Gifford identifes “Palefaces” as being “Irish slang for the English,” derived from a term supposedly used by native Americans for their “white English conquerors.” But Joyce is also playing with a uniquely Irish resonance, as Gifford goes on to note. In the late Middle Ages, the Pale was the small part of Ireland that remained under the direct control of the English crown after the Anglo-Norman invasions of the late twelfth century succumbed to intermarriage and alliance with various Gaelic chieftains.
As the territory under the control of the English crown contracted to Counties Meath, Kildare, Louth, and Dublin, and as its perimeter was progressively ditched and fenced, it came to be known synecdochically by the Latin name for a stake (palus) driven into the ground to support a fence. Those outside the fence were “beyond the pale.” Those inside it—essentially, the inhabitants of greater Dublin—were “Palemen.”
The American literary critic Leslie Fiedler made “redskins and palefaces” names for archetypal oppositions in American culture, and the dyad probably has resonances in many cultures where European settlers have pushed into the lands of darker-skinned peoples—or, in the case of Ireland, people imagined as similar to the Negroes and Indians of America. (British racist stereotyping in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries often presented the Irish, in print and in cartoons, as dark, brutish, and subhuman.) The Citizen, in Cyclops, seems well aware of this analogy between Native Americans and Native Irish, reinforced by the Irish experience of transatlantic emigration: "We have our greater Ireland beyond the sea. They were driven out of house and home in the black 47. Their mudcabins and their shielings by the roadside were laid low by the batteringram and the Times rubbed its hands and told the whitelivered Saxons there would soon be as few Irish in Ireland as redskins in America."