I smell the blood of an Irishman

U 3.291-3 Sir Lout’s toys. Mind you don’t get one bang on the ear. I’m the bloody well gigant rolls all of them bloody well boulders, bones for my steppingstones. Feefawfum. I zmellz de bloodz odz an Iridzman.

Gifford calls this: “A scrambled free association that includes the nursery rhyme: ‘Fee, fi, fo, fum,/I smell the blood of an Englishman,/Be he alive, or be he dead,/I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.”

This is a typical example of a common problem with annotations: a partial explanation obfuscates the need for a more thorough look at the text that might produce more specific answers to the reader’s conscious or subconscious interpretative fumbling. Stephen’s contribution in free association, it turns out here, is smaller than Gifford’s comment suggests.

In 1937 Pádraig Ó Tuathail published an article "Folk-Tales from Carlow and West Wicklow"1 that suggests that Stephen’s “free association” is solidly based on folklore:

... he came to where the giant was, and the giant saw Jack and he made for him and he said: "Fee fah fum, I smell the blood of an Irishman! Whether he is dead or alive I'll have his bones for my stepping stones, And his blood for my morning draught."2

The earliest documented version of the tale in book form that has come to light so far may be found in “Coldfeet and the Queen of Lonesome Island” in Hero-Tales of Ireland (1894).3 When Coldfeet is noticed by a giant the latter calls out:

I smell the blood of a man from Erin; his liver and lights for my supper to-night, his blood for my morning dram, his jawbones for stepping-stones, his shins for hurleys. (p. 244)

A wilfully manipulated version of the English nursery rhyme viciously attacking Thomas Moore was published in 1853:

"Fee! fa! fum! I smell the blood of an Irishman! Whether he be alive, or whether he be dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread."

Westminster Review (1853), July p. 92/1

In 1916 Padraic Colum makes use of the bones/stepping-stones phrase in his collection of stories for children, The King of Ireland’s Son:

"The Weasel's going to have your bones for his stepping-stones and your blood for his morning dram," said the Owl balefully as she went amongst the dark, dark trees. The Fox stopped long to consider.

Joyce added the Sir Lout section to the text only in the third draft of Proteus, the Rosenbach fair copy, where he also adds the archaic form “gigant” for “giant” and additional z’s to indicate that the giant “has rocks in his mouth instead of teeth”.4

Harald Beck


1 Béaloideas: The Journal of the Folklore of Ireland Society (1937), pp. 49-94. Most of the stories were recorded on an "Ediphone" voice-writing device in 1934, and transcribed from there.

2 This is one of two examples in Ó Tuathail’s collection: see p. 55 "The Hare, Lion, Eagle and Spider" and p. 69 "Jack the Giant Killer"

3 They were collected by Jeremiah Curtin and first published in the New York Sun (1892), 11 September, Section B, Page 3.

4 See Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of 'Ulysses', and Other Writings (Oxford: 1972), p. 53.

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