Genetic Joyce Studies - Issue 2 (Spring 2002)
Catholicism, Nationalism, and Exile: Sheed and Wards Irish Way in VI.B.34
Wim Van Mierlo and Ingeborg Landuyt

to R.J. Schork

In 1931 Joyce signed his contract for the publication of Finnegans Wake. He started collecting his loose fragments and to his relief he discovered that much more of the book had been written than he had estimated (see Letters III, 232). His book, he felt, needed only some more careful adjusting and refining, but the end was in sight. Or so he presumed. The result of this final creative push: he filled another fifteen notebooks with seemingly insignificant details before the Wake eventually appeared in print. In the following pages we will discuss one instance of how such layers of apparent insignificance can reciprocally affect (and help us locate) the text’s meaning, its thematic development, and its political and cultural value. The case in point, yet another source on Irish saints,[1] is an example of Joyce’s selective investigations into exile as a common denominator of Irish national identity.

In notebook VI.B.34, dated January-Summer 1933,[2] Joyce scraped together the most disparate bits and pieces of information, among others a short series of scattered notes from, The Irish Way, published by Sheed & Ward, a Roman-Catholic publisher established since 1926 in Paternoster Row, London. The book is a collection of brief essays, eighteen portraits of Irish saints and other exemplary Catholics from the Irish past who devoted their entire lives to faith and religion. The collection is comparable in its religious zeal to publications of the Catholic Truth Society or the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, of which Joyce had already made good use during the writing of “Work in Progress.” However, The Irish Way differs markedly from these other pamphlets in its explicit connection between Catholicism and nationalism. The sub-heading on the dustjacket, “432-1932,” indicates that the book is a celebration of fifteen hundred years of Irish Catholicism from Saint Patrick’s conversion of Ireland to the publication of the volume. (The final biographical vignette treats Matt Talbot, a layman who died as recently as 1925 after living a commendable life of holiness and spiritual austerity). In his foreword F.J. Sheed argues that the selection of devout portraits represents the Irish “nation personified”[3]: “The aim of this book is to show what Catholicism is in the Irish, and the method has been to take a number of great Catholics who were typically Irish and show what manner of people they were” (IW v)

This political stance in The Irish Way undoubtedly affects the narration of the biographies in this book. Sheed’s tone is openly propagandistic as he purports that the following truths emerge from the essays:

First, a man is a better Catholic for loving his own people; not to do so is to be deficient as a man, and deficiency in humanity remains as a deficiency in religion. Second, saints tend to be the most characteristically national. National character shows most strongly where there is least weakness in personal character. (IW vi)

Sheed’s collusion of religion and nationalism, a spurious combination of ideologies that also progress constituted the official dogma of the Irish Free State, was of course grist to Joyce’s mill. In a very specific way, Joyce continued in Finnegans Wake his lifelong critique of narrow-minded nationalist politics by incorporating samples of such spurious rhetoric and colored “truths” in the unorthodox history of “Work in Progress.”


Ordinarily, Joyce’s use of sources like these illustrate that the political intent in Finnegans Wake, in the first place, does not lie in the deconstructive characteristics of the Wake’s language, but in its use and appropriation of certain narrative and rhetorical types. In the case of The Irish Way, however, the potential is there but it is not fully realized. The notes will contribute to another politicized theme in Finnegans Wake: the development of Shaun’s exile and cunning. Nonetheless, the numerous gaps in the notetaking suggest, for reasons that are not fully clear, that Joyce was only haphazardly interested in The Irish Way, resulting in a very incomplete index (see below).


He received his copy with a dedication from his friend and former University College classmate Constantine .P. Curran. It was inscribed: “In the name of S. Laurence O’Toole to my friend James Joyce from the third Dubliner C.P. Curran.”[4] Curran, a pious fellow who shared with Joyce a continental interest (JJII 63), had contributed to the volume on Saint Laurence O’Toole, the patron saint of Dublin (1128-1180), and Mary Aikenhead (1787-1858). Joyce acknowledged receipt of Curran’s amiable gift, as he often did with work of good friends, by incorporating his writing in “Work in Progress.” He immediately read Curran’s piece on O’Toole (he does not seem to have read the one on Mary Aikenhead), which resulted in a few random notes on the Irish saint. To begin with, “S. Lorcan” (Laurence’s Irish name) appears in the company of “S. Francesco” (VI.B.43.72 and FW 433.1),[5] who is Saint Francis Borgia (1610-1672), General of the Jesuits, but it is possible that these two names were not yet directly triggered by a reading of Sheed. This is the case fifty pages later when Joyce construes two puns derived from the saint’s name: “Lory O’Twoheels” and “Larkin O’Tooth” (124). Even though these selected puns are far from constituting a full index on Laurence O’Toole, they are clearly inspired by Curran’s text, and they set the tone for Joyce’s further reading of The Irish Way.


The suggestion of swiftness contained in the pun “Lowry O’Twoheels” associates Saint Laurence with Shaun the Post, but the element that struck Joyce most was the saint’s death in exile. Fearing that Laurence’s insubordination might turn him into a second Thomas à Beckett, Henry II forbids his re-entry into England. Laurence follows the king to Normandy, but, all of a sudden, illness overtakes him and he dies in Eu, near Dieppe, “an exile and a fugitive” (IW 140). Recalling Stephen’s first flight to Paris, “Newhaven-Dieppe, steerage passenger” (U 9.952), Joyce refers in his note to a pervasive theme of exile: “like Lowry O’Twoheels between the Dublin and the Dieppe sea” (B.34.124). He transfers the O’Toole notes (except the one just quoted) to the transition notesheets in preparation for Shaun’s farewell in chapters III.1-2 and a symbolic confrontation/identification between Shaun and Earwicker in chapter III.3, without, however, retaining anything from the immediate context of the notebook entry or source text. Shaun’s personal choice from the calendar of saints goes to “Lurkin in our Mint to Francisco Ultramare” (47486a-83v; JJA 61:28; Joyce later replaces Saint Laurence with Saint Ignatius Loyola, FW 433.1). The connection between Saint Laurence and the Mint remains obscure but the reference to Saint Francis Borgia, who initiated Jesuit missions in America, continues the idea of traveling saints, his name being transposed to Francis beyond the sea.[6] >From “bfamine abbeylands / Swords Lusk, Finglas / Larking o’Tooth / see,” a note that summarizes Saint Laurence’s charitable measures during a severe famine, “quartering the city poor upon the abbey lands of his Cathedral” (IW 136), Joyce retained the pun on the saint’s name and paired him with Thomas à Beckett: “larking o’tootlers with tambours a’beggars,” two saintly brothers, one Irish and one English, who are “thomistically drunk” (47486a-107; JJA61:75; FW 510.18-19) in a tall tale about a wedding party/wake in the “leather [nether] world” (FW 510.16). Shaun has been a witness to this scene, which echoes various vignettes from chapter I.1, especially the sin in the park.


When Joyce, after a brief interval, returned to reading The Irish Way, he had skipped the lives of Saint Patrick and Saint Columbanus, holy men who had already figured prominently in “Work in Progress.” Instead, he turned straight to the chapter on Saint Brendan, who is styled “the Christian Ulysses” (IW 39). Although Brendan’s name features repeatedly in the notebooks, Joyce had not really included this saint in the book itself.[7] We can derive from the notes that Joyce was in the first place interested in Brendan’s seafaring and his alleged discovery of America (in Scribbledehobble he had already linked Brendan with Christopher Columbus [VI.A.301]). As a “conquistador for Christ” (IW 36), Brendan set out to discover (and colonize) the “Land of Promise” or “Hy Brazil” (IW 37, 39),variously called the “island of the blessed,” a mystical island off the West Coast of Ireland that, according to Giraldus Cambrensis, appeared to view every seven years. (Gaelic Í Breasail means “Red Island”;[8] according to the legend of Brendan’s travels the island was a kind of earthly paradise, covered with lush vegetation and heavenly sweet scents [IW 39]). Saint Brendan is said to have explored the Atlantic Ocean between two and sever years according to different hagiographers. What land he reached is not known; some writers have him land in Newfoundland, others mention Florida, the Bahamas, the Azores, the Canaries, etc.[9] Joyce selects the apocryphal theory of the identification of Quetzalcoatl, the fair-skinned Mexican god who wore a mantle adorned with crosses, with the Irish saint (IW 38, VI.B.34.146), but he does not use it in his book.


Joyce found in Brendan the Navigator the perfect alter ego for Shaun the Post, who is traveling up-river in his empty barrel to “the land of breach of promise with Brendan’s mantle whitening the Kerribrasilian sea” (FW 442.13-15). An allusion to America as the promised land for the Irish was already implicit in the text (in the guise of “Uncle Remus” and “Father Knickerbocker” [FW 442.8-9]), so Joyce could easily build on existing associations. Shaun’s westward movement is in the first place described as voluntary exile, but his separation from his homeland, unlike that of his artist brother Shem, is blatantly unpatriotic and a “breach of promise.” Unlike most Irish emigrants to the United States, Shaun completely and derisively turns his back on Ireland and the “onimpudent stayers”: “Fick yew! I’m through” (FW 469.24 and 27). At the same time, Joyce indirectly merges “the Irish Way” of Brendan and Laurence O’Toole, exiled soldiers of Christ and their country, with “the Shaun way” (FW 442.22), whose violent jealousy and intolerance towards his brother Shem turns Sheed’s definition of Irish Catholic nationhood inside out. 


Shaun, moreover, remains an anti-saint (another way he breaks his promise) for the saint, according to Victor Branford in St. Columba: A Study of Social Inheritance and Spiritual Development (1913), a book also known to Joyce, sainthood consists of transmuting “dream into deed”; to become a true saint the individual has to overcome “a dead point of inertia” which can only be done with “heroic effort”: “The ecstasy of feeling which the vision of the ideal produces, fades into the lethargy of inaction, unless there are tense muscles awaiting the command of the will, to carry the aspiration into act and make real the dream.”[10] Branford connects the ethos of the healthy body of his and Joyce’s time—the Sandowian ethos of the gymnasium that posits that a healthy body will lead to a healthy, moral mind and strong will—to the ethos of sainthood and monasticism. The saint overcomes mind and body; Shaun, however, will not quite overcome his inertia. He not only passively floats up and down the river, he also cunningly and grotesquely usurps a saintly identity for his own benefitby rounding up in his “own escapalogy some canonisator’s day” (FW 21-22); he claims to “it is put upon me from on high” (FW 410.1) but cites the spurious Saint Columkille’s Prophecies (FW 409.27-28) as his authority.[11]


A few notes from the chapter on Saint Columkille in The Irish Way continue to build on this theme of exile with a reference to “Alba of the Ravens,” the leader of an “intrepid band” of wandering monks who had a “strange frontal tonsure from ear to ear” (IW 51, VI.B.34.153) with whom Columkille associated himself (Iona is an island offthe Scottish coast). Columkille was one of Ireland’s most famous exiled saints. Father Raymond O’Flynn, the author of Columkille’s portrait, agrees with Adamnan, his medieval hagiographer, that his exile was a “voluntary peregrinatio pro Christi” (IW 51), but other sources mention that he might have been banished by Diarmuid, the High King, in a quarrel with Saint Finnian of Moville over the only copy of the Vulgate that existed in Ireland. Like Shaun, the saint was accused of literary piracy because he had copied St. Finnian’s psalter without his permission (in an earlier notebook Joyce had noted: “S Finnian psalter / copyright noted / by Columba” [VI.B.22.131]); King Diarmud ruled that every text belongs to the one who produced it.[12] As punishment, he is banned from Ireland. In sorrow, Colunkille is said to have turned his back to Ireland. Upon leaving Derry for the Northumbrian mainland, the saint lamented: 


There is a grey eye

That will look back upon Erin:

It shall never see again

The men of Erin nor her women[13]

A later folktale, however, inverts the sorrowful circumstances, inadvertently turning Columkille’s exile into Shaun’s: “There is a legend that [Columkille] navigated from one island to another until he finally ran his curragh into the little bay since known as Port-na-Curraich. From the hill above—Carn-cul-ri-Erin, the Cairn of the Back turned to Ireland—he was satisfied he could no longer descry his native shores” (IW 52). It is uncertain whether or not Joyce knew that this legend was recorded only at a very late date or that Father O’Flynn misinterpreted the events: accidentally mutated in translation, the erection of the stones is now usually seen as a commemoration of the saint’s native land, “the cairn of back towards Ireland,” the point from which a return to Ireland is made possible.[14] Elsewhere in the Wake Joyce emphasizes the wandering saint’s nostalgia--literally meaning “homesickness”--in context of Laurence O’Toole, who died in exile, in a parodic version of the Litany of the Saints as “Libera, nostalgia! Beate Laurentie O’Tuli, Euro pra nobis!” (FW 228.25-26); the Litany all of a sudden becomes the saint’s own supplication for a safe return.[15] In any case, Joyce probably appreciated the connection between his own feelings towards Ireland and Saint Columkille’s in O’Flynn’s version. Further abusing the possibilities offered by the text in The Irish Way, he interpreted Gaelic “cul” (back) as French bottom and noted: “The Cairn of thy / Cul Turned to I[reland]” (VI.B.34.153).


In spite of the above considerations of sainthood and exile, the index from The Irish Way remains incomplete, serendipitous, and, for the larger part, unused. As it happens, a final excerpt from the portrait of Saint Malachy, the last chapter Joyce read, was incorporated in the text:




Mac Laughlin (VI.B.34.161)


The context of this note harks back to one of Joyce’s opinions about Irish nationalism, voiced in his early essay “Ireland, Island of Saints and Sages,” where he rejected the idea that there is a pure Irish or Gaelic identity: “What race, or what language ... can boast of being pure today? And no race has less right to utter such a boast than the race now living in Ireland” (CW 165-66); in its stead, Joyce recognized in Ireland’s precolonial history a mixture of warring races (“of Gael against Gael” [IW 90]) that melted together to form a new unity.[16] In the Wake, the strife for power between three Irish families, “the O’Briens of Munster, the MacLoughlins of Ulster and the O’Connors of Connacht” (IW 90), is used in the history lesson about sexualized “puny wars” in chapter II.2 (FW270.30-31), but because the boys are distracted by the salacious details (“thy hosies history” [FW 271.L1]), they get their facts mixed up: in his marginal notes Shem attributes the O’Briens to Ulster, the O’Connors to Munster, the MacLouglins to Leinster, and, adding the fourth province, the Mac Namara to Connaught (FW 270.L4f).

However small the impact of The Irish Way was on Finnegans Wake (it would seem highly unlikely that Constantine Curran discovered that Joyce had used his writing in “Work in Progress”), however little attention Joyce paid to the book, it is inextricably interwoven with the linguistic permutations and historical tours de force that the Wake performs. On one level, Joyce found in the equivocal rhetoric of The Irish Way another instance of the kind of tendentious and unorthodox theories that he wanted for his multivocal history of the night. But saving The Irish Way from oblivion proved important for literary history and our understanding of how Joyce recuperated his own ideas of silence, exile and cunning for Finnegans Wake. Moreover, the intertextual and pretextual relationships between The Irish Way and Finnegans Wake open doors to a further examination of the political nature of Finnegans Wake: even though Joyce’s politics are far removed from Sheed’s Catholicism and nationalism, the complexity of such intertextual relationships reveal that Joyce’s way of exile was, in fact, still an “Irish way.”




IW: The Irish Way. Edited by F.J. Sheed. London: Sheed & Ward, 1932.


rlike Lowry O’ / Twoheels between / the Dublin & / the Dieppe sea
IW 139-40: [W]hen on a final peace mission for Ruaidri Lorcan crossed the Irish sea [...] he finds the Channel ports closed against his return by royal edict. Following the King [Henry II] to Normandy and landing near Treport at a cove which still bears his name the saint falls ill. He sees the Abbey towers of Eu and asks some shepherds what they might be.

note: Treport and Eu, where Saint Laurence died and where his relics are kept, are places approximately 20 miles north of Dieppe in Normandy.

[not found in FW]

bfamine abbeylands / Swords Lusk, Finglas / Larking o’Tooth / see

IW 136: During a famine which afflicted the city the destitute flocked about his doors. He [Laurence O’Toole] exerted himself in the public relief not merely by prodigally multiplying his personal charities but by organised assistance, quartering the city poor upon the abbey lands of his Cathedral—Swords, Lusk and Finglas.

FW 510.18f

BL 47486a-169
JJA 61:242

bBrendan Kerry

IW 30: That night, in the year 483, the district north of Tralee was full of strange portent. [...] For Brendan, son of Finnlugha and predestined patron of Kerry and Clonfert, was born...

FW 442.14

BL 47486a-86
JJA 61:033
Upper whitemist

IW 34: Before Brendan’s ecclesiastical studies were completed a large number of his kinsmen had settled at Magh Enna in Mayo. So large was that migration, the district chosen became known as “Upper Kerry”IW 30f: Mobhi was the name first given him, but a mantle of white mist (broen finn) was seen to descend until it veiled all Fenit and henceforth he who was white in soul and body was called Broenfinn or Brendan.


IW 38: They were told that, many centuries before, one whom the natives called Quetzalcoatl—the Precious—had come from some “holy island” of the northeast, in a boat with “wings” or sails. According to their centuried tradition he was a tall white man, advanced in years, with broad forehead, black hair and beard, and he wore a long garment, over which hung a mantle marked with crosses. [...] This man was certainly a Christian missionary from Europe and it seems probable he laboured among these Toltecs some time between the sixth and eighth centuries. [...] If Quetzalcoatl was not Brendan—and the assumption that he was involves no serious inconsistency—then it seems fruitless to seek his identity.

High Brazil

IW 38f: In many ancient maps Saint Brendan’s Island, under various denominations, was marked in the western sea [...]. So recently as 1634 the French geographer, Tassiu, drew a map in which he placed the island of Hy Brazil to the west of Ireland. Of the actual land discovered by Saint Brendan nothing is known.

FW 442.14

BL 47486a-86
JJA 61:033
acquire clasics
IW 40f: There [in the college on the Boyne] under the canopy of heaven, in those fields by the river, could be seen the amazing spectacle of three thousand scholars, freely fed and freely taught, acquiring the Classics, Philosophy, and Scriptures, and giving homage to God [...].


sweetly reprove

IW 42: Greatly edified, he composed a hymn in her [St. Brigid’s] honour and on returning home he visited the Saint. Being asked the reason of her great power, she replied that never for a moment was her attention diverted from God. Whereupon Brendan, no doubt magnifying his peccadilloes, confessed his remissness and was sweetly reproved.

bhis rule

IW 44: For about twenty years he toiled ceaselessly up and down the country, never slackening in his regard for the disciples of his Rule.

FW 000.00

BL 47486a-27v
JJA 61:147

Alba of Ravens

IW 51: At any rate, in company of twelve others (the Irish, as a rule, conformed to the Apostolic pattern) he [St. Columkille] directed his course to “Alba of the Ravens”—the leader of that intrepid army of peregrini who, with staff and satchel of books, clad in white woollen tunic, and having strange frontal tonsure from ear to ear, and eyelids tinted blue, were to make Europe resound for five centuries to the militiae Christi—the warfare of Christ.

‘Greatly’ he said

Enormously [—]

The Cairn of thy / Cul Turned to I[—]

IW 52: There is a legend that he navigated from one island to another until he finally ran his curragh into the little bay since known as Port-na-Curraich. From the hill above—Carn-cul-ri-Erin, the Cairn of the Back turned to Ireland—he was satisfied he could no longer descry his native shores [...].


Feed the crane / from I—3 days

IW 54: But Columkille was one of those whose sympathy extends to the meanest thing that breathes, and when the expected visitor was merely a crane [...] “who will arrive very weary and fatigued after the ninth hour of the day and, its strength almost exhausted, will fall on the shore”—even so, the sacred laws of hospitality were not to be neglected. “Thou must keep a lookout,” he orders “on the western part of the isle, sitting on the seashore; and thou shalt lift it up kindly, and carry it to a neighbouring house, and attend it for three days and three nights.” At the end of three days [...] it will return to the pleasant region of Ireland whence it came. […]”


bO’Connor}/ O’Brien} / Mac Laughlin} / {$/[

IW 90: The victory [over the Danes] brought, no doubt, freedom from foreign oppression, but it did not bring peace. The period separating the defeat of the Danes from the advent of the Normans (1168) was occupied by a fierce contest between three families, the O’Briens of Munster, the MacLoughlins of Ulster and the O’Connors of Connacht—for the dignity of Ard Ri. This war of Gael against Gael was marked by sacrileges and atrocities quite equal to the worst attributed to the Norsemen...

FW 270.31f

BL 47478-133
JJA 52:027


[1] Discussions of most of the hagiographical sources can be found in the volumes of A Finnegans Wake Circulular.A more extensive treatment of saints in Joyce is R.J. Schork, Joyce and Hagiography: Saints Above! (Gainesville, University Press of Florida, 2000).
[2] Danis Rose, The Textual Diaries of James Joyce (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 1995), 32.
[3]The Irish Way, ed. F.J. Sheed (Sheed & Ward, 1932), vi. All further references to this volume appear in the text as IW.
[4] Thomas E. Connolly, The Personal Library of James Joyce: A Descriptive Bibliography (Buffalo: Norwood Editions, 1978), 34.
[5] In the transition notesheets S. Lorcan still accompanies S. Francesco, but his name was later elided: “scents in the colander from <S> Lurkin in our Mint to S Saint [sic] Francisco Ultramare” (JJA 61:142).
[6] David Hugh Farmer, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of Saints. 3rd ed.(Oxford: OUP, 1992).
[7] Brendan was added to the text twice in 1929: “from Lismore to Cape Brendan, Patrick’s” [FW 491.11] and “High Brazil Brandan’s Deferred” 488.24f. The second reference predates Joyce’s note “bhigh Brazil” (VI.B.34.146) by four years.
[8] Brendan O’Hehir, A Gaelic Lexicon for Finnegans Wake and Glossary for Joyce’s other Works. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 239.
[9] Brendan Lehane, The Quest of Three Abbots (New York: Viking Press, 1968), 86. Commentators now tend to doubt that Brendan actually discovered any transatlantic place. 
[10] Victor Branford, St. Columba: A Study of Social Inheritance and Spiritual Development (Chelsea: Patrick Geddes, 1913), 63.
[11] See Schork, 92-93.
[12]IW 50-51; see also Lehane, 118-119, Schork, 91.
[13] Quoted in Lehane, 120.
[14] See Richard Sharpe, Introduction, Life of St Columba, by Adomnán of Iona (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1995), 15-16. In actuality, Columkille returned to Ireland on more than one occasion (Sharpe, 28). 
[15] Schork, 97.
[16] See Vincent J. Cheng, Joyce, Race, and Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 56, and passim.