Into the army
The British imperial enterprise from the 18th century to the 20th, and particularly the frenzied rush to control African territories in the late 19th, afforded opportunities for employment and profit to many Irishmen. During that long span of imperial ambition, the British Army drew large numbers of recruits, as well as separately standing regiments, from countries other than England, Scotland and Ireland chief among them. In Joyce's Dublin, stories circulate of men who have joined the British armed forces, and also of unscrupulous individuals who have made obscene profits off the war machine.
In Eumaeus, Bloom thinks "Irish soldiers
had as often fought for England as against her, more so in
fact." At times in the 19th century, it was also
true that more Irish troops were in uniform than English ones.
The great famine of the late
1840s, and growing nationalism, reduced Irish enlistment from
over 40 percent of the force earlier in the century to less
than 10 percent by World War I, but the total numbers were
still large. Nearly 30,000 Irishmen fought in the Second Boer
War, just before the time represented in Ulysses.
At the end of Telemachus Mulligan learns that his
friend Seymour has "Chucked medicine and [is] going in
for the army." The swimmer who gives him this
information about Seymour mentions that he saw a well-off girl
named Lily "Spooning with him last night on the pier" (OED: "To make
love, esp. in a sentimental or silly fashion"), and Mulligan
asks, "Is she up the pole?" (OED: "pregnant but
unmarried"). A pregnant girlfriend would explain Seymour’s
sudden decision to abandon his study of medicine and secure
one of the few near-certain sources of gainful employment
available to young men in 1904 Dublin.
In Nestor, Stephen thinks of one of his students'
family as "Welloff people, proud that their eldest son
was in the navy." In Lotus Eaters Bloom
contemplates recruiting posters on the wall of the post
office, and in Lestrygonians he thinks of young
revolutionaries who quickly change their tune: "Few
years' time half of them magistrates and civil servants. War
comes on: into the army helterskelter." In Eumaeus,
the old sailor calls Irish troops and sailors "the
backbone of our empire," while the innkeeper
retorts that "he cared nothing for any empire, ours or his,
and considered no Irishman worthy of his salt that served it."
Both of the Blooms have lost companions in the Boer War. Ithaca
mentions a school friend of Bloom's named Percy Apjohn who was
"killed in action, Modder River," an engagement fought
in the Cape Colony in November 1899. In Penelope Molly
thinks of a young lieutenant that she flirted with in a very
serious way at about the same time: "that Pretoria and
Ladysmith and Bloemfontein where Gardner lieut Stanley
G 8th Bn 2nd East Lancs Rgt of enteric fever he was a
lovely fellow in khaki and just the right height over me." The
chapter later makes clear that Gardner has died of the fever.
In wars fought before the age of antibiotics, it was very
common for more men to die of infectious diseases than
Craftier souls found ways of thriving without risking their
necks. Mulligan says of Haines that "His old fellow
made his tin by selling jalap to Zulus or some bloody
swindle or other”—jalap being a violent purgative
obtained from the dried tuberous root of a Mexican vine of the
morning-glory family. It should be noted that this story is
probably pure invention. Trench’s
father apparently enjoyed a distinguished career in the army
and was a scholar rather than a huckster; he published several
Cyclops reports a similar rumor about Blazes Boylan’s father: “Dirty Dan the dodger’s son off Island bridge that sold the same horses twice over to the government to fight the Boers.” Penelope at least partially confirms this story, when Molly thinks that “his father made his money over selling the horses for the cavalry.”