Stage Irishman

Stage Irishman

In Brief

In Circe, when Bloom sings verses of the song whose chorus syllables Corny Kelleher has altered to an Irish-sounding "Tooraloom," Paddy Leonard accuses him of playing the "Stage Irishman!" A little later in the chapter, after being burnt to a "carbonised" lump by the Inquisition, Bloom jumps back into life as just this figure: "(In caubeen with clay pipe stuck in the band, dusty brogues, an emigrant's red handkerchief bundle in his hand, leading a black bogoak pig by a sugaun, with a smile in his eye.)" The stage Irishman, often called Paddy, was a stereotypical theatrical figure: rural, poor, talkative, belligerent, drunken, and totally unreliable, but often funny and charming.

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This figure, born in the late 17th century and sustained in theaters and music halls throughout the 18th and 19th, generally insinuated the stupidity of Irish Catholic peasants, but in some plays he could charm audiences and get the better of more urbane rivals. Slote and his collaborators quote a detailed description of his features from Maurice Bourgeois's John Millington Synge and the Irish Theatre: "The stage Irishman habitually bears the generic name of Pat, Paddy or Teague. He has an atrocious Irish brogue, makes perpetual jokes, blunders and bulls in speaking, and never fails to utter, by way of Hibernian seasoning, some wild screech or oath of Gaelic origin at every third word; he has an unsurpassable gift of 'blarney' and cadges tips and free drinks. His hair is of a fiery red; he is rosy-cheeked, massive and whisky-loving. His face is one of simian bestiality, with an expression of diabolical archness written all over it. He wears a tall felt hat (billicock or wideawake) with a cutty clay pipe stuck in front, an open shirt-collar, a three-caped coat, knee-breeches, worsted stockings and cockaded brogue-shoes" (109-10).

The "clay pipe" was a staple of life for Irish peasants, produced cheaply in great numbers. The "caubeen" in which Bloom's is stuck is a beat-up old hat or soft beret-like cap, from the Irish cáibin = little cape. His "brogues" are "dusty," suggesting that he has been tramping the roads, and indeed he carries "an emigrant's red handkerchief bundle." Slote quotes from Anna Marie Hall's Ireland: Its Scenery, Characters, &c. an account of an Irish emigrant so poor that he landed on the dock with nothing but "a little handkerchief bundle in his hand." The mass emigrations that started in the 1840s rejuvenated the figure of the stage Irishman. Dubliner Dion Boucicault's plays The Colleen Bawn (1860), Arrah-na-Pogue (1864), and The Shaughraun (1874) contain several examples of the type, presented fairly sympathetically.

It is unclear what "a black bogoak pig" may be––a toy pig made out of bogoak, consistent with the theatricality of the stage Irishman and of Circe, or a living animal stained as black as bogoak by dwelling in sties and bogs? The "sugaun" (súgán) by which Bloom leads it is a homemade rope fashioned by twisting together strands of straw or hay. In his Dictionary of Hiberno-English Terence Patrick Dolan quotes examples of such uses: "A single pig when driven to a fair has a rope or a soogaun tied to one of its hind legs. A soogaun was also the name of the straw collars put on to plough-oxen." 

When the caubeened Bloom speaks––"Let me be going now, woman of the house, for by all the goats in Connemara I'm after having the father and mother of a bating"––his non-standard idioms, dialectal pronunciation, and reference to the west of Ireland complete the picture of a stage type. "Woman of the house" is the English equivalent of the Irish bean an tí (Dolan cites also the forms bean tí, bean a' tí, and beantigh), now often applied to landladies in the Gaeltacht. Dolan observes that "after" is often placed before a participle in Hiberno-English to form perfect and pluperfect tenses, so that saying "I'm after having my dinner" means "I've just had it." And Slote cites P. W. Joyce's English As We Speak It in Ireland as confirming that the "father of a beating" is a savage one.

This short speech briefly allies Bloom with other representations of regional speech in the novel, notably the Aran Islands dialect of the stage Irishmen and Irishwomen in Synge's plays (a somewhat different species) that Buck Mulligan imitates in Scylla and Charybdis and Oxen of the Sun. It is interesting in this context that Oliver Gogarty complained to friends that by casting him as Malachi Mulligan Joyce was trying to make him into a stage Irishman.

John Hunt 2024

  The Stage Irishman, ca. 1909 ink and watercolor drawing by Jack Butler Yeats that includes a clay pipe and many other common features, as well as a shillelagh. Source:

  The Stage Irishman, an 1870 print based on Boucicault's Arrah-na-Pogue, held in the New York Public Library. Source: