On 27 June 1846 Charles Stewart Parnell was born.
The most significant and controversial Irish politician of the late nineteenth century, Parnell was also an important influence on the world of James Joyce, and there are references to Parnell in all of Joyce’s works.
Parnell was born into a landowning Protestant family in Wicklow. Elected as Home Rule MP, he soon made clear his sympathies with Fenian ideas in opposition to the moderate lines pursued by the Home Rule League, headed by Isaac Butt. A charismatic speaker and astute tactician, Parnell quickly rose through the ranks. He reformed the Irish Parliamentary Party into a disciplined organisation that made use of obstructionist tactics and the balance of power in Parliament in order to further its aims. As his achievements grew, so also did his ambition.
The revelation of his long-term affair with Katharine O’Shea, wife of one of his MPs, brought his enormous success to an end. The Party split into Parnellite and anti-Parnellite factions, with the Catholic Church and the British Liberal Party backing the anti-Parnellites. After Parnellite candidates failed to get elected in by-elections in 1891, Parnell returned to England where he died of a heart attack on 6 October 1891, aged just forty-five.
John Joyce was an ardent Parnellite and blamed anti-Parnellite factions for ousting him from his job with Dublin Corporation. Much to his father’s delight, the first thing Joyce wrote that we know of was a poem, ‘Et tu, Healy,’ denouncing Tim Healy, Parnell’s former close aide, as a betraying Brutus. John Joyce proudly had it printed and distributed to his friends. In ‘Ivy Day in the Committee Room’ in Dubliners (commemorating both Parnell’s ‘death day’ on 6 October and the Westminster Committee Room 15 in which the split in the Irish Party took place), Joyce gives an impression of the miserable state of local politics after Parnell.
In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the famous Christmas dinner scene shows the viciousness of the split in Irish politics after Parnell’s death, a split that was never effectively mended. In Ulysses we get not just an impression of the failures of the Irish Party after Parnell, but of the new movements and new politics that would soon start to overtake the Party. Themes that were central to Parnell’s personal and political life – such as betrayal, forgery, illicit love, and the fall of the big man – are also central to Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.
Joyce makes 27 June the date on which Rudolph Bloom dies in the Queen’s Hotel in Ennis in Ulysses. By coincidence, it was on this day in 1928 that Joyce met F Scott Fitzgerald, and on this day in 1929 that the Déjeuner Ulysse took place.
Sources & Further Reading:
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Bew, Paul: Enigma – A New Life of Charles Stewart Parnell, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 2012.