The short but remarkable life of John O’Mahony
U 7.292: Cleverest fellow at the junior bar he used to be. Decline, poor chap. That hectic flush spells finis for a man […]
U 7.305-7: Believe he does some literary work for the Express with Gabriel Conroy. Wellread fellow.
Most of the minor characters in Ulysses can be clearly identified; only a few, such as Father Cowley, Lord John Corley, Ned Lambert and J.J. O’Molloy, have so far withstood efforts to disclose their real-life counterparts.
J.J. O’Molloy in real life?
A few lines in C.P. Curran’s memoir James Joyce Remembered provide a first, but unobtrusive, clue to the identity of Joyce’s inspiration for barrister J.J. O’Molloy:
The adjectives “brilliant and shortlived” applied to a barrister with the initials “J O’M” might suggest a connection, and once we look closer at the life of John O’Mahony (born in Cork on 27 January 1870,1 where he was educated at Queen's College; died of chronic heart disease at Howth, on 28 November 1904), we find so many elements corresponding to what Ulysses tells us about J.J. O’Molloy that it seems highly likely that O'Mahony is the model or inspiration for him.
The Freeman’s Journal’s obituary of John O’Mahony, published on 29 November 1904, provides background about his life:
O’Mahony worked for a while on the staff of the Dublin Evening Herald, and his professional training as a lawyer developed alongside his literary interests. His most high-profile case was the "Tallow conspiracy" of 1902, in which he (unsuccessfully, in the end) defended a number of the farmers and shopkeepers accused of attempting to ruin the business of David O'Keeffe, another shopkeeper in Tallow, Co. Waterford. The Freeman continues:
As well as his professional and literary pursuits, O’Mahony was a convivial friend:
Bloom’s comment “Cleverest fellow at the junior bar” is echoed again in O’Mahony’s obituary in the Irish Times of 29 November, 1904: “He was one of the most promising juniors of the Irish Bar.”
Further correspondences between O’Molloy and O’Mahony
Myles Crawford challenges J.J. O’Molloy in the Aeolus episode to name “a man
now at the bar like those fellows, like Whiteside, like Isaac Butt, like silvertongued
O’Hagan”. Little does Crawford seem to be aware that he could be addressing the alter ego of John O’Mahony,
the celebrated recipient of the O’Hagan Gold Medal of the Students’ Debating
Society of Ireland for a speech published in 1899, entitled “The Liberty of the
Lord Justice FitzGibbon’s remarks on the Auditor of the Debating Society, John O’Mahony, on this occasion are quite revealing:3
FitzGibbon lavishes further praise on O’Mahony for his eloquence:
Encouraged by Mr O’Madden Burke to speak up for himself after Crawford’s attack on the younger generation of orators at the bar J.J. O’Molloy at first asks the editor ironically: “Why not bring in Henry Grattan and Flood and Demosthenes and Edmund Burke?”, and when Crawford retorts, “Who have you now like John Philpot Curran?” J.J. O’Molloy suggests [Seymour] Bushe K.C., whose qualities as an orator Crawford has to concede grudgingly.
William O’Leary Curtis, Seymour Bushe, and William Magennis
The links between John O’Mahony and others appearing in the Aeolus episode are noticeable. Several of their real-life counterparts appear in a report in the Freeman’s Journal, which brings together Edmund Burke, William O’Leary Curtis (alias Mr O’Madden Burke), John O’Mahony and the much ridiculed orator Dan Dawson (alias Charles Dawson). Dawson chaired a meeting of a committee to commemorate Edmund Burke, which included O’Leary Curtis and O’Mahony.4
As regards Seymour Bushe, John O’Mahony and Bushe were together at the Green Street Court House round the corner from Barney Kiernan’s only a week before Bloomsday, with Bushe prosecuting and O’Mahony defending, in the case of a bicycle stolen from Mr James Henry (also of Ulysses fame). In March 1903 the Weekly Irish Times quotes Seymour Bushe as saying that “he recognised the great propriety of the language used by Mr O’Mahony” in a case before the recorder.5 Both men participating in the high-profile Du Bédat case later in 1903, in which Bushe again prosecuted, and O’Mahony appeared in behalf of Francis (“Frank”) Du Bédat’s co-defendant.6 Bushe was also among the prominent representatives of the legal profession who paid their last respects at John O’Mahony’s funeral.
When J.J. O’Molloy tells Stephen that “Professor Magennis was speaking to me about you”, it is possible to see a further biographical link to John O’Mahony, as O’Mahony knew William Magennis from the Solicitors’ Apprentices’ Debating Society (see the Irish Law Times and Solicitor’s Journal of 6 November, 1897).
J.J. O’Molloy turns up as Bloom’s barrister in the court scene in the Circe episode (15.939 ff.), and in view of his professional background it is hardly surprising that Joyce included him in the cast of the Cyclops episode in Barney Kiernan’s public house, the haunt of lawyers and Nationalists alike.
Katherine Tynan and her brother-in-law John O’Mahony
John O’Mahony was also, through his marriage to Honora (Nora) Tynan on 29 April 1895, the beloved brother-in-law of writer Katherine Tynan (1861-1931). He had strong, though far from narrow-minded Nationalist ties.7 After his premature death Tynan wrote a moving literary monument for him: A Little Book For John O’Mahony’s Friends,8 in which she alludes to his final years: “For some two years before his death he suffered greatly, but put his sufferings out of sight.” (p. 17). She also mentions the high esteem he was held in by people from all walks of life:
The Tynans would also prove a reliable link to O’Mahony’s likely appearance in one of Joyce’s more cryptic epiphanies:
Jesuit Father Matthew Russell (1832–1912), editor of the Irish Literary Review, had encouraged Katherine Tynan to contribute to his journal and would have been familiar to and familiar with John O’Mahony. He was also appreciative of Nora Tynan’s talents as a poet.9 Joyce may be hinting at Russell’s Erin, Verses Irish and Catholic (Dublin 1881) with his ironic use of the term “verse”.
Bloom’s remark about O’Molloy, “Believe he does some literary work for the Express”, creates another correspondence with John O’Mahony in the light of the information about his career as a journalist in the Freeman obituary above.
Success and not decline
Only one element in the narrative of Ulysses does not seem to fit the picture of John O’Mahony: J.J. O’Molloy’s desperate financial worries resulting from his professional decline, as Bloom has it:
When he is unsuccessful in raising the wind from Crawford J.J. O’Molloy turns to Ned Lambert for help in Wandering Rocks (section starting at 10.398). His password-like greeting, “Ringabella and Crosshaven”, shows that Joyce presents J.J. O’Molloy as a Corkman, too.
The rumour-mongering spiteful I-narrator of Cyclops knows it even better, of course:
John O’Mahony died at the height of his career and would hardly have been in serious financial trouble in spite of the fact that he was famous for his generosity. Joyce obviously had other plans for his fictional counterpart, and may have chosen the disguise of J.J. O’Molloy for that very reason. O’Mahony’s spotless reputation and the strong affection people felt for him just would have been incompatible with the character Joyce intended for his novel.10
I am grateful to Vincent Deane for visits to the National Library of Ireland on my behalf.
would be the fourth Cork man present in the editor’s office on 16 June 1904,
the others being Myles Crawford, Ned Lambert and Simon Dedalus.
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