Poor Dignam

In Brief

The man whose funeral Bloom attends in Hades, Patrick (Paddy) Dignam, is fictional, though he was partly based on a man named Matthew Francis Kane who drowned in Dublin Bay in July 1904. (Kane also reportedly served as the model for Martin Cunningham.) Joyce made Dignam emblematic of two corporeal conditions: the universal human liability to becoming suddenly extinct, and the pervasive Dublin flaw of drinking too much alcohol. Both are implicit in the book's first mention of Dignam in Calypso: "Stop and say a word: about the funeral perhaps. Sad thing about poor Dignam, Mr O'Rourke."

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Why should Bloom, who drinks very little, assume that Larry O'Rourke, who owns the pub at the corner of Eccles and Dorset, knows Paddy Dignam? Probably because he passes through the pub from time to time and knows that Dignam was a regular customer.

In Hades it becomes apparent that Dignam's drinking has cost him a good job, like many other Dubliners in Joyce's fictions. He used to work for John Henry Menton, a solicitor. Menton attends the funeral, and Ned Lambert mentions that he has contributed a pound to the collection that is being taken up for Dignam's wife and children:

     — I'll engage he did, Mr Dedalus said. I often told poor Paddy he ought to mind that job. John Henry is not the worst in the world.
     — How did he lose it? Ned Lambert asked. Liquor, what?
     — Many a good man's fault, Mr Dedalus said with a sigh.

Simon Dedalus, of course, counts himself among those good men, and has himself lost good jobs along his trail of alcoholic ruin.

In Penelope Molly thinks approvingly of her husband's refusal to waste their family money in bars the way Dignam has: "they call that friendship killing and then burying one another and they all with their wives and families at home . . . theyre a nice lot all of them well theyre not going to get my husband again into their clutches if I can help it  . . . he has sense enough not to squander every penny piece he earns down their gullets and looks after his wife and family goodfornothings poor Paddy Dignam all the same Im sorry in a way for him what are his wife and 5 children going to do unless he was insured comical little teetotum always stuck up in some pub corner and her or her son waiting Bill Bailey wont you please come home."

Unsurprisingly given the medical science of the time, Dignam's cause of death is not clearly specified in the novel. Oxen of the Sun and Ithaca identify it as "apoplexy," an often imprecise medical term which from medieval times until the 20th century could be used for any incident in which the victim suddenly lost consciousness and died. Heart attack and stroke, both of which can be brought on by heavy drinking via raised blood pressure, seem possible, but any such speculation would be extra-literary. (Starting in the late 19th century, the term began to acquire its present meaning of internal hemorrhaging. Whether or not Joyce was aware of this new, more precise meaning also seems uncertain.)

On the afternoon of 10 July 1904 Matthew Kane suffered a heart attack and drowned while swimming from a boat off Kingstown. He was 39 years old. Like Dignam, he had five young children. He also had many friends, and his funeral was much better attended than Dignam's. Among the mourners were James Joyce and his father.

In Surface and Symbol, Robert Martin Adams observes that "Prayers were said at the graveside by the Reverend Father Coffey. After the funeral, a meeting was held, at which a sum of money was subscribed to take care of the dead man's children. Unlike its counterpart in the novel, Matthew Kane's funeral was well attended, and the fund for the support of his children was generously subscribed. Matthew Kane had been widely popular, and was much respected by his associates and superiors in the Castle, as well as in the community at large. In adapting his funeral to that of Paddy Dignam, Joyce's chief problem was that of exclusion, diminution and reduction; one sees that he has succeeded in producing a kind of ghost-figure, a literary vestige which retains nothing definite in its personality except Elpenor's fiery face" (62-63).

Adams observes that Kane's funeral procession started in Kingstown and proceeded to Glasnevin by a SE to NW route similar to that followed in the novel. In "Joyce's Use of Lists," published in Dublin James Joyce Journal 8 (2015): 122-30, Vivien Igoe adds that after Kingstown the cortège proceeded to Sandymount, and then "followed much the same route as that of Paddy Dignam’s funeral in Ulysses" (125). Igoe observes also that James Dignam, a friend of John Stanislaus Joyce who often attended funerals with him, may have given the writer the surname for his character (130).

In a personal communication, Vincent Altman O'Connor reports that "James Dignam was a close associate and ‘second-in-command’ to Albert Altman in Dublin’s powerful Temperance Movement." It seems quite possible, then, that Joyce displayed a typically perverse sense of humor in choosing Paddy Dignam's surname.

JH 2017
Laborer Henry Barter smoking a pipe in John Mullet's pub in Amiens Street, Dublin, in 1953. Source: www.rareirishstuff.com.
Matthew Francis Kane, with the "silkhatted head" which Joyce attached to Martin Cunningham. Source: www.jjon.org.