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Waking the King: Faction and Fission in Finnegans Wake

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 46, Number 2, Winter 2009
pp. 305-320 | 10.1353/jjq.0.0143



This essay argues that the Wake views the civil conflicts of 1922 as symptomatic of a much older malady rooted in the myth of the Irish High Kingship. The central parallel is the Wake’s conflation of Roderick O’Connor, the last High King of Ireland, and Rory O’Connor, a key figure in the Irish Civil War. Such political disasters as Dermot MacMurrough’s alliance with Henry II and the betrayal of Charles Stewart Parnell are seen as part of a larger pattern of self-division and betrayal that grew out of the power struggle of kings. This malady was exacerbated by such things as a lack of clarity about laws of succession, the factional proliferation of royal centers, and the tendency to appeal to outside powers to settle internal disputes. Rather than being de-centered, the Wake is seen as multi-centered, fissured by opposing camps. The partisan idealization of these figures and Brian Boru by the O’Brien and Cormac MacArt by the O’Neill in order to legitimate political ambitions also served to disturb the harmony of Irish society and make it vulnerable to colonial incursions. Finally, the “rain of Tarar” unleashed by the Irish Civil War is seen as an extension of “the reign of Tara” in which an arbitrary power posed as a harmonizing royal center. This seemingly interminable battle of the brothers is also mediated by a, perhaps utopian, vision of reconciliation and truce.

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