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Disgrace to our Irish capital

Wednesday, September 23, 2009; 03:30 am Leave a comment

Joyce writes,
“Castoff soldier. There: bearskin cap and hackle plume. No, he’s a grenadier. Pointed cuffs. There he is: royal Dublin fusiliers. Redcoats. Too showy. That must be why the women go after them. Uniform. Easier to enlist and drill. Maud Gonne’s letter about taking them off O’Connell street at night: disgrace to our Irish capital” (5.66-70).

Maud Gonne (1866-1953) was, among other things, a famous English-born Irish nationalist and revolutionary, the person responsible for a great deal of anguish on behalf of W. B. Yeats (who was really, really obsessed with her), and also very very tall. Her letter is addressed to the women of Dublin during the Second Boer War (1899-1902), advising them not to sleep with the British soldiers who were increasingly prevalent on the Dublin streets in an attempt to increase enlistment for the war. As Gonne writes in her autobiography,
“To make recruiting easier, the Army Authorities altered their rule of obliging the men to sleep in the barracks, and O’Connell Street used to be full of Red coats walking with their girls. We got out leaflets on the shame of Irish girls consorting with the soldiers of the enemy of their country and used to distribute them to the couples in the streets, with the result that almost every night there were fights in O’Connell Street, for the brothers and the sweet-hearts of Inghinidhe na hEireann [“Daughters of Ireland,” a revolutionary women’s society that Gonne founded] used to come out also to prevent us being insulted by the English soldiers and the ordinary passers-by often took our side” (Gonne 266-7).

Bloom’s later assertion that the British army is “an army rotten with venereal disease: overseas or halfseasover empire” (5.71-2) references the British excursion into South Africa, a military excursion which several prominent Irish nationalists used as an excuse to fight directly against the British (including Gonne’s future husband (much to the chagrin of Yeats), John MacBride, who helped to lead the Irish Transvaal Brigade in South Africa itself). I’d imagine that this war, taking place so soon before the events of Ulysses, may be a recurring topic.

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