Corps’ 231st Birthday celebration pass me by either; not when it was going on right down the hall from our hotel room.

IMG_1925IMG_1924cropI introduced myself to Gunnery Sergeant James Sheppard, who was in charge of the event, and, after verifying my Leatherneck pedigree, he graciously invited us to attend later that evening.  Nancy and I went to the rugby gala on the wharf—it was as spectacular as promised—then returned to the hotel just before midnight to find the birthday ball in full swing.  True to his word, the gunny ushered us in and for the next few hours we shared cake and champagne with a whole new set of extraordinary people.

As has happened so many times in my long rugby career—which began when I was in the Marines—it was another experience to savor.

International rugby great in K.C.

When I began this blog five years ago one of my first entries was on a book about how an international rugby match was used by Nelson Mandela to bring black and white South Africans together.  The book was Playing the Enemy by John Carlin.  A few year later Clint Eastwood produced and directed the movie Invictus that was based on the true story.  Matt Damon played the role of Francois Pienaar, the inspirational captain of the Springboks, South Africa’s national team.  This past week Mr. Pienaar was in Kansas City to give a speech and my local rugby club had the opportunity to meet him.

Pienaar speakingHere is a report written by one of the K.C. Blues club members on the event:

The image of Francois Pienaar shaking hands with Nelson Mandela as the South African captain was presented with the Webb Ellis trophy at the 1995 World Cup at Ellis Park transcends sport and time.  A generation of rugby players and fans from that bygone amateur era look back on that World Cup in awe of the impact it has had on the social and racial integration in South Africa and around the world.  Twenty years later a new generation of athletes from the Kansas City Blues had the unique opportunity to hear Pienaar re-live the story of the Springbok’s 1995 Cup win – and the extraordinary relationship he shared with Mandela – that helped unite post-apartheid South Africa through the boundless power of character, perseverance, and forgiveness.  Invited to participate in an exclusive event for a local chapter of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) that featured Pienaar as the keynote speaker on April 16th, the Blues were the early entertainment as they held a closed training session and exhibition on the pitch of Sporting Park in Kansas City during the YPO’s sideline cocktail reception for its local chapter Members.  The Blues players and staff then had the honor to join the audience as guests during the former South African captain’s candid and inspiring address.Pienaar in K.C.

Standing at a podium on the field of the MLS’s Sporting Kansas City – upgraded with international rugby posts  for the event – Pienaar spoke about his career and his friendship with Mandela.  In the context of the parallels of sport and business, he shared his insights on the virtues of leadership, and the lessons that playing a game like rugby can impart on those who commit everything they have to an endeavor.  The Members of YPO are peers who share in common the achievement of success at an early age (chief executives and business leaders younger than 45), a commitment to learning as a lifelong adventure, and a desire to connect authentically in an environment of trust and confidentiality.  Drawing on the Members’ highly competitive nature as successful business leaders, Pienaar quoted Theodore Roosevelt’s famous lines from The Critic, sharing that “the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.”   Closing in on the culmination of one of the Club’s most successful years in its 49-year history, the Kansas City Blues were fortunate to be in the company of such high achievers and to take part in a tremendously uplifting event.

After his address Francois spent time on the field with the Blues, and offered supportive advice as they head into the final weeks of their regular season.  With a 9-1-1 (12-1-1 overall) record in the Midwest Conference and a hold on first place, the Blues still have three league games to play but also have their sights set on something more.  Pienaar urged them to put everything have into their passion for the sport, and encouraged the players to push themselves beyond their physical and psychological limits to achieve something more.  While he emphasized the importance of the team throughout his address, Pienaar’s message for the Blues was that in the end, each player must decide for themselves if they’ve done all that they can to achieve their goals.  Emphasizing the role that strong individual character must play in the lives of people who do great things, he closed with the words from the influential poem The Man In The Glass by Wimbrow: “You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years; And get pats on the back as you pass; But your final reward will be heartache and tears; If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.”

The book man returns!

TThe Widow's Son_Shawverhe Widow’s Son, the third in the Michael Bevan book man mystery series published as an eBook by Penguin Random House, is due out July 7.

Here is a brief synopsis of the plot.

In 1844, Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, died at the hands of an angry mob who stormed his jail cell in Carthage, Illinois. Shortly after, a radical faction of Smith’s followers swore to avenge Smith’s death by killing not only the four men deemed most responsible, but to teach their heirs to eliminate future generations of the prophet’s murderers as well.

One hundred and seventy years later, rare book dealer Michael Bevan is offered a valuable first-edition Book of Mormon that bears a strange inscription hinting at blood atonement. Within days of handing the book over for authentication, the volume disappears and two people lie dead. Michael soon learns that his friend Natalie Phelan, whose only crime is her genealogy, is the likely next victim. One of her would-be murderers has fallen in love with her, another is physically incapable of carrying out the act, but other avenging angels remain on the loose.

When Natalie is kidnapped, Michael must venture into a clandestine camp of vengeful men hell-bent on ritual sacrifice. To save her life, the book dealer needs all his worldly courage, brawn, and wits. But to defeat fanatics driven by an unholy vision, a little divine intervention couldn’t hurt.

Left Turn at Paradise arrives August 26

The second in my mystery series featuring bookman Michael Bevan comes out as an eBook on August 26.  It’s published by Alibi, an imprint of Penguin Random House.  Here is a synopsis of the novel:

left turn at paradise by thomas shawver

Michael Bevan is barely scraping by with his used bookstore and rare book collection when he discovers a timeworn journal that may change everything. Dating back to 1768, the tattered diary appears to be a chronicle kept during the first of legendary seafarer Captain James Cook’s three epic voyages through the Pacific islands. If it’s as valuable as Mike thinks it is, its sale may just bring enough to keep his faltering used bookstore afloat for another year.

Then he meets a pair of London dealers with startling news: Adrian Hart and Penelope Wilkes claim to possess the journal of Cook’s second voyage. Is it possible a third diary exists? One which might detail Cook’s explosive final voyage—and his death at the hands of native Hawaiians? Together, all three would be the holy grail of Pacific exploration. But before Mike can act, the two journals are stolen.

Chasing them down will sweep Michael, Adrian, and Penelope across the globe—past a dead body or two—and into a very sinister slice of paradise. High in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, in a remote and secretive Maori compound, a secret rests in the hands in of a man daring enough to rewrite history — and desperate enough to kill.

Meet the Author!

Tom Shawver, owner and operator of the former Bloomsday Books, becomes a published author on May 13, when Random House releases his new e-book “The Dirty Book Murder.” It’s the first of a three-volume series, featuring murder and mayhem set in a Brookside used book store.DBM cover

Tom will be at Aixois Bistro, 301 E. 55th Street, from 3-5 p.m. on Saturday, May 17. He’ll do a brief reading from the novel at 3:30 p.m. and will take your questions after the reading.

The e-book is available from your favorite e-book store for $2.99.

Follow Thomas Shawver, Author, on Facebook ( and sign up for the Bloomsday Barflies email newsletter.


For the first time in years, my wife and I missed attending the Aspen Ruggerfest, one of the premier amateur sporting events in the country.  It occurs the third weekend of September when the Aspen trees are shimmering gold, the high peaks are crowned with snow and the weather is almost always lovely.   For years I played with the Kansas City Blues and when I got into my fifties continued to participate with a great group of mountain men called the Colorado Ol’ Pokes.  I’ve traveled with them to France, New Zealand, Scotland and Australia to play in the Golden Oldies Rugby tournaments sponsored by Air New Zealand.  My wife and I were attending the Bouchercon Mystery Writers conference in St. Louis and couldn’t go to Aspen this year, but we got word that one of our new players who is age 50-something suffered two broken leg bones in his first old boys game.  Another, after competing in an over 55 age match against a Virginia side, had a heart attack as he walked off the field.  He was air-lifted to Denver, received an angioplasty and is reported doing well.

As for the “rookie” with the broken leg, he emailed his new teammates last week that he was doing fine also and couldn’t wait to be ready to get on the pitch next year.

What a lovely bunch of coconuts.  The kind of guys who’ll live til’ they die.

Serendipity in Deia, Spain

My wife Nancy and I were staying in the scenic village of Deia on the Spanish Mediterranean island of Majorca a few years ago.  It was raining and at midweek not many were out and about.  We stopped for a beer at Sa Fonda, a quaint little bar with a terrace overlooking the valley, before going to dinner.  Only half a dozen people were in the place, but in one corner sharing a round of Guinness with his mates was the actor Colm Meany.  No big surprise seeing a celebrity–after all this is the hideaway town (p0pulation less than 800, most of whom are expats) of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, and a host of others.   In Spain dinner starts late and it was 9 p.m. when we walked across the street to an inconspicuous little restaurant called Sa Dorada.  It was even less crowded than Sa Fonda.  Only two other tables had people at them.  Sitting at the table closest to us was a striking looking woman who reminded my wife of Edwina of Absolutely Fabulous comedy fame dressed as a gypsy.  Her long, flamboyantly curly dark hair was tied back by an enormous purple scarf.  She wore a long skirt, a peasant blouse and a long necklace.  Her eyes were dark, her lips were bright red and she brimmed with life.  She was joined by a slender man in his late fifties whose gray hair was as curly as hers and a quiet youth in his mid-twentie’s.

Half way through dinner the woman who was Australian engaged us in conversation.  Her name was Frances.  At some point we mentioned we had unsuccessfully tried to find Robert Grave’s burial plot that afternoon.  “I think we can help you,” she said.  Then she proceeded to introduce us to her husband, the gray-haired gentleman, who was Juan Graves, the son of the famous novelist/poet.  The young man, Brendan, was Robert Graves’ grandson,  Juan’s son.   Frances went on to say that she was an artist and Juan was a jazz musician who had always lived in Deia.

This was making for a pretty extraordinary night, but there was another surprise to come.  When we told them we were from Kansas City, Frances’s eyes widened and, pointing to the the only other people in the room, exclaimed “So are they!”  Hearing that, a lady at the other table looked at me and said “Aren’t you the owner of Bloomsday Books back home?”  Indeed, I am, came the answer.  Turns out she was the ex-wife of Jim McKinley, former head of the creative writing program at the University of Missouri at Kansas City.  Years ago she and Jim spent his sabbatical in Deia to interview and do research on a biography of Robert Graves.  They fell in love with the place.  It was a time when cottages were quite affordable and they bought one.  She kept it after the marriage ended.

After dinner Nancy and I crossed the street back to Sa Fonda where Juan had gone to play bass in a jam session.  The place had filled up with a fascinating looking crowd of expats–alas, Colm Meany had departed–and we stayed for the first set.  Then we waved goodbye to our once-in-a-lifetime new friends and drove the winding road a mile and a half to the cozy little hotel  (it’s called Sa Pedrissa) overlooking the Med.

It was in 1929 that the British writer Robert Graves (I, Claudius), settled in Deia.  He was fleeing his wife with his lover, the poet Laura Riding.  He spent most of the remaining 55 years of his life there.  His presence there attracted such friends as Kingsley Amis, Ava Gardner, Alec Guinness, Anais Nin and a young Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Once an affordable haven for artists and writers, more affluent celebrities have found the place and prices have skyrocketed.  Nonetheless, it’s a great place to visit and you never know who you’ll run into at Sa Fonda listening to Juan Graves playing bass in a jazz session.

Old friends

I first met Duncan Christie-Miller in the blistering summer of 1973 at Camp Lejeune,  North Carolina.  He was a British Royal Marine officer on exchange to our elite Marine Force Reconnaissance Battalion.

I had just arrived fresh from officer training at Quantico and the Navy Justice School.  It was the tail-end of the Vietnam War and virtually all Marine troops had returned stateside from Vietnam.    Many were disillusioned and bitter and racial tensions were high. It was the wild west and the fourteen of us young judge advocates at the Division’s legal office tried more felony cases in six months than the Air Force did in a year.  Cases ranged from larceny at the P.X. to astoundingly brutal murders.

I was getting lots of great legal experience, but I needed an outlet to get away from the demanding workload.  One evening I was having dinner at the Officer’s Club with Mike Wheeler, a graduate of the Naval Academy, when we noticed the Royal Marine sitting alone.  We had seen him a year earlier when he presented a rappelling demonstration at The Basic School.  He had the charming elan and expertise that the military Brits seem to have in abundance and it was one of the few lectures I can recall during that six month training period that I didn’t feel like drifting off.  “Wheels” called him over to share a drink with us.

We got to talking rugby football and got Duncan to help establish and coach our club.  The Lejeune Lions didn’t exactly tear up the rugby pitch, but we did manage to beat an Army side from Fort Bragg.    During a match in Norfolk, Virginia, we were outclassed by a team that consisted of Navy Seals and some civilians just off the boat from Ireland.  When they heard Duncan’s accent he was in for it and took some poundings before some of our Marine recon players replied in kind.  As he was going under one particularly violent pile Duncan was heard to shout “You hashish-smoking bastards!!”  Why he happened to come up with that was anyone’s guess, but it did provide for a few laughs at the post-party.

That was 38 years ago and while I’ve lost track of “Wheels, ” Duncan and I remain close friends.  Although separated by half a continent and the Atlantic Ocean we’ve managed to get together over the years and share old stories and bring each other up to date on new experiences.  He lives in London and when he’s not visiting his properties in Perth, Australia, or Majorca, Spain, he’s climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or traipsing around Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf.

Two years ago Duncan called to suggest we begin a cross-county tour in the U.S. promoting a fitness plan for folks over 50 years old called Zest for Life.  With the blessings of my wife, I met up with Duncan in Washington, D.C., after his flight from London and we set out in my Jeep heading west along I-70.  The idea was to pitch our marvelous idea to aged couch potatoes.  Of course, it all came to naught.  Duncan managed to charm his way onto a morning television show in Pittsburgh and an earlier morning radio program in Wheeling, West Virginia, but no other media outlets showed interest.  By the time we reached Columbus, Ohio, Duncan had had enough.  We played a nice round of golf in Circleville, home of the world’s largest pumpkin festival, and Duncan flew home the next day.  I drove back to K.C. mentally reviewing what this quixotic little adventure had cost.  From a business standpoint it never had a chance, but making money was never the point.   It was goofy and fun and as we parted ways we were already talking about on our next caper.

That’s me on the left, Duncan on the right.

The Positive Force of Rugby

Here’s my review of a book I particularly liked.  The Clint Eastwood movie Invictus was based on it.


Playing the Enemy, Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation, by John Carlin. The Penguin Press, 2008. $24.95

On June 24, 1995, a miracle occurred on a rugby field in South Africa. A year earlier, nearly fifty years after apartheid ended with South Africa’s first free election, terrorist attacks by white and black extremists threatened to throw the country into chaos. Nelson Mandela was not an athlete. More than a quarter century of his 79 years had been spent in prison, most of it in an 8 by 10 foot cell. He knew little about the game of rugby and what he did know he detested for its racial and political implications. Against incredible odds, however, he used the sport to not only dispel distrust, fear and hatred between the races, but to bring redemption and pride to a white society long considered a pariah by the world community.

This absorbing book by South African correspondent John Carlin transcends the genre of inspirational sports books by showing that a singular athletic event, as much as war or political opportunism, can transform the destiny of a nation.

Mandela had been a prisoner on Robben Island for 27 years when pressure resulting from the world boycott and the threat of armed black resistance led to his release in 1993. Soon thereafter, President Paul de Klerk of the ruling conservative National Party, announced the target date of multi-race elections for April 1994 that would allow for the first time in South African history “one person-one vote”. With 80% of the nation’s population being black Mandela won in a landslide. It was an historic victory that had arrived after decades and thousands of lost lives, but Mandela understood better than anyone if the new South Africa was to survive he must extend the hand of reconciliation to his former enemies. Fortune dealt him that chance when the International Rugby Board took a chance by awarding the 1995 Rugby World Cup Tournament -like the Olympics, an event held every four years–to South Africa.

Sanctions seldom work. If anything they have the reverse effect on the target by unifying the people to which they are aimed. But prior to Mandela’s release from prison one of the most effective weapons of the world boycott had been the refusal of the rugby playing countries, New Zealand in particular, to play the Springboks, South Africa’s national team. Pot bellied, Castle beer-swilling farmers of the Veldt as well as wine-sipping professionals in the cities wept angry tears as year after year they watched their beloved ‘Boks waste their best years in meaningless regional matches. Mandela, like most blacks, hated rugby because it was a “white’s only” game, and the Boks were the embodiment of supremacist pride. But he knew if his new government was to survive it must be as a unified nation. A politician through and through, he knew the way to political victory was to appeal to the heart, not the head. How better to reach the Afrikaner’s soul than through his ‘religion’?

“One team, one country” became the slogan that propelled the remarkable events that John Carlin describes. It began with Mandela approaching the head of the rugby union, who in turn appointed a legendary player and enlightened thinker named Morne du Plessis to coach. Du Plessis worked hard to raise the political consciousness of the players, going so far as to insist that they learn to sing “Nkosi Sikelele iAfrika”, the longtime anthem of black resistance to apartheid. But it took Mandela to visit their practices and use his considerable charm to sway their charismatic captain, Francois Pienaar, into accepting that they must play not just for whites but all of South Africa. The bonding of these Afrikaner behemoths with the new president is just one of the many inspirational stories Carlin relates.

The final chapters build to a thrilling crescendo when, having survived a close match with France, the Springboks take the field for the final against the heavily favored New Zealand All Blacks (named for the color of their uniforms). The dusty streets throughout the black townships as well as those in the leafy white suburbs were empty as an entire nation watched the broadcast from inside their houses, bars and clubs. Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg was filled to capacity and when Nelson Mandela appeared on the field for pre-game ceremonies wearing the formerly detested Springbok rugby jersey, thousands of black, white and colored fans screamed their approval along with millions glued to their t.v. sets.

The game itself was a bruising war of attrition and by the end of regulation the score was tied 9-9. A ten minute overtime followed, but if you wish to learn the result you’ll have to buy the book or wait to see the movie. Clint Eastwood has begun filming in South Africa with Morgan Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as Pienaar.

I’ll give you a hint, however. When the game finally ended and the exhausted players had retreated to their dressing rooms, a television reporter asked the Springbok captain what it felt like to have 62,000 fans supporting them in the stadium.

The 6 foot 4 inch, 240 pound Pienaar answered: “We didn’t have 62,000 fans supporting us. We had 43 million South Africans.”