Sir John Blackwood

Sir John Blackwood

In Brief

Mr. Deasy tells Stephen that he has "rebel blood in me too," from his mother's side of the family, but he proudly claims descent "from sir John Blackwood who voted for the union": "He voted for it and put on his topboots to ride to Dublin from the Ards of Down to do so." The reference is to an actual 18th century member of the Irish House of Commons, Sir John Blackwood, and his determination to ride to Dublin could be considered inspiring, given his age at the time. But once again Deasy is peddling a mangled account of history: Sir John intended to vote against the legislation.

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According to Ellmann, Joyce learned the story from a friend who also provided the model for Deasy's letter-writing campaign. "Henry N. Blackwood Price, an Ulsterman who was Assistant Manager of the Eastern Telegraph Company" in Trieste, asked Joyce when he visited Ireland in 1912 to carry back news of a cure for foot-and-mouth disease that had supposedly been discovered on the Continent. In an August 7 letter to Joyce that Joyce quoted in one of his own letters to Stanislaus, Price wrote, "Be energetic. Drop your lethargy. Forget Leinster for Ulster. Remember that Sir John Blackwood died in the act of putting on his topboots in order to go to Dublin to vote against the Union. You will get your name up if you write this up" (325-26). Price invoked the story in a patriotic spirit: the disease scare had led England to impose an embargo on Irish cattle, and a cure could defend Ireland just as Sir John once had.

Sir John Blackwood, 2nd Baronet of Ballyleidy, represented constituencies (Bangor and Killyleagh) in  County Down, Ulster, in the Irish House of Commons from 1761 until his death at the age of 78 in 1799. The "Ards of Down" is a peninsula jutting into the Irish Sea east of Belfast and wrapping around the Strangford Lough. It lies nearly 100 miles away from Dublin—an extremely long ride for a man nearing his ninth decade. Consistent with the wholesale bribery that preceded the two Act of Union votes, Gifford notes that Sir John "was offered a peerage to bribe him to vote for Union." He refused, but evidence suggests that his son, Sir James Blackwood, voted for the Union and was made Baron Dufferin in recompense.

Considering the trouble that Sir John was preparing to take to resist imperial skullduggery, the motto that Deasy attributes to him, "Per vias rectas" (Latin: "By straight roads" or "By proper means"), seems well justified. But Mr. Deasy himself is arguing per vias pravas, crookedly.

John Hunt 2018
The Ards peninsula in County Down. Source: