“Ireland, Island of Saints and Sages” (Il Piccolo della Sera, 1907) extracts

The extracts have been prefaced with headings suited to their content which do not appear in the original. For full text version, see RICORSO Library, “James Joyce”, infra.

Quotations from Joyce: Index

‘Prowed invaders’: ‘[A]nyone who reads the history of the three centures that precede the coming of the English must have a strong stomach, because the internecine strife, and the conflicts wit the Danes and the Norwegians, the black foreigners and the white foreigners, as they were called, follow each other so continuously and ferociously that they make this entire era a veritable slaughterhouse. The danes occupied all the principal ports on the east coast of the island and established a kingdom at Dublin, now the capital of Ireland, which has been a great city for about twenty centuries. Then the native kings killed each other off, taking well-earned rests from time to time in games of chess. finally, the bloody victory of the usurper Brian Boru over the nordic hordes on the [159] sand dunes outside the walls of Dublin put an end to the Scandanavian raids. The Scandanavians, however, did not leave the country, but were gradually assimilated into the community, a fact that we must keep in mind if we want to understand the curious character of the modern Irishman.’ (Critical Writings, 1966, pp.159-60.)

New Celtic race: ‘[...] a new Celtic race was arising, compounded of the old Celtic stock and the Scandanavian, Anglo-Saxon, and Norman races. Another national temperament rose on the foundation of the old one, with various elements mingling and renewing the ancient body. The ancient enemies made common cause against the English aggression, with the Protestant inhabitants (who had become Hibernis Hiberniores, more Irish than the Irish themselves) urging on the Irish Catholics in their opposition to the Calvinist and Lutheran fanatics across the sea, and the descendants of the Danish and Norman and Anglo-Saxon settlers championed the cause of the new Irish nation against English tyranny.’ (Ibid., Critical Writings, 1966, p.161.)

Unprejudiced observer?: ‘In the national calendar, two days, according to the patriots, must be marked as ill-omened - that of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman invasion, and that, a century ago, of the union of the two parliaments. Now, at this point, it is important to recall two piquant and significant facts. Ireland prides itself on being faithful body and soul to its national tradition as well as to the Holy See. The majority of the Irish consider fidelity to these two traditions their cardinal article of faith. But the fact is that the English came to Ireland at the repeated requests of a native king, without, needless to say, any great desire on their part, and without the consent of their own king, but armed with the papal bull of Adrian IV and a papal letter of Alexander [Laudibiliter]. They landed on the east coast with seven hundred men, a band of adventurers against a nation; they were received by some native tribes, and in less than a year, the English King Henry II celebrated Christmas with gusto in the city of Dublin. In addition, there is the fact that parliamentary union was not legislated at Westminster but at Dublin, by a parliament elected by the vote of the people of Ireland, a parliament corrupted and undermined with the greatest ingenuity by the agents of the English prime minister, but an Irish parliament nevertheless. From my point of view, these two facts must be thoroughly explained before the country in which they occurred has the most rudimentary right to persuade one of her sons to change his position from that of an unprejudiced observer to that of a convinced nationalist.’ (Ibid., Critical Writings, 1966, p.162-63.)

Cultural hybridity: ‘Our civilisation is a vast fabric, in which the most diverse elements are mingled, in whic hnordic aggressiveness and Roman law, the new bourgeois conventions and the remnant of a Syriac religion are reconciled. In such a fabric, it is useless to look for a thread that may have remained pure and virgin and without having undergone the influence of a neighbouring thread. What race, or what language (if we except [165] the few whom a playful will seems to have preserved in ice, like the people of Iceland) can boast of being pure today? And no race has less right to utter such a boast than the race now living in Ireland. Nationality (if it is not a convenient fiction like so many others to which the scalpels of prestent-day scientists have given the coup de grâce) must find its reason for being rooted in something that supasses and transcends and informs changing things like blood and the human word. The mystic theologian who assumed the pseudonym of Dionysius, the pseudo-Areopagite, says somewhere, “God has disposed the limits of nations according to his angels”, and this probably is not a purely mystical concept. Do we not see that in Ireland the Danes, the Firbolgs, the Milesians from Spain, the Norman invaders, and the Anglo-Saxon settlers have united to form a new entity, one might say under the influence of a local deity? And, although the present race in Ireland is backward and inferior, it is worth taking into account the fact that it is the only race of the entire Celtic family that has not been willing to sell its birthright for a mess of pottage.’ ( “Ireland, Island of Saints and Sages”, 1907, in Critical Writings, 1966, p.165-66.)

Fallen kings: ‘The wave of democracy that shook England at the time of Simon de Montfort, founder of the House of Commons, and later, at the time of Cromwell’s protectorate, was spent when it reached the shores of Ireland; so that now Ireland (a country destined by God to be the everylasting caricature of the serious world) is an aristocratic country without an aristocracy. Descendants of the ancient kings (who are addressed by their family names alone, without a prefix) are seen in the halls of the courts of justice, with wig and affidavits, invoking in favour of some defendant the laws that have suppressed their royal titles. Poor fallen kins, recognisable even in their decline as impractical Irishmen. They have never thought of following the example of their English brothers in a similar plight who go to wonderful America to ask the hand of the daughter of some other king, even though he may be a Varnish King or a Sausage King. / Nor is it any harder to understand why the Irish citizen is a reactionary and a Catholic [...] For him, the great Protector of civil rights [Cromwell] is a savage beast who came to Ireland to proagate his faith by fire and sword [...]’ (Ibid., Critical Writings, 1966, p.168.)

Soul-nets of Erin: [...] in the field of practical affairs this pejorative conception of Ireland is given the lie by the fact that when the Irishman is found outside of Ireland in another environment, he very often becomes a respected man. The economic and intellectual conditions that prevail in his own country do not permit the development of individuality. The soul of the country is weakened by centuries of useless struggle and broken treaties, and individual initiative is paralysed by the influence and admonitions of the church, while its body is manacled by the police, the tax office, and the garrison. No one who has any self-respect stays in Ireland, but flees afar as though from a country that has undergone the visitation of an angered Jove.’ [171]

Hy-fidelity: ‘[A] Protestant Ireland is almost unthinkable. Without any doubt, Ireland has been up to now the most faithful daughter of the Catholic church. it is perhaps the only country that received the first Christian missionaries with courtesy and was converted to the new doctrine without spilling a drop of blood. And, in fact, the ecclesiastical history of Ireland completely lacks a martyrology [.../] Its faith was never seriously shaken [... 169; T]he Holy See has repaid this fidelity in its own way ... by means of a papal bull and a ring, it gave Ireland to Henry II of England [...] and named a bastard of the papal court as the supreme ruler of Ireland [Alfonso XIII of Spain]. [...] Now, what has Ireland gained by its fidelity to the papacy and its infidelity to the British crown? It has gained a great deal, but not for itself. Among the Irish writers who adopted the English language in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and almost forgot their native land, are found the names of Berkeley ... Goldsmith ... Sheridan ... Congreve ... Swift ... Burke ... [170] Even today, despite her heavy obstacles, Ireland is making her contribution to English art and thought.’ Further, ‘[... I]f Ireland had been able to give to the services of others men like [lists Tyndall, Lord Dufferin, Charles Gavan Duffy, Hennessey, Duke of Tetuan [O’Donnell], Bryan [US pres. cand.], Marshall MacMahon, Lord Charles Beresford, Wolsley, Kitchener, Lord Roberts] - if Ireland has been able to give all this practical talent to the service of others, it means that there must be something inimical, unpropitious, and despotic in its own present conditions, since her sons cannot give their efforts to their own native land.’

Ancient Ireland: ‘I do not see the purpose of the bitter invectives against the English despoiler, the disdain for the vast Anglo-Saxon civilization, even though it is almost entirely a materialistic civilization, nor the empty boasts that the art of miniature in the ancient Irish books, such as the Book of Kells, the Yellow Book of Lecan, the Book of the Dun Cow, which date back to a time when England was an uncivilised country, is almost as old as the Chinese, and that Ireland made and exported to Europe its own fabrics for several generations before the first Fleming arrived in London to teach the English how to make bread. If an appeal to the past in this manner were valid, the fellahin of Cairo would have all the right in the world to disdain to act as porters for English tourists. Ancient Ireland is dead just as ancient Egypt is dead. Its death chant has been sung, and on its gravestone has been placed the seal. The old national soul that spoke during the centuries through the mouths of fabulous seers, wandering minstrels, and Jacobite [173] poets disappeared from the world with the death of James Clarence Mangan. With him the long tradition of the triple order of the old Celtic bards ended; and today other bards, animated by other ideas, have the cry. / One thing alone seems clear to me. It is well past time for Ireland to have done once and for all with failure. If she is truly capable of reviving, let her awake, or let her cover up her head and lie down decently in her grave forever. [... T]hough the Irish are eloquent, a revolution is not made of human breath and compromises. Ireland has already had enough of equivocations and misunderstandings. If she want to put on the play that we have waited for so long, this time let it be whole, and complete, and definitive. But our advice to the Irish producers is the same that our fathers gave them not so long ago - hurry up! I am sure that I, at least, will never see the curtain go up, because I will have already gone home on the last train.’ (Ibid. [end]; in Critical Writings, p.173-74.) [End.]

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