Hand(s) up for the Imperial Yeomanry

 U 12.1317-20

Hear, hear to that, says John Wyse. What will you have?

– An imperial yeomanry, says Lenehan, to celebrate the occasion.

– Half one, Terry says John Wyse, and a hands up. Terry! Are you asleep?

– Yes, sir, says Terry. Small whiskey and bottle of Allsop.1

When Lenehan names his drink and John Wyse places the order, today’s readers, contrary to barman Terry in Barney Kiernan’s, are baffled. A bottle of beer named after a volunteer cavalry force in the British army or called a “hands up”? The two expressions were obviously synonymous at that time, as an early draft of the scene (V.A. 6) confirms, in which it was Alf Bergan, not Lenehan, who was stood a drink by John Wyse:

Give it a name then.

Uphander, says Alf. Imperial yeomanry, Terry.

Right, says Joe. Terry, bottle of Allsopp.

The note sheets Joyce compiled for the Cyclops episode between June and 3 September 1919 in Zurich already pair the two terms.2 The word “uphander” turns out to provide the missing link between “imperial yeomanry” and a “bottle of Allsopp”. Hans Baumann, whose Londinismen (1903), a German dictionary of current English slang, Joyce plundered for Ulysses, explains (translated from German): “first used in the South-African war in 1900. Soldier who (by raising his hands) surrenders. (The winner would command ‘hands up!)’”3 As the OED entry for hands-upper shows, this could also refer to Boer soldiers, but in both versions of the scene the characters in Ulysses allude to the numerous defeats the Imperial Yeomanry Cavalry had suffered in the recent second Boer War (1899-1902), notably in the notorious battle of Lindley in May 1900, and not least to their lack of morale: A piece in the Motherwell Times of 14 March 1902 laments, under its headline “Hands up”:

An unprecedented and painful feature of the South African War has been the constant succession of surrenders to the enemy of unwounded officers and men. [p.4]

  In Ireland, where large numbers of people tended to side with the Boers, these defeats and surrenders would have been noted with schadenfreude: in the Circe episode a voice counters a patriotic “Up the soldiers! Up King Edward!” with a sarcastic “Ay! Hands up to De Wet” (15.4519-22).4

  The fact that troops of the 60th (Belfast) Regiment of Yeomanry wore a badge on their helmets featuring the red hand of Ulster on a white shield may also have played a role in the coinage, just as the fact that the directors of Samuel Allsopp and Sons Ltd., sent 600 bottles of their light and dark lager for the use of 500 volunteers to the Cape in January 1900.5 But we can only speculate as to the precise origin of this presumably local Dublin idiom in which Imperial Yeomanry came to mean a bottle of Allsopp’s ale.

Left: Joyce's handwritten notesheet showing "uphander" and "imp. yeom". Centre: Extract from the Dublin Evening Telegraph 15 July 1905, p. 7. Right: The Allsopp Brewery trademark red hand.

  A raised red hand had been the Allsopp Brewery’s trademark since 1862. In 1904 the company reminded the public that their Light Dinner Ale was also called “Hand Up” and was thus registered and protected at the Patent Office.6 Joyce (at 12.1212) has the Citizen utter the tribal slogan and battlecry of the O'Neills, Lamh Dearg Abu (“Red hand to victory”), but it was a common misconception in Ireland that Allsopp’s trademark was based on the “red hand of Ulster”. The open hand was simply a traditional sign to signal that the inn in question sold ale of good quality.7

     As far as we know, the use of “Imperial Yeomanry” to allude to Allsopp’s beer made it into print only once, apart from Ulysses. The only other piece of documentary evidence dates from 15 July 1905 when it  was thus used in a headline for an article in the Dublin Evening Telegraph about a court case involving a Dublin county publican who had sold beer of low quality under Allsopp’s trade name. Incidentally the detailed legal account was taken up by the Brewers' Journal and Hop and Malt Trades' Review (p. 496) the same year. The Dublin paper’s word Reminiscence possibly indicates that the use of Imperial Yeomanry for Allsopp’s ale was short-lived.


Harald Beck


Thanks are due to Vincent Deane, Eamonn Finn, and John Simpson for valuable advice and information. Peter Fishback kindly drew my attention to this crux.


1 Joyce in Zurich in 1919 was obviously in doubt about the spelling and decided against the correct form “Allsopp”.

2 Phillip Herring could not decipher Joyce’s abbreviation imp. yeom when he transcribed low-quality micro films for his pioneering Joyce’s Ulysses Notesheets in the British Museum of 1972.

3 Whether Joyce had a written source for imperial yeomanry or just remembered hearing it in public houses cannot be ascertained. The Evening Telegraph article referred to later in this article is not a likely source for the notesheet entry as it invariably uses Allsopp’s trademark “Hand Up”. The final version of the passage with Lenehan has “hands up”, with all the connotations of defeat that are absent from the trademark term.

4 De Wet was the prominent leader of the Boer forces.

5 Irish Times, 15 January 1900, p. 6

6 See Dublin Daily Express, 1 March 1904, p. 4

7 Ian Webster, Ind Cope & Samuel Allsopp Breweries (2015)  p. 22