The "United Irishman" was a weekly newspaper founded by Arthur Griffith and William Rooney in 1899. It appeared every Thursday until the government shut it down with the pressure of a libel suit in 1906. (It was reincarnated as Sinn Féin, which lasted until the government shut that down in 1914.) In a 6 September 1906 letter to his brother Stanislaus, Joyce remarked that this nationalist publication was the only Irish newspaper of any "pretensions" to real value, but he attacked Rooney's poetry in 1902, and his parody of Griffith's writing in Cyclops is at best ambivalent.
When Alice Milligan and Anna Johnston closed their monthly
paper, the Shan Van Vocht,
in 1899 they gave Griffith and Rooney their subscription
lists, so The United Irishman became a kind of
successor to that earlier vehicle of passionate nationalism.
The new paper did not represent so-called advanced
nationalism, i.e. militant advocacy for a separate state.
Instead it advocated returning to something like the state of
affairs before the Act of
Union: an Ireland governed by its own Parliament but
loyal to the British King.
In the complacent landscape of turn-of-the-century Irish
newspapers, this counted as a fairly radical position.
Griffith strongly opposed the second Boer War and Britain's
recruitment of Ireland's young men to fight that war. In Lotus
Eaters Bloom admires the paper's willingness to take on
the (non-)curfew policy that allowed British soldiers to
cruise Dublin's streets at night looking for sex: "Maud Gonne’s letter about
taking them off O’Connell street at night: disgrace to our
Irish capital. Griffith’s paper is on the same tack
now: an army rotten with venereal
disease: overseas or halfseasover empire." The paper
also advocated for the development and protection of an
independent Irish economy, continuing one major theme of the
anti-colonialist Shan Van Vocht.
William Rooney died young in 1901, and in 1902 Griffith
published some of his patriotic poems in the United
Irishman. Joyce penned an unsympathetic review of those
poems which appeared in the 11 December 1902 Daily Express,
referring (amidst much other less memorable criticism) to
"those big words which make us so unhappy." This irreverence
perhaps carried over into the reading that Joyce has the
Citizen perform in Cyclops: "Did you
read that skit in the United Irishman today
about that Zulu chief that's visiting England?" A long
paragraph is given over to a funny and winningly
anti-imperialist, but also deeply racist, account of a meeting
in England between some Manchester cotton traders and the
"Alaki," the king of a Nigerian tribe.
John Wyse Nolan asks, "Is that by Griffith?" "No," replies
the Citizen, "It's not signed Shanganagh. It's only
initialled: P." Gifford notes that Griffith "did write 'skits'
of the sort quoted," at first under the pseudonym "Shanganagh"
(which may mean "a friendly conversation," according to P. W.
Joyce in English as We Speak It in Ireland), but also
later as "P" ("for the spirit of Parnell?," Gifford
speculates). If one reads these details as suggesting that
Griffith did author the piece, its racism makes sense in light
of the fact that Griffith supported black slavery. (The
Citizen is no better: after he and his cronies abhor the
horrors of Belgian imperialist practices in the Congo, he
proceeds to refer to Bloom as "that whiteeyed kaffir.")
But the "skit" presented as a feature in the day's United
Irishman in fact never appeared in that paper, or any
other. Joyce constructed it as a parody of the kind of
thing that Griffith might write, but he took the incidents
from stories in another newspaper, the outspokenly pro-Empire
London Times. As John Nash notes in "'Hanging over
the bloody paper': newspapers and imperialism in Ulysses,"
an essay collected in Modernism and Empire (Manchester
UP, 2000), ed. Howard J. Booth and Nigel Rigby, "The Times
carried several reports of the Alake's visit to England in
May-June 1904," and many details in those reports show up in
Joyce's anti-imperialist parody (190-91). Nash observes that
the skit's "peculiar mix of fact and fiction displays Joyce's
careful moulding of the imperialist Times into its
direct opposite, a humorous and anti-imperial newspaper"
The humor and anti-imperialism may perhaps be seen as
honoring Griffith, but the racism almost certainly cannot.
Bloom's poignant experience of racial prejudice in Cyclops,
and his refusal to think in such terms himself, provide a
powerful counterweight to supposing that the text is asking
its readers to join the pub crew in laughing about a
blub-lipped, fancy-dancing, sycophantish, cannibalistic,
"dusky potentate." It must be said, however, that the totality
of representations of black people (and white imitators of
black people) in Ulysses makes this judgment open to