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Joyce and the Two Irelands

Joyce and the Two Irelands

This book fully explores James Joyce’s complex response to the Irish Revival and his extensive treatment of the relationship between the "two Irelands" in his letters, essays, book reviews, and fiction.

Series: Literary Modernism Series

January 2001
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232 pages | 6 x 9 |

Uniting Catholic Ireland and Protestant Ireland was a central idea of the "Irish Revival," a literary and cultural manifestation of Irish nationalism that began in the 1890s and continued into the early twentieth century. Yet many of the Revival's Protestant leaders, including W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, and John Synge, failed to address the profound cultural differences that made uniting the two Irelands so problematic, while Catholic leaders of the Revival, particularly the journalist D. P. Moran, turned the movement into a struggle for greater Catholic power.

This book fully explores James Joyce's complex response to the Irish Revival and his extensive treatment of the relationship between the "two Irelands" in his letters, essays, book reviews, and fiction up to Finnegans Wake. Willard Potts skillfully demonstrates that, despite his pretense of being an aloof onlooker, Joyce was very much a part of the Revival. He shows how deeply Joyce was steeped in his whole Catholic culture and how, regardless of the harsh way he treats the Catholic characters in his works, he almost always portrays them as superior to any Protestants with whom they appear. This research recovers the historical and cultural roots of a writer who is too often studied in isolation from the Irish world that formed him.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abbreviations Used
  • 1. Sectarianism and the Irish Revival
  • 2. The Critical Writings
  • 3. Dubliners
  • 4. Stephen Hero and A Portrait of the Artist
  • 5. Exiles
  • 6. Ulysses
  • Endnotes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Willard Potts is Professor Emeritus of English at Oregon State University.


In a diary entry for 1930, W. B. Yeats recalls a day early in the Irish Revival when he and Douglas Hyde were out walking and heard people at work in a field singing words that Hyde recognized as his own. Yeats says he begged Hyde to "give up all coarse oratory" and to write more such songs as a way to "help the two Irelands, Gaelic Ireland and Anglo-Ireland so unite that neither shall shed its pride." The two Irelands Yeats speaks of go by many names in addition to the ones he uses, among them "native and settler," "people and Ascendancy," and "green and orange." The most common, however, are "Catholic and Protestant," hence friction between the groups regularly is called "sectarian," even when religion is not the cause. As F. S. L. Lyons explains, Irish Catholics and Protestants historically have clashed because they represent two different "cultures" rather than two different religions.

As was the case with the United Irishmen in the late eighteenth century and with Young Ireland in the mid-nineteenth, uniting the two Irelands was a central idea in that phase of Irish nationalism called "the Irish Revival." Both Yeats and Hyde played major roles in the founding of this Revival, sometimes dated from the latter's famous speech on "The Necessity for De-Anglicizing Ireland." Hyde delivered this speech in November of 1892, slightly over a year following the death of Charles Stewart Parnell and a few months prior to James Joyce's eleventh birthday. Hyde's speech helped launch a movement that went on to become the most vital force in Ireland during the rest of Joyce's years there. Joyce came into close contact with that force while a student at University College Dublin, then a center of Revival fervor. He also wrote about the Revival in book reviews and essays as well as in his fiction, thus making it a major subject of his work.

In 1905, his older contemporary and a leading figure of the Revival, John Eglinton (W. K. Magee), noted that the Revival had not succeeded in creating the sectarian harmony at which many of its leaders aimed; but that instead, there had been a "recrudescence among us of religious bigotry." Eglinton blamed the problem largely on Revival writers' failure to discuss relations between Irish Catholics and Protestants. He complained that a main canon of the writers forming what is now called the "literary Revival" seemed to be that they "must not give offence by any too direct utterance on the central problem of Irish life, the religious situation." The religious situation, by which Eglinton meant relations between Irish Protestants and Catholics, also was a central problem of the Revival and had been almost from its start.

Hyde and Yeats, along with John Synge, Lady Gregory, A. E. (George Russell), and other leading figures of the literary Revival, including Eglinton, were all Protestants. Whether for fear of giving offense or for other reasons, except for Eglinton, they all avoided the subject of sectarian relations. This is especially apparent in the Abbey Theatre plays, which repeatedly focus on Ireland's legendary past, the Catholic peasants from the West of Ireland, or other subjects safely removed from any discussion of encounters between Catholics and Protestants. It is not until 1925, with the appearance of the Protestant Adolphus Grigson in Sean O'Casey's The Shadow of a Gunman, that a major Abbey play even acknowledges the presence of two cultures in Ireland. Among the major writers of the Revival, Joyce alone was Catholic, and he alone wrote explicitly about the relationship between the two Irelands. This relationship becomes an obvious issue when Protestants, whether fictional or historical, appear among the crowd of Catholics in his work or when they are alluded to. Parnell is the most ubiquitous of the historical Protestants in Joyce's works. Other Protestants figure prominently in the Library episode of Ulysses, where A. E., Joseph Lyster, Richard Best, and John Eglinton appear, while Yeats, Synge, and Lady Gregory are alluded to. Of Joyce's fictional characters, Crofton in "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" and "Grace"; Mr. Browne in "The Dead"; Eileen in A Portrait of the Artist; Robert and Beatrice in Exiles; and Mr. Deasy, the Reverend Hugh C. Love, and Reggie Wylie in Ulysses are clearly identified as Protestant. Others, such as the old man in "An Encounter," the stall attendant and her two male friends in "Araby," and the dwarf captain in A Portrait of the Artist appear to be Protestant because of their English, "good" or "genteel" accent. Irish Catholics who spoke with an English accent could be found in Joyce's time (as before and since), but the classical minded Joyce dealt with general truths, and the general truth for Ireland was that such an accent meant Protestant, as it does in the case of Reverend Love. The principle of general truths also makes it likely that the combination of Northern accent, position as employer, and English sounding name indicates Protestant ancestry for Alleyne in "Counterparts." Even more English sounding names indicate the same for Mrs. Bellingham, Mrs. Yelverton Barry, and The Honorable Mrs. Mervyn Talboys in Ulysses. But issues pertaining to the Catholic/Protestant split arise without any specific mention or appearance of Protestants, as when Stephen Dedalus meditates on that Protestant institution, Trinity College Dublin, in Chapter Five of A Portrait of the Artist.



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