Death in Ennis

U 6.335-9:

— But the worst of all, Mr Power said, is the man who takes his own life. […]

—Temporary insanity, of course, Martin Cunningham said decisively.

U 17.621-5: What suggested scene was then reconstructed by Bloom?

The Queen’s Hotel, Ennis, county Clare, where Rudolph Bloom (Rudolf Virag) died on the evening of the 27 June 1886, at some hour unstated, in consequence of an overdose of monkshood (aconite) […]

In the late autumn of 1917 Joyce eventually started to write Ulysses episode by episode. Shortly before leaving Zurich for Locarno on 12 October he must have made a serendipitous find in an Irish newspaper that helped seal the fate of Rudolph Bloom, the father Laertes to Joyce’s Jewish-Irish Odysseus. The so-called Subject Notebook for Ulysses (NLI 36,639/3), also begun in October 1917, contains an intriguing note under the heading “Jews”:

Isaac Marshall, m[arried] Yorkshire lady, bought Queen’s Hotel Ennis, hanged himself from beam in coachhouse

On the day after Marshall took his own life, the Irish Independent, Joyce’s most likely source, carried a brief report of the tragedy:

Isaac Marshall, a Yorkshire man, who recently purchased the Queen’s Hotel, Ennis, was found dead yesterday, hanging from a beam in the coachhouse. Mrs Marshall, a Clare lady said at the inquest that she knew of nothing to trouble deceased. Suicide during temporary insanity was the verdict.1,2

Buffalo notebook VIII.A.5, which Joyce started in early 1918, clearly shows that he had Odyssean analogies in mind for Bloom’s parents:

Antikleia dies of grief (suicide)

Laertes goes to country

Like Odysseus’ father Laertes, Rudolph Bloom goes to the country; like Odysseus’ mother, Antikleia, he commits suicide from grief about a loved one.3

Isaac Marshall, the son of Benjamin Marshall, a cotton worker like his own father John, was born in Colne, Lancashire in 1872 and baptised in the Anglican Parish Church there. He married Margaret O'Grady from County Clare in the west of Ireland, and the couple initially lived in Colne with their two children (Joyce) Ida and Francis O’Grady Marshall.4 Isaac bought the Queen’s Hotel at 19 Church Street (now Abbey Street), Ennis, in County Clare, from Patrick Roughan, grocer and publican some time after January 1916.5 The family grave of the Marshalls in the old Catholic graveyard at Drumcliff, just north of Ennis, bears the inscription:

In loving memory of Isaac Marshall who departed this life 1st. October 1917. His wife Margaret Corbett died 26th. November 1943 and Joyce Ida May their daughter died 11th. October 1950.6

So ironically, Joyce’s assumption that Isaac Marshall was a Jew was unfounded.

In his “scrupulous meanness” Joyce also made use of the inquest and its verdict mentioned in the papers. Memories of his father’s inquest and the phrase that was commonly applied in cases of suicide in Victorian and Edwardian times, “temporary insanity”, turn up in various places in the narrative of Ulysses. But unlike married Isaac Marshall lonely widower Rudolph Bloom died from aconite poisoning in a “room in the hotel with hunting pictures”. Death by hanging in Ulysses is almost exclusively connected with the notorious barber hangman Rumbold or the Croppy Boy, and its farcical and obscene presentation in the Cyclops and Circe episodes would have made for unwelcome connotations for the father of Leopold Bloom.

Harald Beck


1 The Freeman’s Journal, The Irish Examiner, The Irish Independent of 2 October and the Weekly Irish Times of 6 October 1917 carried similar reports, though only the Irish Independent uses “hanging from a beam” rather than “suspended” and “coachhouse” rather than “coach-house” as the other papers.

2 Neither Marshall nor his wife were actually born in Yorkshire. (I am grateful to Declan Barron for clarifying several genealogical issues.)

3 The fate of Bloom’s mother is uncertain.

4 By some miraculous coincidence Joyce first chose Margaret as Bloom's mother's Christian name before he replaced it by Ellen, but it is highly unlikely that Joyce actually knew the first name of Marshall's wife.

5 The Limerick Leader of 5 January 1916, p. [8], still names Roughan as proprietor.

6 Clare County Library graveyard inscriptions: Joyce Ida May’s death date must have been mistranscribed, as she died on 11 October 1953.

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