Friday, 11 October 2013

A Walk through the Phoenix Park

The day after seeing Riverrun, we walked though Phoenix Park, from Islandbridge to Chapelizod. It's the biggest enclosed park in Europe, and a major location in Finnegans Wake. Joyce's book is a resurrection myth, in which everything is renewed through a 'commodious vicus of recirculation.' So the Phoenix, the mythical fire bird that is resurrected from its own ashes, appears again and again in the book. There's a column in the park with the bird on top. 

The opening page describes the fall of the giant Finnegan, who lands with his head at Howth in the east and his toes sticking up in the Phoenix Park in the west. The Park is also a Garden of Eden, where the hero, HCE, is supposed to have committed some sort of primal sin or crime. Phoenix Park has a strong connection with crime, for it was here, in 1882, the year of Joyce's birth, that Lord Frederick Cavendish, the British Secretary for Ireland, and his undersecretary, Thomas Henry Burke, were stabbed to death by the Invincibles.

The park takes its name from the Phoenix Lodge, built in 1611 by Sir Edward Fisher. Dublin lore has it that 'Phoenix' is an English corruption of the Irish name for a nearby spring, the Fhionn uisce (clear water). I can't find any hard evidence for this, and the spring is no longer there. The Phoenix Lodge was later the residence of Henry Cromwell, son of the hated Oliver, when he was Lord Deputy of Ireland from 1656-9. 

In 1734, the lodge was demolished and a Magazine Fort built on the site.  We climbed up
the hill to have a look at it and walk around. 

The Magazine Fort inspired a satirical verse from Jonathan Swift: 

'Behold a proof of Irish sense;
Here Irish wit is seen!  
When nothing’s left that’s worth defence
We build a magazine!'

This is parodied in Finnegans Wake: 'Behove this sound of Irish sense. Here English might be seen'(12.36). The Wake might look English, but it sounds Irish.
Joyce told his friend Frank Budgen that 'the whole basis' for Finnegans Wake was an encounter his father, John Stanislaus Joyce, had with a tramp in the Phoenix Park. According to Ellmann's biography, Joyce senior was working as a rates collecter when he bravely 'defended his collector's bag against an assailant in the Phoenix Park'.

Joyce transforms this into the story of how HCE, 'billowing across the wide expanse of our greatest park', is accosted by a 'cad with a pipe'. Asked the time by the cad, HCE launches into a stammering defence of his character, which suggests that he is guilty of something. The cad later repeats the story to his wife, who tells her priest, who is overheard at the horse races telling the story, by two disreputable characters, Treacle Tom and Frisky Shorty.  As the story passes on, the scandal about HCE grows.

Eventually, it comes together in a comic song The Ballad of Persse O'Reilly, by 'an illstarred beachbusker' called Hosty. There's a recording of Hosty's song, by the late great Ronnie Drew, which you can hear on youtube. I love the way he copes with some of the later verses, where the lines are much longer than the notes allowed.

Here's the opening verse, with music composed by Joyce. Persse O'Reilly is a play on the French perce-oreille (earwig), so it's a version of Earwicker.

Echoing the 'great fall of the offwall' on the book's opening page, HCE is now Humpty Dumpty, who has fallen and landed by the butt of the Magazine Wall, like Lord Olafa Crumple - Oliver Cromwell/ all of a crumple.

Walking down from the Magazine Wall, there was a magical moment when Lisa spotted a fallow deer stag looking up at us. We sat and watched him for several minutes, until he disappeared into the woods.

These fallow deer are the descendants of the original seventeenth century herd, when this was a deer park. 

Another of Joyce's names for the Phoenix Park is 'deerhaven' (244.29).

We headed on towards Chapelizod, to find Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker's pub.

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