Scratching at Scabs: The Garryowens of Ireland
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Scratching at Scabs
The Garryowens of Ireland

Outspoken, xenophobic, and off-putting, the citizen has been the focus of nearly every critical analysis of Irish nationalism in Ulysses. Yet scholars have nearly forgotten the only other character in Kiernan’s pub who understands the Irish language: Garryowen.1 The few who do attempt to discern the dog’s significance generally point to a 1775 song, which celebrates the lawless adolescents of Limerick’s suburb, Garryowen.2 They argue that the song, “Garryowen,” and its rowdy subjects share characteristics with Joyce’s citizen and his canine companion. For example, Joseph Prescott highlights and Don Gifford reiterates that “Garryowen” is an “Irish roistering song” and thus corresponds to the citizen and his nationalistic sentiments.3 Richard Ellmann, on the other hand, suggests that the dog has biographical relevance: “Even the dog Garryowen was not made up of stray barks and bites, but belonged to the father of Joyce’s Aunt Josephine Murray, whom Gerty MacDowell accurately identifies as ‘Grandpapa Giltrap’” (JJ 365). But the name, the place, and the dog carry significance for Joyce studies that goes beyond superficial connections and esoteric biography.

A small literary tradition springs from the suburb’s mythically rambunctious associations, which the 1775 song articulates. The dog motif in Ulysses draws not only on the song “Garryowen” but also on Gerald Griffin’s The Collegians: A Tale of Garryowen (1829); Maria Edgeworth’s “Garry Owen: or, the Snow Woman” (1832); Dion Boucicault’s The Colleen Bawn, or the Brides of Garryowen (1860); and H. De Vere Stacpoole’s Garryowen: The Romance of a Race-horse (1909). An examination of these works reveals a unifying theme that Joyce adopts and comments on in Ulysses. Namely, the protagonists must choose between a beautiful animal [End Page 153] or woman (the Garryowen figure) and something or someone that will provide them with financial security. In other words, they must choose between self-indulgence and self-denial. While all the works dramatize this choice, they typically reveal that selecting self-denial brings its own rewards. We can thus interpret the choice in these works more appropriately as one between instant gratification and long-term security. I unearth this literary tradition, which the citizen enters when he chooses to borrow a dog named Garryowen, to show that the dog in Ulysses represents the choice between two unsatisfactory options for national identity that arose from the Irish adherence to British-imposed stereotypes: the quaint savage or the colonized civilian. Joyce incorporates the Garryowen tradition into Ulysses to comment on this binary identity system. He argues that just as the dog Garryowen scratches at the scabs that mar his flesh, the Irish writers in the Garryowen tradition maintain these stereo-types in their constructions of a national identity. The scabs, the stereo-types, persist as reminders of the wounds inflicted by the colonizer, and, in Joyce’s view, the continued picking at them will never allow a healthy and whole Irish identity to form.

It is strange that Garryowen the dog has not received more critical attention because other dogs in Ulysses clearly plague the novel’s protagonists. In “Proteus,” Stephen confronts two dogs, one dead and one alive. The dead dog, washed up on the shore, illustrates Stephen’s persistent fear of drowning. The living dog frightens him, suggesting, as Maud Ellmann observes, a fear deeper than cynophobia:

Ironically, the cur pays no attention to him, suggesting that Stephen has more fear from the indifference of the public than their teeth. When the dog starts digging up the sand, Stephen speculates that the animal is looking for “something he buried there, his grandmother,” although it is not clear whether the dog is digging something up or digging it in (U3.3610–11). The dog’s ambiguous digging mirrors Stephen’s inner work of mourning, as he buries and unburies his dead mother with riddles about canines and their grandmothers. (84)

The two dogs encapsulate three of Stephen’s notable fears in Ulysses: his hydrophobia; his gynophobia, of which his mother and her death are an integral part; and his fear of poetic obscurity.4

Dogs—or possibly one...


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