Hannigan's aunt

In Brief

The thought of Mulligan's disapproving aunt turns Stephen's mind to a popular song about another guardian aunt in the similar-sounding Hannigan family. By playing the tune in his head, he subverts Mulligan's elitist family snobbism with a low-life, rowdy ballad, just as he subverted Garrett Deasy's upper-crust family mythology with a rousing ballad of the Catholic peasantry.

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The song was written by Percy French (1854-1920), a well-born Anglo-Irishman who took up song-writing after graduating from Trinity College, Dublin with a degree in engineering. Several of French's compositions, including Phil the Fluther's Ball and The Mountains of Mourne, have become fixtures in Ireland's folk-song tradition.

Here is the text of "Mat Hannigan's Aunt," from The Songs of Percy French (Ossian, 1986). The sardonic last stanza insinuates the speaker's true feelings about the domineering old woman.

Oh! Mat Hannigan had an Aunt,
An Uncle too, likewise;
But in this chant, 'tis Hannigan's Aunt
I wish to eulogize.
For when young lovers came
And axed her to be theirs,
Mat Hannigan's Aunt took each gallant,
And fir'd him down the stairs.

(Chorus)

So here's a health to Hannigan's Aunt!
I'll tell you the reason why,
She always had things dacent
In the Hannigan family;
A platther an' can for ev'ry man,
"What more did the quality want?
You've yer bite an' yer sup, what's cockin' yees up!'
Says Mathew Hannigan’s Aunt.

Oh! she never would raise her voice,
She never was known to scold,
But when Hannigan’s Aunt sed, “No, you can’t,”
You did what you were told;
And if anyone answered back,
Oh, then his hair she'd comb,
“For all I want,” sez Hannigan’s aunt,
“Is peace in our happy home.” 

(Chorus)

Oh, when she went to Court,
The A-de-congs in vain
Would fume and rant, for Hannigan’s Aunt
Said, “Boy, let go me thrain!”
And when the Lard Leftinant
A kiss on her brow would imprint!
“Oh no, you can’t,” said Hannigan’s Aunt
“Widout me pa’s consint.”

(Chorus)

Oh, ‘tis often we’d praise her up,
We’d laud her to the sky,
We’d all descant on Hannigan’s Aunt
And hope she never would die.
But still I’d like to add—
If Hannigan isn’t about—
That whin we plant Mat Hannigan’s Aunt,
We won’t be too put out.

(Chorus)

The allusion was first identified in Matthew Hodgart and Mabel Worthington's Song in the Works of James Joyce (Columbia UP, 1959). In Musical Allusions in the Works of James Joyce: Early Poetry through Ulysses (SUNY Press, 1974), Zach Bowen notes the similarity to Stephen's use of song to rebut Deasy (76).

JH 2016
The Songs of Percy French, edited by James N. Healy. Source: www.musicroom.com.
Granite bench with bronze statue of Percy French in the main square of Ballyjamesduff, scultped by Alan Ryan Hall. Source: Wikimedia Commons.