Hoppy Holohan

Hoppy Holohan

In Brief

In a book stuffed to the rafters with minor characters, "Hoppy Holohan" is one of the most minor. Joyce probably based him on an actual person that he learned about from Nora, but biographical information about this person has not been found. Holohan plays a fairly important, though ignominious, role in the Dubliners story "A Mother," but in Ulysses he is reduced to having two people ask two other people whether they know him.

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"A Mother" begins with a paragraph introducing him: "Mr Holohan, assistant secretary of the Eire Abu Society, had been walking up and down Dublin for nearly a month, with his hands and pockets full of dirty pieces of paper, arranging about the series of concerts. He had a game leg and for this his friends called him Hoppy Holohan. He walked up and down constantly, stood by the hour at street corners arguing the point and made notes; but in the end it was Mrs Kearney who arranged everything." Mrs. Kearney makes the arrangements, energetically and at some considerable expense, because her daughter Kathleen is scheduled to perform in the four concerts for a sum of eight guineas. But the opening night proves to be a sorry affair, with a small house and mediocre artistes, making Mrs. Kearney fearful that her daughter will not be paid.

She harasses Holohan for payment, saying that Kathleen will not go on without it, and, with audience members stamping, clapping, and whistling, is finally given half the agreed-upon sum in advance, minus four shillings. Her unladylike insistence is roundly criticized, even though the narrative notes that one of the male performers "had been paid his money" in advance. At intermission she continues to fume: "She had spared neither trouble nor expense and this was how she was repaid. / They thought they had only a girl to deal with and that, therefore, they could ride roughshod over her. But she would show them their mistake. They wouldn't have dared to have treated her like that if she had been a man. But she would see that her daughter got her rights: she wouldn't be fooled. If they didn't pay her to the last farthing she would make Dublin ring."

Mr. Holohan tells her that Kathleen will receive the second half of her payment in the following week, if she performs in the second half of the concert. Mrs. Kearney insists on being paid immediately, and Kathleen is forced to withdraw from the concert's second half. Trying to salvage some dignity from this disaster, the mother tells Holohan "I'm not done with you yet." He replies, "But I'm done with you." After she leaves he too is fuming: "That's a nice lady!... O, she's a nice lady!" The story ends with Mr. O'Madden Burke assuring him, "You did the proper thing."

Holohan's shoddy management and complacent chauvinism carry over into Ulysses only by the slenderest of threads. In Aeolus Mr. O'Madden Burke, the man who closed ranks with him at the end of "A Mother," discusses details of the Phoenix Park murders with Myles Crawford and says, "Holohan told me. You know Holohan?" This passing reference echoes a similar exchange in Lotus Eaters. When M'Coy learns that Bloom is going to Paddy Dignam's funeral, he says, "I only heard it last night. Who was telling me? Holohan. You know Hoppy?" Bloom replies, "I know." Crawford replies, "Hop and carry one, is it?" In Circe Holohan fills a small and purely choral role. He has one line: "Good old Bloom! There’s nobody like him after all."

In August 1909 Joyce was reeling from Vincent Cosgrave's malicious claim that he slept with Nora when she was first seeing Joyce in 1904. He wrote her from Dublin to ask, "Is Georgie my son?... Were you fucked by anyone before you came to me? You told me that a gentleman named Holohan (a good Catholic, of course, who makes his Easter duty regularly) wanted to fuck you when you were in that hotel, using what they call a 'French letter'. Did he do so? Or did you allow him only to fondle you and feel you with his hands?" (Selected Joyce Letters, 158). Vivien Igoe writes that "Holohan appeared as a guest in Finn's Hotel in Leinster Street where the 19-year-old Nora was working as a chambermaid in the early months of 1904. He tried unsuccessfully to seduce her. Holohan could well have served as the model for the Holohan in Joyce's fiction."

JH 2022
Mr. Kearney, Kathleen Kearney, and Mrs. Kearney in Robin Jacques' illustration of "A Mother." Source: James Joyce, Dubliners (Grafton Books, 1977).