The man whose funeral Bloom attends in Hades, Patrick (Paddy) Dignam, is fictional, though Joyce modeled his funeral on one he had actually attended for a man named Matthew Francis Kane. Joyce made Dignam emblematic of two corporeal conditions: the universal human liability to becoming suddenly extinct, and the pervasive Dublin flaw of drinking too much alcohol. Both are implicit in the book's first mention of Dignam in Calypso: "Stop and say a word: about the funeral perhaps. Sad thing about poor Dignam, Mr O'Rourke."
Why should Bloom, who drinks very little, assume that Larry O'Rourke, who owns the pub at the corner of Eccles and Dorset Street, knows Paddy Dignam? Probably because he passes by the pub often and knows that Dignam was a regular customer. In Hades it becomes apparent that Dignam's drinking has cost him a good job, like many other Dubliners in Joyce's fictions. He used to work for John Henry Menton, a solicitor. Menton attends the funeral, and Ned Lambert mentions that he has contributed a pound to the collection that is being taken up for Dignam's wife and children:
— I'll engage he did, Mr Dedalus said. I often told poor Paddy he ought to mind that job. John Henry is not the worst in the world.
— How did he lose it? Ned Lambert asked. Liquor, what?
— Many a good man's fault, Mr Dedalus said with a sigh.
Simon Dedalus, of course, counts himself among those good men, and has himself lost good jobs along his trail of alcoholic ruin.
In Penelope Molly thinks approvingly of her husband's refusal to waste their family money in bars the way Dignam has: "they call that friendship killing and then burying one another and they all with their wives and families at home . . . theyre a nice lot all of them well theyre not going to get my husband again into their clutches if I can help it . . . he has sense enough not to squander every penny piece he earns down their gullets and looks after his wife and family goodfornothings poor Paddy Dignam all the same Im sorry in a way for him what are his wife and 5 children going to do unless he was insured comical little teetotum always stuck up in some pub corner and her or her son waiting Bill Bailey wont you please come home."
Unsurprisingly given the medical science of the time,
Dignam's cause of death is not clearly specified in the novel.
Oxen of the Sun and Ithaca identify it as "apoplexy,"
an imprecise medical term which from medieval times until the
20th century could be used for any incident in which the
victim suddenly lost consciousness and died. Heart attack and
stroke, both of which can be brought on by heavy drinking via
raised blood pressure, seem possible, but any such speculation
would be extra-literary. Starting in the late 19th century,
the term began to acquire its present meaning of internal
Matthew Kane suffered a heart attack while swimming in Dublin Bay off Kingstown Harbor in July 1904. Like Dignam, he had five young children. He also had many friends, and his funeral was much better attended than Dignam's. Among the mourners were James Joyce and his father. In Surface and Symbol, Robert Martin Adams observes that Kane's funeral procession started in Kingstown, went north to Sandymount, and then proceeded to Glasnevin by much the same SE-NW route followed in the novel. "Prayers were said at the graveside by the Reverend Father Coffey. After the funeral, a meeting was held, at which a sum of money was subscribed to take care of the dead man's children. Unlike its counterpart in the novel, Matthew Kane's funeral was well attended, and the fund for the support of his children was generously subscribed." Adams remarks that in substituting Dignam for Cunningham Joyce reduced the actual dead man to a "ghost-figure, a literary vestige which retains nothing definite in its personality except Elpenor's fiery face" (62-63).
In "Joyce's Use of Lists," published in Dublin James
Joyce Journal 8 (2015): 122-30, Vivien Igoe observes
that James Dignam, a friend of Joyce's father who often
attended funerals with him, may have given the writer the
surname for his character (130). And in a personal
communication Vincent Altman O'Connor reports that "James
Dignam was a close associate
and ‘second-in-command’ to Albert Altman in Dublin’s
powerful Temperance Movement." It seems possible, then, that
Joyce displayed a typically perverse sense of humor in
choosing Paddy Dignam's surname.
Dignam's death comes up throughout the day in Bloom's
thoughts and his conversation, starting with the explanation
he gives M'Coy in Lotus
Eaters for being dressed in black: "Poor Dignam, you
know. The funeral is today." In Lestrygonians he
tells Josie Breen that Dignam was "An old friend of mine. He
died quite suddenly, poor fellow. Heart trouble, I believe.
Funeral was this morning."