Happy Bloomsday.

But it's too late.

A case of John Jameson Irish whiskey, hidden in Washington on Feb. 2, 1982, was removed from its secret hiding place (we are told) precisely at midnight last night -- midnight Dublin time, 6 p.m. in Washington. A quest that began on James Joyce's 100th birthday has ended in failure. The small but active world of Joyce addicts has been baffled by a dead man's riddles.

Tonight at 7:30, in Georgetown University's Gaston Hall, a random accident -- a lottery -- will settle what human ingenuity has failed to solve. And an explanation will be given for all the enigmatic clues (see box) that have sent people on a variety of wild goose chases for more than four years.

"I intend to listen to the explications with great care," says one Joyce scholar. He has puzzled long over enigmatic words and tramped through the city, from the ld,10 sw,-2 sk,2 White House to the Capitol to Catholic University and Ireland's Four Provinces, trying to solve the riddle.

Meanwhile, an ambiguous answer has been given to the anguished question once posed by Joyce: "Is there one who understands me?"

At least a lot of people have tried.

A spokesman calls the James Joyce Society of Washington "a nonprofit, always broke collection of lovers of words and those of Joyce in particular . . . the most active and certainly most inventive society of its kind in America."

Possibly. In any case, it is the only society of its kind (need we mention that there is a James Joyce Society in Tokyo?) that has managed to wangle a case of whiskey from John Jameson and two executive-class Aer Lingus tickets to Dublin as prizes in a riddle contest.

That contest attracted nationwide interest. Now, the society plans a "national puzzle" starting on Joyce's 105th birthday (Feb. 2, 1987) with a "treasure hidden somewhere out there in America."

Nobody knows how many people have looked for the whiskey. Nobody had to register for this contest, and nobody did. But thousands wrote in for clues and millions more read them in newspapers.

One Joyce scholar cheerfully admits he has no idea where the whiskey was hidden: Michael Heneghan, president of the society. "I think it's better not to know," he says, "because I'm always being asked. And, of course, I must remain above suspicion."

Two professorial types are willing to go public with their findings. Both are Joyce fanatics; otherwise they contrast sharply.

Rudolph von Abele, Washington's top-ranking Joyce scholar, is a professor emeritus of literature at American University, where he organized Washington's first marathon reading of the text of "Ulysses." Now, he is relaxed and curious about the clues he has pondered but not solved. He was a friend of the late Kevin Madden, who devised the first set of clues, and he says he had "this whole thing totally memorized at one time. I'd go around just saying it over and over."

"I think Kevin wrought more cleverly than he thought," Von Abele says pensively.

Herbert Guggenheim is on the faculty of George Mason University -- young, lean, intense and, at the moment, deeply fatigued. He is the proprietor of Pleasant Dream Productions, which now runs the marathon readings of "Ulysses." Last weekend, he looked somewhat disheveled; he was in the middle of coordinating this year's "Ulysses" marathon, which is taking place at the Martin Luther King Library, and racing to reach Molly Bloom's final "his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes" before the library closes tonight.

"I was sitting in Ireland's Four Provinces," says Guggenheim, "and I noticed that its address is 3412 Connecticut Avenue. Those numbers are mentioned in the clues: 'three fouronetwo.' But a lot of people have asked about it at the Four Provinces and were turned away." Guggenheim thinks the whiskey was hidden "somewhere in the area of the White House . . . within walking distance. The reference to 'Ulysses' in the clues might be the Ulysses S. Grant School, which is near the White House."

His uncle, whom he calls "a great puzzle solver," thinks that the curious expression "norMissme" might mean "north of Mississippi and Maine avenues," which could put the hiding place somewhere near the ("riverrun") waterfront.

Von Abele favors the theory that the whiskey is hidden near Catholic University and the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Everyone (even Heneghan) agrees that "six James' house" is the White House (there have been six presidents named James), and most people think that "Ulysses" refers to Grant -- perhaps the Grant School, Grant Circle (where there is no statue of Grant) or the Capitol (where there is -- the only one in Washington).

The obscure "colza oil" sent searchers poking around the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. A sentence late in "Ulysses" mentions a "lamp of colza oil before the statue of the Immaculate Conception."

Von Abele looked intensively in the neighborhood of the Shrine to find the name of Joyce "in stone" -- perhaps on a tombstone in a nearby cemetery or among the memorials carved on the wall of the shrine. He reports no success. Guggenheim did find a James Joyce on a memorial stone in the crypt, but he notes sadly that it was "a James E. Joyce, and the author was James A. Joyce."

Von Abele has examined "line 7, page 103" of every edition of every Joyce work he could track down, but found no epiphanies. In "Finnegans Wake," the line is a single word, "Woe." That could express sympathy for baffled searchers. With one letter dropped, it could be the German word for "where." Or it could be what you shout at a horse to make it stop.

A drawing will be held tonight in Gaston Hall among the 6,000 cards sent to Heneghan, president of the Joyce Society of Washington. And someone will win by dumb luck the trip to Dublin that clever Joyce scholars have seen slip through their fingers.

* There will also be entertainment by Dermod Lynsky, an Irish actor who looks like Joyce and does a one-man show based on his life and work. The scene should be considerably enlivened by the free refreshments, which John Jameson and Guinness will provide. Those who want details on tonight's festivities can get a taped message by dialing 386-5525. If they prefer, they can dial FUN-JJ-BL, which comes out very much the same.