Essay with integrated images

The ‘Cyclops’ episode in Ulysses, through Joyce's lampoon from the outside, gives an insight into the literature and thought of the Gaelic Revival movement in Ireland. The episode is narrated by a man who holds nationalistic and bigoted views, and his narration of the events occurring in and around Bernard Kiernan's pub is interspersed with thirty-three stylistic passages that comment on the events described. These passages parody various styles of text – Revival, Biblical and legal texts among others – and in this essay a selection of these parodic passages will be compared to contemporary examples of the styles they mimic. In many cases, as Gifford explains (1988:314), the passages do not parody any particular text but rather a general style of writing. The contemporary documents chosen for comparison, then, may not have been read directly by Joyce, but they are certainly exemplary of the style he parodies. The two Irish legend parodies discussed focus respectively on contemporary translations of Irish legend (12:68-99) and the revival of Irish sports (12:897-938).


Page 207. Gods and Fighting Men. Lady Augusta Gregory.

The extract shown to the left is taken from Lady Augusta Gregory’s Gods and Fighting Men (1904:207) and its language serves as an example of the kind parodied in the first Irish legend parody in "Cyclops" (12:68-99). The stories contained in Lady Gregory's book have their roots in the Irish story-telling tradition which extends centuries into the past: the stories featured were copied down in their original Irish into manuscripts and Lady Gregory translated them into English centuries later. In the oral tradition, the tales were memorised by a teller and contained many devices to aid the teller’s memory. Lengthy runs, or ruthaig, were one such memory aid. These are, in essence, lists that the teller learned by heart, and as they were being spoken, they gave the teller a moment to recall the next part of the story. We see two consecutive runs in the extract from Gods and Fighting Men (207):

[…] they had every sort of thing for food, beautiful blackberries, haws of the hawthorn, nuts of the hazels of Cenntire, tender twigs of the bramble bush, sprigs of wholesome gentian, watercress at the beginning of summer. And there would be brought to their cooking-pots birds out of the oak-woods, and squirrels from Berramain, and speckled eggs from the cliffs, and a salmon out of Luimnech, and eels out of the Sionnan, and wood-cocks of Fidhrinne, and otters from the hidden places of the Doile, and fish from the coasts of Buie and Beare, and dulse from the bays of Cleire.

In ‘Cyclops’, Joyce mimics runs of this type. In the first, he lists eleven types of fish before concluding that the fish he is listing are ‘too numerous to be enumerated’ (12:75). In the second run, he lists trees; in the third, an assortment of gold, silver, fish and insects. As in Lady Gregory’s example, he also makes use of place names in this run: ‘Eblana’, ‘Slievemargy’, ‘Munster’, ‘Connacht’, ‘Leinster’, ‘Armagh’ and ‘Boyle’ (12:83-6). It has been commented (Platt, 1998:144) that the fish run in the passage is in fact closer to original Irish versions of mythical stories than were the “cleaned-up” translations of the Revivalists. The Revivalist translators ‘edited out [what they saw] as outlandish and vulgar’ and shortened lists to make them more appealing. It remains clear, however, that Joyce is not translating Irish language legend in this passage, but rather parodying the Revivalists. Phrases such as ‘denizens of the aqueous kingdom’ (12:75), ‘in close proximity’ (12:79) and ‘arboreal’ (12:78) are not loyal to the style of Irish language legend but are examples, too, of the translations the Revivalists worked on them. This type of phrase inflated the narrative and distorted it for Victorian sensibility. Runs are not the only stylistic device Joyce mimics in the passage: repetition served a similar purpose to runs in the oral tradition and are also featured. Repetition of a word or phrase alleviated some of the burden on the teller’s memory, while also unifying the passage through sound. In Joyce’s parody, we see the repetition as an offence against the sensibility of Victorian literary style, the word ‘lovely’ being repeated four times in the one sentence: ‘Lovely maidens sit in close proximity to the roots of the lovely trees singing the most lovely songs while they play with all kinds of lovely objects […]’. Tautology is yet another device in these stories that is not considered a fault of style within the oral tradition but rather that worked as a formula to buy time for the teller. In Joyce, we have an example of tautology in the ‘the mariners who traverse the extensive sea in barks built expressly for that purpose’ (12:88-9). Joyce uses tautology here in furthering his parody of the translations of the legends and also for comic effect. Listing, repetition and tautology are all effective devices in an orally recounted narrative, but here Joyce draws attention to the change in their effect when relocated to paper. 

Joyce’s application of a Revivalist translation style to a passage describing the area around a pub in Dublin brings into question the suitability of a style used to describe grand events of pseudo-history in describing the modern era and the ordinary life and mundane opinions of the individual, which had become a central theme in modernist European literature. It also presents the reader with a vision of the point at which Irish Ireland and Anglo-Irish Ireland meet in literature. Through its blending of Victorian Enlightenment phrasing with the runs, repetition and tautology native to the Irish oral tradition, the parody shows up the incompatibility of the two styles and thus questions the value of the Revivalist project of translating Irish legend to English. The passage immediately preceding the dog's poem is a clear lampoon of this project: ‘The metrical system of the canine original, which recalls the intricate alliterative and isosyllabic rules of the Welsh englyn, is infinitely more complicated [than the translation can illustrate]’ (12:733-35). This line parodies the Revivalists' idealisation of ancestor poetry and their view that no translation in the English language could do justice to the intricacy of this poetry. When the passages which parody the translations of Irish legends are read alongside the episode’s malapropisms (or word plays, as the case may be) – see ‘I’m the alligator’ (12:1627); Irish words – see ‘a chara’ (12:148); mangled Irish phrases – ‘Bi i dho husht’ (12:265); and Hiberno-English phrases – ‘What’s on you […]?’ (12:704), ‘And he after stuffing himself […]’ (12:29) – the language limbo of colonial Ireland is brought sharply into focus.


Letter from Archbishop Croke to Michael Cusack on the GAA.

The second parodic passage details the discussion the men in the pub have on the revival of Irish sports (12:897-938). The discussion contains a further display of the citizen's nationalist and bigoted outlook on life and the topic of the conversation is of particular importance given that, as Gifford claims (1988:316), the character of the citizen in the episode is based on the founder of the Gaelic Athletics Association, Michael Cusack (in Irish, Mícheál Ó Cíosóg).

The text shown to the left is a letter from Archbishop Thomas William Croke to this Michael Cusack taken from the 27th December 1884 issue of The National and gives an insight into the subject matter of the parody and characterises the tone of the rhetoric. In this letter we see Gaelic games lauded and juxtaposed with English games, seen as effeminate. We also see the phrase ‘racy of the soil’ used in reference to the Gaelic games. The same juxtaposition and the very same phrase occur in the introductory remarks to the debate over the Gaelic games in Cyclops. The narrator relates: ‘So off they start about Irish sports and shoneen games the like of lawn tennis and about hurley and putting the stone and racy of the soil and building up a nation once again and all to that.’ (12:889-891) The word ‘shoneen’ is derogatory, echoing the Archbishop’s belittlement of the English games when compared to the Gaelic games.

Oireachtas_1899 _1.PNG

Proceedings of the third Oireachtas festival in 1899

Now for a discussion of style. To the left is the opening page of Proceedings of the Oireachtas of 1889. The Oireachtas is a cultural festival founded by the Gaelic League to promote the use of the Irish language and the text of the featured proceedings is illustrative of event reporting at Revivalist gatherings of the period. Joyce mimics not only the structure of this type of text in his parody – a thorough description of the event’s location, organisation and proceedings in the first paragraph, followed by a lengthy list of those who attended the event in the second – but also the laudatory and ornate language of the text. The subject matter of the two texts is different - the passage in "Cyclops" covers the revival of Irish sports, while the Oireachtas text discusses the revival of the Irish language - and yet the language of the two texts is very similar, as the list of extracted phrases below illustrates:

Oireachtas Proceedings Cyclops Passage
Superlatives and laudatory language
 ‘largest public hall in the city’
‘keenest interest’
‘large numbers of interested spectators’
‘applause again and again repeated’ 
 ‘most interesting discussion’
‘best traditions of manly strength’ 
‘attendance was of large dimensions’
‘vociferously applauded’ 
Framing in and pretending to antiquity
 ‘grand old tongue’
‘native speech’
‘sweet accents of the native tongue’
‘language of saints and scholars’
reference to the Hebrew language
reference to the Greek Demosthenes 
‘old tongue’
‘ancient hall of Brian O’Ciarnain’s
‘ancient Gaelic sports’
‘handed down to us from ancient ages’
‘ancient Greece and ancient Rome and ancient Ireland’
‘Finn McCool’
‘timehonoured anthem’
Notion of Celtic fraternity
Celtic languages referred to together ‘Panceltic forefathers’

This parody highlights Joyce’s understanding of the Revival movement and his criticism of it. The main purpose of the Irish Revival was to elevate that which seemed mundane and unworthy of study and art to a higher level where the masses would accept it and indeed cherish it. This they sought to do with the Irish language, Irish literature and poetry, folklore and sports. Many Revivalists were also involved in the struggle for independence and their roles as revivalists and nationalists often merged. Disgusted as he was by what he saw as the Revivalists’ politicisation of art and the romanticisation of Irish culture for propaganda purposes (Tymoczko, 1994:16), Joyce sought rather to show the truth – pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be – in his writing. Dubliners was to be a mirror in which the Irish people might see themselves. With Ulysses, Joyce went a step further, stripping back the masks of narrative device, of literary style, and even of language, to bring the reader as close as possible to the consciousness of his characters.

In this parody in 'Cyclops', Joyce goes against his own philosophy and applies to the narrative a stylistic mask borrowed from the Revivalists to show up the cracks in that particular style. In inflating the ordinary conversation of ordinary men in a pub in Dublin to sound excellent and noble, he mimics the Revivalist tendency towards grandeur. The realism of the event described is concealed with ornate language and the narrative climaxes in absurdity with the pompous description of the ‘superquality [of the citizen’s] superb highclass vocalism’. Once this first part of the parody ends, the reader is provided with a block of names and then dropped back into pure dialogue between the characters.

In both the legend parody and the society meeting parody described above, the style inflates and exaggerates and is wholly unsuitable in representing the everyday lives of the characters sitting in a pub in Dublin. Joyce, happy to draw from literary tradition in his work but at the same time keen on creating a new Irish art and on breaking stylistic boundaries, shows us that to use the styles favoured by the Revivalists in modernist literature and for describing modern life was laughable.


  • Barrett, S. J. The Proceedings of the Third Oireachtas Held in Dublin on Wednesday, 7th June, 1899. Dublin: Gaelic League, 1900. Print.
  • Croke, T.W. "The Gaelic Athletic Association." The National 27 Dec. 1884: Letters. Print.
  • Gifford, D. Ulysses Annotated. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. Print.
  • Gregory, A. Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha De Danaan and of the Fianna of Ireland. London: John Murray, 1904. Print
  • Joyce, J. UlyssesGabler Edition. Gabler, H.W. (ed.). New York: Vintage Books, 1986. Print.
  • Platt, L. Joyce and the Anglo-Irish. A Study of Joyce and the Literary Revival. Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi B.V., 1998. Print.
  • Tymoczko, M. The Irish Ulysses. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. Print.
Essay with integrated images