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?
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.
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
Editor 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 Press”.
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
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
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.
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.
1 He 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.
2 John Francis O’Mahony (?1833-1910).
3 Image of John O'Mahony from the Evening Herald (Dublin: 1904) 29 November; The liberty of the Press: an address by the Auditor, John O'Mahony (Dublin University Press: 1899), p. 9.
4 Freeman’s Journal (1897), 26 July.
5 Weekly Irish Times (1903), 7 March.
7 The 1901 Census shows that he spoke Irish and English.
8 Petersfield, Hampshire: Pear Tree Press, 1906. (One of the copies in the National Library is inscribed for Mrs Holloway by O’Mahony’s wife.)
9 Matthew Russell, ‘Poets I have known, ix: Nora Tynan O'Mahony’, in Irish Monthly (1908), vol. 36.