The King of Spain’s daughter

U 15.4585-6: Ireland’s sweetheart, the king of Spain’s daughter, alanna. Strangers in my house, bad manners to them!

Towards the end of “Circe”, as Privates Carr and Compton are gearing up for a fight with the heavily disadvantaged Stephen Dedalus, Old Gummy Granny, clearly a figure for the hopes and sorrows of old Ireland, appears. She speaks to Stephen, urging him on: “Ireland’s sweetheart, the king of Spain’s daughter, alanna. Strangers in my house, bad manners to them!” (U.15.4585-6).

Later, in Eumaeus, Bloom is discoursing to Stephen about the presumed (but in fact non-existent) Spanish blood of Kitty O’Shea:

And if I don’t greatly mistake she was Spanish too.

– The king of Spain’s daughter, Stephen answered… (U 16.1412-14)

Gifford and Seidman, as well as Slote, Mamigonian and Turner, in their respective annotations, agree that the references to “the king of Spain’s daughter” in both passages derive from the nursery rhyme:

I had a little nut tree,

Nothing would it bear

But a silver nutmeg

And a golden pear;

The king of Spain’s daughter

Came to visit me,

And all for the sake of

My little nut tree.1

This may be the ultimate source, but a more immediate and perhaps more relevant one might be Padraic Colum’s poem, “A Drover” and in particular its third stanza:

Then the wet, winding roads,

Brown bogs with black water;

And my thoughts on white ships

And the King o’ Spain’s daughter.

This attribution is the more plausible because “A Drover” is mentioned earlier in Ulysses, in “Scylla and Charybdis” (U 9.303). As Jeri Johnson points out in her Oxford World Classics edition, “A Drover” was published in George Russell’s anthology of 1904, New Songs, and the poem comes up in a discussion among the Anglo-Irish literati (Stephen excluded) about new publications and meetings.2

An interesting question is why Old Gummy Granny (who clearly derives from the milkwoman of “Telemachus”) should invoke “the king of Spain’s daughter” at that stage in “Circe” – and why Stephen should mention her in the context of Kitty O’Shea. The only commentator to provide a possible answer is Declan Kiberd.3 He suggests, I think correctly, that she is alluded to because of Spain’s perceived or hoped for support of Ireland at various stages of the national struggle (the battle of Kinsale of 1601-2 marking the high point of Spanish involvement). Spanish backing is alluded to allegorically in James Clarence Mangan’s “Dark Rosaleen”, a very free translation of the Irish “Róisín Dubh”: “and Spanish ale shall give you hope, my Dark Rosaleen.” It seems unlikely that Colum’s drover is thinking in this political sense when he mentions the King of Spain’s daughter – he is probably just fantasising lyrically – but as it is used in Ulysses, that dimension seems inescapable.

One has to admire, incidentally, the sang-froid with which Bloom responds to Stephen’s outlandish suggestion:

“– Was she?” (U.16.1415).

Terence Killeen


1 Don Gifford, with Robert J. Seidman, Ulysses Annotated, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988). James Joyce, Ulysses, with annotations by Sam Slote, Marc A. Mamigonian and John Turner, (Richmond, Surrey: Alma Classics, 2012).

2 Jeri Johnson (ed) Ulysses (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993) p. 837.

3 Declan Kiberd (ed) Ulysses (London: Penguin Books, 1992) p. 1148.

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