On this day…17 August

On 17 August 1878 Oliver St John Gogarty was born.

Gogarty and Joyce met in 1902, and lived together at the Martello Tower in Sandycove briefly in 1904. Gogarty was the model for the character Buck Mulligan in Ulysses.

Gogarty was born at 5 Rutland (now Parnell) Square, the eldest of four children of Henry and Margaret Gogarty. He started his education with the Christian Brothers, but then went on to board at Mungret College, Limerick, and then at Stonyhurst, in Lancashire. He finished his secondary education at Clongowes Wood College in Kildare.

In 1896 Gogarty started studying medicine at the Medical School on Cecilia Street, but, after failing eight out of ten exams, he switched to Trinity College (where his father had also studied medicine) in 1898. His interest in sports and carousing left him little time for study, and he only graduated, finally, in 1907. He went to Vienna for a while for practical experience, and returned to Dublin in 1908 to work at the Meath Hospital.

While in Trinity he developed an interest in poetry and politics. During his life he wrote several volumes of poetry and memoirs, as well as plays, novels, and numerous newspaper and journal articles. He met Arthur Griffith in 1898 and became involved with Griffith’s Sinn Féin movement, writing articles for the United Irishman and Sinn Féin newspapers that Griffith edited. He married in 1906 and lived across the street from George Moore on Ely Place.

Gogarty and Joyce met for the first time in December 1902, shortly after Joyce returned from his first visit to Paris, and they became friends and drinking companions. Gogarty spent two terms at Worcester College, Oxford, in 1904, and when he got back to Dublin he leased the Martello Tower at Sandycove and invited Joyce to go and live with him there. Also there at the same time was Samuel Chenevix Trench with whom Gogarty had been friendly in Oxford.

What happened between Joyce and Gogarty at the Tower is not clear: we have Joyce’s fictionalised account in Ulysses, and Gogarty’s account in his memoirs, neither of which are entirely reliable. Whatever it was, it was decisive for Joyce. Having moved into the Tower on 9 September 1904, he left in the early hours of 15 September, and within a month Joyce had left Ireland for good. Though Gogarty held the lease until 1925, the Tower later became more associated with Joyce and Ulysses, and today it is the James Joyce Museum.

Gogarty made several attempts at reconciliation with Joyce, none of them successful, and it seems that Gogarty feared what Joyce might write about him. By the time Ulysses was published in 1922, Gogarty was an important society figure in Dublin, and was about to be appointed to the Free State Senate, and he did not appreciate Joyce’s depiction of him as Buck Mulligan.

Gogarty was closely identified with the new Provisional Government in 1922. He performed the autopsies and did the embalming for both Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins. The home Gogarty bought in 1917 at Renvyle in Galway was burnt in 1923 because of his association with the new government, and he and his family moved to London until 1924. He continued writing poetry, and won the gold medal for poetry at the Tailteann Games, and the bronze medal for poetry at the Olympics in 1924. He remained a Senator until the Senate was abolished in 1936.

Gogarty’s fictionalised memoir As I Was Going Down Sackville Street (1935) was the subject of a libel action that Gogarty lost, increasing his disillusionment with the new Ireland. In 1939 he went to America on a lecture tour and decided to settle there. He died in New York in September 1957 and was buried near Renvyle.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Lyons, JB: Oliver St John Gogarty, Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1976.

O’Connor, Ulick: The Times I’ve Seen – Oliver St John Gogarty – A Biography, London: Jonathan Cape, 1963.


More on Gogarty at the Royal Irish Academy’s website here.