Corny Kelleher

Corny Kelleher

In Brief

At the beginning of Lotus Eaters Bloom predicts which undertaker's business will be in charge of Paddy Dignam's funeral "at eleven": "Daresay Corny Kelleher bagged the job for O'Neill's." This man, who does indeed manage the funeral in Hades, is identified in Cyclops as "Mr Cornelius Kelleher, manager of Messrs H. J. O’Neill’s popular funeral establishment," and in Eumaeus as "Cornelius T. Kelleher." He also appears briefly in Wandering Rocks, and in Circe he occupies the stage for quite a long while. Joyce vividly characterizes Kelleher as a businessman in charge of carriages, as a police informant, as a singer of Irish ditties, and as a well-intentioned if not very likable good old boy.

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Gifford and Slote both call the character "fictional," but the dense particularity of the portrait suggests that Joyce may have had a real-life model in mind. He often assigned fictive names to actual Dubliners, sketching in enough recognizable features that other Dubliners would be able to pierce the disguise. Apparently thinking along such lines, Vivien Igoe supposes that Kelleher was "Based on Simon Kerrigan (1855-1936)." Her evidence is that Kerrigan worked at O'Neill's: "In 1904 he was the manager of the funeral establishment of H. J. O'Neill, undertaker and job carriage proprietor, at 164 North Strand Road." This fact, and the similar surnames, together seem very persuasive, even if no one can confirm that Simon possessed any of the qualities attributed to Corny.

One reason for changing Kerrigan to Kelleher, rather than representing him under his own last name, may have been a desire to avoid libel charges. When Bloom first thinks of Corny he calls him a "Police tout"—i.e., an informer. This characterization is borne out in Wandering Rocks when Kelleher stands in the doorway of O'Neill's establishment and engages in guarded conversation with "Constable 57C, on his beat." With "his hat downtilted," he responds monosyllabically to the constable's remarks about the weather and then asks, "What's the best news?" The reply: "— I seen that particular party last evening, the constable said with bated breath."

Wandering Rocks adds one more characterizing detail to the portrait of Corny: at his workplace he chews "a blade of hay." In Lotus Eaters Bloom thinks also of his fondness for singing trite Irish songs: "Met her once in the park. In the dark. What a lark....Her name and address she then told with my tooraloom tooraloom tay....With my tooraloom, tooraloom, tooraloom, tooraloom." Joyce is referring here to an actual song, though he gets the refrain syllables slightly wrong. These insistently repeated nonsense words, sounded again near the end of Circe when Bloom and Kelleher part ways, suggest that such musical drivel is perpetually on the man's lips.

In Hades it becomes evident that Kelleher has been in charge of organizing the funeral procession. Mr. Power complains that "Corny might have given us a more commodious yoke." "He might, Mr Dedalus said, if he hadn't that squint troubling him. Do you follow me?" Simon hints at his meaning by closing his left eye. The implication may be that Corny deliberately overlooks shortcomings in his services—an inference which would fit with the crumbs that the men in the carriage then find on its seats. Corny has preceded the procession to the cemetery, and when it arrives there he is seen taking wreaths from the hearse, directing the removal of the coffin, positioning the wreaths in the memorial chapel, giving them to relatives to carry to the graveside, and consulting with the cemetery's caretaker. The insistently mentioned wreaths return in Circe when "Corny Kelleher, weepers round his hat, a death wreath in his hand, appears among the bystanders."

Circe also perpetuates Kelleher's association with carriages by having him appear in Monto on a hackney cab. He is bringing "two silent lechers" to Mrs. Cohen's brothel, and at first, in a confusion suggestive of the chaotic scene in the street and typical of Circe in general, it is not clear whether he is the "jarvey" driving the car (supplementing his income from the funeral home in yet another way, one wonders?), or a third customer for the brothel's services, or neither of these things. "He averts his face," and when the sex workers call out to the new arrivals he responds "with a ghastly lewd smile," suggesting that he too may be planning to enter. This impression is furthered when "The silent lechers turn to pay the jarvey," making it clear that Kelleher and the jarvey are two different people.

But he stays with the car, not with the lechers. A little later, as Bloom tries to rescue the injured Stephen from the soldiers, he tells the constables who have appeared on the scene, "I see a car over there." Corny, whom the policemen respectfully address as "Mr Kelleher," intervenes: "Leave it to me, sergeant. That'll be all right. (He laughs, shaking his head.) We were often as bad ourselves, ay or worse. What? Eh, what?" He says, "I just see a car there. If you give me a hand a second, sergeant..." Saying that "Boys will be boys," he takes control by assuring them that "I've a car round there." When Bloom asks him if he indeed has a car, Kelleher "(Laughs, pointing his thumb over his right shoulder to the car brought up against the scaffolding.) Two commercials that were standing fizz in Jammet's. Like princes, faith. One of them lost two quid on the race. Drowning his grief. And were on for a go with the jolly girls. So I landed them up on Behan's car and down to nighttown."

The jarvey is named Behan, then, and Corny has simply engaged him to drive his drinking buddies over to the Monto. After leaving them at the brothel, the two of them have noticed Stephen's trouble in the street: "Sure it was Behan our jarvey there that told me after we left the two commercials in Mrs Cohen's and I told him to pull up and got off to see. (He laughs.) Sober hearsedrivers a speciality. Will I give him a lift home? Where does he hang out? Somewhere in Cabra, what?" Told that Stephen lives all the way out in Sandymount, Kelleher checks to make sure that the prostrate young man has not been robbed and then says, "Well, I'll shove along. (He laughs.) I've a rendezvous in the morning. Burying the dead. Safe home!" He pulls off on the "sideseat" of the car, gesturing amusement and reassurance to Bloom, and "The car jingles tooraloom round the corner of the tooraloom lane. Corny Kelleher again reassuralooms with his hand. Bloom with his hand assuralooms Corny Kelleher that he is reassuraloomtay. The tinkling hoofs and jingling harness grow fainter with their tooralooloolooloo lay."

Although Kelleher is not driving the car, Circe makes it sound as if he could be. He talks as if his carriage-driving has brought him to the scene ("Sober hearsedrivers a speciality"), and he seems more like a tour director than a passenger on the car, escorting the men to the brothel and offering to give Stephen "a lift home" rather than simply putting them on vehicles of their own. His image also blurs with that of the lechers. The momentary impression that he may be entering the brothel with them turns out to be only slightly mistaken: "(Laughs.) Sure they wanted me to join in with the mots. No, by God, says I. Not for old stagers like myself and yourself. (He laughs again and leers with lacklustre eye.) Thanks be to God we have it in the house, what, eh, do you follow me? Hah, hah, hah!"

All of these details make for a richly nuanced portrait that is compelling but not ultimately very flattering. Kelleher's offers to help the inebriated salesmen and Stephen seem almost like good samaritanship, but not quite, as the one furthers a crass aim and the other is withdrawn when it appears too difficult. The air of importance conferred by having the policemen respectfully call him "Mr Kelleher" is undercut by knowing how they know him and why they respect him. His air of goodnatured friendliness wears thin with every repeated, excessive laugh, just as his songbird trilling sickens with every nonsensical tooraloom. The deference due him as a successful businessman is tempered by awareness of his cheap, slapdash business practices. And his reference to prostitution as something that younger men do is hardly ennobled by the winking logic that these days "we have it in the house."

JH 2022
Black Victorian hearse for hire (white ones are also available) from Ramon Massey & Son Family Funeral Directors, Dublin. Source: www.ramonmasseys.ie.
White hearse ca. 1900, photograph courtesy of the Neil Regan Funeral Home in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Welsh funeral procession in a photograph of unknown date. Source: www.spookyisles.com.