On this day…17 March

On 17 March 1903 Joyce celebrated St Patrick’s Day with Joseph Casey.

In a postcard sent from Paris to his mother late on the afternoon of 17 March 1903, Joyce complains that no one had sent him shamrock for St Patrick’s Day, but adds that he had been given some by Joseph Casey. Joyce, who had little money for food at the time, also complains that he does not have a dress suit, as he would have liked to accompany Casey to the Irish Ball at the Salle Hoche that evening. According to Joyce’s accounts in a notebook he kept at the time, he also borrowed two francs from Casey on 17 March 1903.

Joseph Casey was a Fenian living in exile in Paris. Fenians were members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, an Irish-American rebel organisation. The IRB had been founded on St Patrick’s Day 1858 by James Stephens (Casey’s cousin and godfather) and John O’Mahony, so perhaps Casey was also celebrating the IRB’s forty-fifth birthday on 17 March 1903.

Joseph Theobald Casey was born in Kilkenny in 1846, and became involved with the IRB in England. In September 1867, a policeman was killed during the rescue of two Fenian leaders from a police van in Manchester. The following November, Joseph Casey and Colonel Richard Burke were arrested in London in connection with the Manchester rescue.

Casey and Burke were imprisoned in the high-security Clerkenwell prison, but that didn’t deter would-be rescuers. On 13 December 1867, a barrel of gunpowder was exploded outside the wall of Clerkenwell prison. The enormous explosion shattered the glass in the windows of the prison and destroyed not just the prison wall but also several nearby tenement houses, resulting in the deaths of twelve people and the injury of many more. The prisoners, who had been moved to another part of the prison, didn’t escape and would certainly have been killed had they been near the site of the explosion.

Casey was acquitted at a subsequent trial and moved to Paris where he worked as a typesetter at the New York Herald of Paris, founded by James Gordon Bennett jr in 1877. Casey and Joyce sometimes lunched together at the Restaurant des Deux-Écus, near the Herald’s offices on rue du Louvre. Casey’s wife, from whom he was separated, also lived in Paris as did their son, Patrice, a soldier in the French army. Both Joseph and Patrice Casey often lent Joyce small sums of money during his time in Paris in 1902-03. Joseph Casey died in Paris in 1907.

Casey was the model for the character Kevin Egan with whom Stephen Dedalus associates in Paris in Ulysses. The one-time rebel lives a life of quiet obscurity in Paris, disconnected from his rebel friends and his rebel past, and from his wife and son. Stephen recalls recalls Kevin Egan drinking absinthe and reminiscing about Kilkenny and his rebel exploits. Stephen imagines Egan and Burke prowling “under the walls of Clerkenwell and, crouching, saw a flame of vengeance hurl them upward in the fog. Shattered glass and toppling masonry. In gay Paree he hides, Egan of Paris, unsought by any save me.”

Perhaps Shane Leslie had these lines in mind when writing his review of Joyce’s Ulysses in the Quarterly Review of October 1922. Leslie wrote that Irish writers who read Ulysses “will cynically contemplate [it as] an attempted Clerkenwell explosion in the well-guarded, well-built classical prison of English literature. The bomb has exploded, and creeping around Grub Street we have picked up a few fragments by way of curiosity.”


Sources & Further Reading:

Deming, Robert H. (ed.): James Joyce – The Critical Heritage, volume I: 1907-1927, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970.

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Gifford, Don, with Robert J. Seidman: Ulysses Annotated – Notes for James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’, Revised and Expanded edition, London: University of California Press, 1989.

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. II, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.

To view Joyce’s Paris notebook click on the image of the notebook here.