Swansway: Father Conmee’s walk to Artane

U 10.3-5: Just nice time to walk to Artane. What was that boy’s name again? Dignam, yes. Vere dignum et iustum est. Brother Swan was the person to see. Mr Cunningham’s letter. Yes. Oblige him, if possible.

Among the minor characters of Ulysses benevolent Father Conmee has received his fair share of attention, not least because of his role in Joyce’s and Stephen Dedalus’s schooldays in Clongowes.

Father Conmee’s literary memorial in the Wandering Rocks episode is full of little ironies, but it shows him as “humane”, and we share with the future Father Provincial of the Jesuit order in Ireland an almost idyllic walk and glimpses of his interior monologue.

It is with highly honourable intentions that Father Conmee sets out on his three-mile journey from the presbytery in Lower Gardiner Street to meet Brother Swan - “the person to see”, as he tells himself. “Just nice time to walk to Artane.” He wants to oblige Castle clerk Martin Cunningham (“Good practical catholic: useful at mission time”), who asked in a letter for his help in finding a place in an industrial school for Patrick Dignam jun., whose family has just lost their breadwinner.

It seems that Richard Kain was the first to suggest that Father Conmee’s final destination is the “O’Brien Institute for Destitute Children”, run by the Christian Brothers, whose director was the Rev. William Swan.1 As the Rev. Brother Swan was indeed the Superior of the Institute (after running the Christian Schools in Kingstown and until his death aged 77 in 1911), this has become the accepted reading.2 But examining the evidence in Ulysses carefully casts doubt on its validity.3

A first suspicion arises from the fact that in a book as brimful of recurrences as Ulysses there is no reference anywhere to the “O’Brien Institute”. It seems that Joyce scholarship has connected it to Artane. There are no documents to be found before the 1970s, however, that refer to the “O’Brien Institute, Artane”. Right from the start of the Wandering Rocks episode, Father Conmee is said to have Artane in his mind, and later reference is made to the Artane Industrial School (Director: Brother P. O’Ryan, also of the Christian Brothers) in Circe when the School’s orphans caper round Bloom and sing a satirical song (15.1887-91). Earlier in the day walking behind Dignam’s coffin Kernan tells Bloom that “Martin is trying to get the youngster into Artane” (6.537).

It is highly likely, however, that either Joyce or Father Conmee or Martin Cunningham was misinformed about the establishment run by Brother Swan, which was the O’Brien Institute, and not the Artane Industrial School. We know from the narrative in Wandering Rocks that Father Conmee has passed beyond the O’Brien Institute on his way to Artane. The implications of the following passage seem to have been overlooked:

Father Conmee, having read his little hours, walked through the hamlet of Donnycarney, murmuring vespers. (10.842-3)

Courtesy of the Library of Trinity College Dublin

The map above shows that Father Conmee, walking from bottom left, passing the driveway leading to the Institute before walking through Donnycarney, is clearly on his way to Artane.

In this case, Father Conmee’s stated position on the Malahide road must take precedence over the real-life directorship of the Rev. Swan, and in Joyce’s narrative Father Conmee is doubtlessly on his way to the Industrial School in Artane.

* * *

As we are on the Malahide Road already we might just as well see if another little riddle in connection with Father Conmee’s leisurely stroll can be solved:

The lychgate of a field showed Father Conmee breadths of cabbages, curtseying to him with ample underleaves. (U 10.180-1)

The word “lychgate” is obviously applied in a wider sense than the OED’s definition:

The roofed gateway to a churchyard under which the corpse is set down, to await the clergyman's arrival.

So obviously we are dealing with a structure here that at least reminded Father Conmee of a lychgate. That the narrative voice here is strongly influenced by his perceptions is confirmed by the context. Even cabbages show reverence to his reverence.

As Joyce ransacked his brother’s diary for his own purposes it is intriguing to find the following passage:4

This is the road, the Malahide Rd. I know it well now that I see it. There are high broken hedges on both sides of it, and a few trees. Where the road branches, an irregular dwelling-house with an orchard about it sidles to an arm, and before, parting the bifurcation, is an old gate entrance. There is a young fellow on the opposite side going in the same direction as I am.

This description seems to fit the branching off of the driveway to the O’Brien Institute to a T:

Courtesy of the Library of Trinity College Dublin

Eamonn Finn and Harald Beck


1 Richard M. Kain, ”Motif as Meaning. The Case of Leopold Bloom” in Thomas F. Staley, Bernard Benstock, ed., Approaches to Ulysses. Ten Essays (1970), p. 83.

2 Irish Times (1911), 6 March, p. 5.

3 See Gifford; Ian Gunn and Clive Hart, James Joyce's Dublin. A Topographical Guide to the Dublin of Ulysses, 2004; Robert Nicholson, Ulysses Guide. Tours Through Joyce's Dublin, 2015

4 Stanislaus Joyce Dublin Diary (1962), p. 172.

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