M'Carthy took the floor

M'Carthy took the floor

In Brief

Bloom supposes that the Irish aren't naturally suited to playing cricket: "Donnybrook fair more in their line. And the skulls we were acracking when M'Carthy took the floor." The reference is to an 1888 music hall song, "Enniscorthy," which fed the stereotype of Irish men as brawlers. Joyce quite liked the song, judging by its eight appearances in Finnegans Wake.

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Written by Robert Jasper Martin (both lyrics and music), the song details the exploits and the comeuppance of its hotheaded protagonist. It begins:

         You may travel all through Europe, and then round by Chesapake;
          You may meet with many warriors, but don't make a mistake,
          For the pride of balls and parties, and the glory of a wake,
          Was Demetrius O'Flannigan McCarthy.
          'Twas late he went to breakfast, and 'twas late he went to bed;
          If you took up a thermometer, at lasteways so 'twas said,
          The quicksilver started bubblin' when they placed it near his head,
          And the steam was like a rainbow round McCarthy.

Three more stanzas follow, recounting how McCarthy came to a party "full of whisky hot," and "a desp'rate row arose; / McCarthy, sure, he levelled them; he fought them to a close." But something tips the balance and "All were dancing like the divil on McCarthy." In a climax like the one that befalls Big Jim in the American song "You Don't Mess Around with Jim," the final stanza says, "And the eyes and ears and noses were like marbles on the floor, / with the fragments of the man they call McCarthy." After each verse comes a Chorus:

Miss Dunne said they did crowd her thin,
Miss Murphy took to powther thin,
For fear the boys might say that she was swarthy;
And the sticks they all went whacking,
And the skulls, faith, they were cracking,
When McCarthy took the flure in Enniscorthy.
In a 10 April 2018 article on peterchrisp.blogspot.com, Peter Chrisp observes that the song, written for the burlesque show Faust Up to Date staged at the Gaiety Theatre in London, was sung by Edwin Jesse Lonnen, who played Mephistopheles in the show. Robert Martin, he notes, was "the Anglo-Irish landowner of Ross Castle, Oughterard," and "a Tory who believed that the Irish were unfit for home rule." He went bankrupt in Ireland and then took up journalism and songwriting in London. "His speciality was stage Irish comic songs, usually sung by Lonnen in Gaiety Theatre burlesques....His songs often involve massive punch-ups by drunken Irishmen."

Notwithstanding the Protestant landowner's crude representations of stage Irishmen, Joyce alluded to the song repeatedly in the Wake. (He repeatedly mentioned Donnybrook Fair as well.) The first such echo, quite early in the book, comes in the scene that evokes the events of the song "Finnegan's Wake": "Aisy now, you decent man, with your knees and lie quiet and repose your honour’s lordship! Hold him here, Ezekiel Irons, and may God strengthen you! It’s our warm spirits, boys, he’s spooring. Dimitrius O’Flagonan, cork that cure for the Clancartys! You swamped enough since Portobello to float the Pomeroy" (27.22-26). Chrisp comments: "Demetrius O'Flannigan becomes Dimitrius O'Flagonan, because he's had too much to drink already. Cork that bottle!"

There are further echoes of the song at FW 91.13-15, 137.2-3, 176.18, 309.2-7, 319.3-5, 463.21-22, and 514.5-13. Some of these echoes are faint, some are loud, and some are nearly unchanged from the words of the song, like "When his Steam was like a Raimbrandt round Mac Garvey" (176). Chrisp remarks that this line, which sounds twice in the Wake, "must have been Joyce's favourite line in the song." And he observes that quite a few of the transmogrified lines (like countless other lines in the Wake) beg to be sung.

JH 2022
Poster advertising the song. Source: peterchrisp.blogspot.com.