They simply fade away: news on the life and death of an old soldier - Joseph Casey

Joyce met the former Fenian revolutionary Joseph Casey in Paris in 1903, probably at the instigation of his father, who knew the Casey brothers (see for example Jackson and Costello, John Stanislaus Joyce, ch. 20). Joe Casey had been arrested in London in 1867, and his brother Patrick (the celebrated ‘Dynamiter’) and other Fenians hatched a plot to spring him from Clerkenwell prison by blowing down the walls with a bomb. The plot failed disastrously, though it is said that it caused Gladstone to re-evaluate the Westminister response to Irish demands for Home Rule. Joseph was later released and sought exile in Paris, where he worked on various newspapers as a printer and compositor. Joyce used Joe as the model for Kevin Egan in Ulysses ("Joe Egan" in the first draft). He even makes reference to Joe’s son ‘Patrice’ (Patrick), home on army leave in 1903:

Patrice, home on furlough, lapped warm milk with me in the bar MacMahon. Son of the wild goose, Kevin Egan. (3. 163-4)

Kevin Egan rolls gunpowder cigarettes through fingers smeared with printer's ink, sipping his green fairy [absinthe] as Patrice his white. (3. 216-8)

Several mysteries remain. Who was Patrice and what was his role in the French army? Did Joe Casey die soon after Joyce met him, as is usually assumed?

An article in the Kilkenny People from March 1915, and reproduced in the Freeman’s Journal on 29 March of that year, gives a potted history of Joseph Casey’s career in Paris:

He joined the National Guard, and took part in the defence of the capital until its surrender. After the withdrawal of the Prussian troops to the suburbs of Paris there ensued one of the most ghastly chapters in the history of France, the outbreak of the Commune. The canker of civil war with all its hideous accompaniments ate into the very heart of the National Guard. (Freeman’s Journal, p.8)

It was more than Joseph could stand:

When recounting his awful experiences to the present writer in Paris some years ago he said: - 'When the revolt broke out in Paris with the shooting of Generals Thomas and Clement, I went to the Hotel de Ville and handed in my gun. I told them that I had volunteered to fight against the enemies of France, not to take part in a civil war.' (Freeman's Journal, p.8)

Casey maintained his interest in matters over the English Channel. In the 1880s he was close to another exile Fenian, Patrick Egan, in Paris. Casey told the Paris correspondent of the North Otago Times in 1884:

At the present time a strict watch is kept over the public buildings in London… Why there is no difficulty in carrying dynamite at all…. A cake [of the explosive] may be divided into four parts so small that they are very easily concealed.

North Otago Times 13 June, p. 4

Joyce was clearly fascinated by Joseph Casey’s Republican credentials (see the Dictionary of Irish Biography for a fuller account). But one point which has remained unknown is the date of his death.

The Anglo-Celt of 10 June dates Joseph Casey’s death precisely, to Thursday 8 June 1911, in its review of the highlights of the previous week:

Thursday… Joseph Casey, a Fenian connected with the Clerkenwell explosion, died in France aged 66. (p. 12)

The news did not make a big splash, but it is picked up by newspapers around the world. The Connaught Telegraph for 17 June 1911 gives the event several column inches:

Noted Fenian Dead.

The Terrible Explosion at Clerkenwell Prison Recalled.

By the death, in Paris, of 'Joe' Casey, at the age of 65, the Clerkenwell explosion, one of the most sensational episodes of the Fenian agitation, is recalled. Casey, with another Fenian, was in Clerkenwell Prison, and a plot was made by Michael Farrell and two of Casey’s brothers to enable him to escape by blowing up the prison wall while the prisoners were exercising in the courtyard inside.

On December 15th, 1867, they placed a large barrel of gunpowder against the prison wall in the public street. In the explosion that followed 17 persons were killed, or so seriously injured that they died soon after, 120 persons were injured, and damage estimated at £20,000 was done to property. The prisoners in the yard would undoubtedly have been killed had it not happened that they were exercising in the inner court.

Farrell was arrested and hanged, but the two Casey brothers escaped to France. 'Joe' Casey, when brought up for trial, was acquitted, and joined his brothers in Paris, where he was for many years a compositor. (p. 7)

There is news, too, of Joseph’s son Patrice, a native of France born and bred in Paris. From later documentation, his birth may be dated to 1885/6 (New York’s Ellis Island Immigration records online at So when Joyce met him in 1903 Patrice was presumably 17 or 18 years of age (see ‘he lapped the sweet lait chaud with pink young tongue, plump bunny’s face’: U 3.165). He was in Paris on leave from the army. Full details of his military service are still uncertain, but we do know that at the start of the First World War he was fighting for the French army against the Germans, and was wounded and taken prisoner on 25 August 1914, days after the outbreak of war. Patrice was held as a prisoner of war at Kassel (then Cassel) in northern Hesse, Germany.

We know this from the account of his brother Alexander, published in the Kilkenny People for March 1915 and cited earlier. The author of the article quotes a letter from his friend ‘Alexandre Casey, of Paris, now “Caporal” Alec Casey, of the French Foreign Legion’, which he translates (except for the expression ‘Vive l’Irlande’!). Alec, we learn, is in 1915 stationed in the trenches of northern France ‘where we have suffered a good deal from cold’, having previously been attached to an ‘entrenched camp at Paris’. He tells of his brother Patrice’s misfortune, and states that his brother is ‘badly treated’ in his prison camp. Alex (assuming we believe the newspaper) was then a member of the 4th Company, 3rd Regiment of March of the 1st Legion ‘Etranger’. As the letter-writer comments: ‘Like father like sons’.

Little more is currently known of the brothers, except that Patrice was an accomplished musician – a prize-winning oboeist – and that he was selected in 1918 as a member of Gabriel Pares’s 60-strong orchestra consisting of French soldiers who had distinguished themselves both in music and on the battlefield (having been wounded or taken prisoner). The impresario and celebrated soldier musician Pares took the orchestra on board the SS Chicago in May 1918 from Bordeaux to New York and then on to Washington and across America to play stirring French music at the military training camps of the United States. They played before the wife of the President, Mrs Woodrow Wilson, and their progress is tracked with fascination by the American newspapers. From Patrice’s immigration form we find that we was 5 ft 4 inches in height, with brown hair, and brown eyes, and with a wife back in Paris.

While on tour, more news of Patrice (also Patrick) Casey reaches Ireland:

Items of Interest (By Wire and Despatch.)…

Patrick Casey a French Soldier.

Patrick Casey a bandsman of the French Artillery, and a prize oboist, who is joining the American tank service, states that his father was Joseph Casey, a Kilkenny Fenian, who went to France in 1868, and served in the Franco-Prussian war. His brother Alex went from the French Foreign Legion to the Dublin Fusiliers.

Irish Independent (1918) 1 July, p. 2

John Simpson

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