From time to time in the pages of Ulysses we turn a corner and meet an elderly gentleman marching towards us along the pavement. There is something vaguely unsettling about him: his gaze is ‘rapt’, a ‘tiny hat’ grips his head ‘tight as a skullpiece’, ‘from his arm a folded dustcoat, a stick and an umbrella dangled to his stride’. Sometimes he’s staring into an eyeglass, at others holding a roll of parchment. He skirts around the lamp-posts rather than just walking past them.1
He is known to most of the inhabitants of Dublin, and they are rather proud of him. To Joyce, he is Cashel Boyle O’Connor Fitzmaurice Tisdall Farrell. To Oliver St John Gogarty (who knew him rather better) he is James or ‘Masher’ Farrell (but also James Boyle Tisdell Burke Stewart Fitzsimons Farrell).2 To Thomas Lyster, Librarian of the National Library, he is Tisdale Farrell. To Michael Taaffe (the author of Those Days are Gone Away) he is Fitzsimons Farrell. But to most Dubliners who encountered him daily on the streets of their city at the start of the twentieth century he was just known as Endymion.
The legend of Endymion the eccentric emerged gradually as the twentieth century took shape. Much of this legend was built on fond reminiscence and hearsay. A typical anecdote comes from The Irish Times of 31 August 1926:
On one wet day [at the Vice-Regal cricket ground] our attention was diverted from the match by a series of half-suppressed, half-hysterical giggles coming from this tent. The cause was soon apparent in a figure that was seen edging out into the field behind square-leg. At first glance it was only a dignified gentleman under an umbrella, but was there not something unusual about his attire? There was. A flat-brimmed and very glossy hard felt hat and a ‘morning coat’ […] of exquisite cut and fit, though not usually seen together, hardly prepared one for the immaculate white flannel [End Page 87] compromise between cricket trousers and riding breeches coming just below the knee – we have never seen anything like these since. […] It was our first sight of one of Dublin’s characters – ‘Endymion’, as he came to be affectionately known in later years(Plate 11).
Richard Ellmann paints a similar picture:
There was ‘Endymion’ Farrell, who carried two swords, a fishing rod, and an umbrella, who wore a red rose in his buttonhole, and had upon his head a small bowler hat with large holes for ventilation; from a brewer’s family in Dundalk, he is said to have fallen into a vat and never recovered.3
The availability of the national census of Ireland for 1901 and 1911, as well as more ready access to contemporary newspapers and other archival documents, allows us to see beyond these over-sentimentalized views and to sketch the general trajectory of the life of James Farrell.
A Cast of Characters at Home
Although he is remembered as a Dublin eccentric, James Henry Farrell was born in Dundalk, by his own account on 17 June 1851. His father was Joseph Farrell and his mother Margaret (née Boyle).
Joseph Farrell was one of the leading citizens of Dundalk. Born around 1814, he had built up a business as a ship-owner and merchant. As Joseph grew older, he assumed various positions of authority within the town, as a member of the Harbour Board, as a Town Commissioner, as a Director of the Dundalk Steampacket Company, and latterly as a Justice of the Peace. He became Lloyd’s Agent for Dundalk, and his experience in matters maritime brought recognition as Prussian and Danish Consul for Dundalk and Drogheda. On 2 January 1872, Queen Victoria appointed him Vice-Consul for the German Empire with respect to the two towns. Joseph Farrell was a staunch Home Ruler, and a devout Catholic. He was the owner of several properties, including Harbour View, his home in the Quay area of Dundalk.
His wife Margaret was the daughter of ‘Dr. Samuel Boyle […] the chief supporter of Alexander Dawson in...