Tuesday, 4 March 2014

James Joyce, rugby fan

It's a little known fact that James Joyce was a rugby fan!  

On 14 April 1923, Joyce went to see Ireland play France in a Five Nations Championship game at the Colombes Stadium (below). He immediately learned the names of the whole Irish team, as well as the names of the clubs they played for.

You wonder how much of the game could Joyce see?
We know this thanks to a memoir by William G Fallon, who was at Belvedere school and University College with Joyce. Fallon had been a rugby back for the Bective Rangers, a leading Dublin club. The Bective Rangers are named in all three of Joyce's novels:  A Portrait ('It was the night of the match against the Bective Rangers'), Ulysses ('I'll tell my brother, the Bective rugger fullback on you, you heartless flirt') and Finnegans Wake ('the Bective's wouldn't hold me' 451.10 and, possibly, 'vective volleying' at 581.03).

In 1923, Fallon visited Paris, as an official for the Irish Rugby Football League, in order to see Ireland play France. He gave Joyce a call.

'He seemed delighted to hear from me. When I arrived at the flat I discovered to my astonishment that he had been to see the match. 'How did you come to see the game, Joyce?' I said. 'I had to go and see the boys in green jerseys' was his reply.

In 1931, I was again over in Paris, but this time as an Irish selector. Joyce must have guessed I was in town for the match because he phoned me to come around and see him. He had two tickets for the match and was going accompanied by an enthusiast.  I was unable to go with Joyce, but agreed to meet him later. When I got around to see him eventually that evening, having dodged the after-dinner match, he told me that his eyes had not been strong enough to identify 'our team'. He rolled off the names of the Irish players who had taken part in the game and their respective clubs. Then to my astonishment he talked of prominent players in the 1923 side and added that he had attended the alternate games played in the intervening seasons whenever he happened to be in Paris. A substantial part of our conversation was taken up talking about the match and the players.'

The Joyce We Knew, ed Ulick O'Connor

Sadly for Joyce and Fallon, in 1923, France beat Ireland 14-8. This picture, from the cover of Miroir des Sports, shows the 'two heroes of the match', the Irish fullback, William Ernest Crawford (left) and the French winger Adolphe Jaur√©guy. I found it on Frederic Humbert's excellent rugby pioneers blog,

A couple of months after seeing the Irish game, in 1923, Joyce wrote the Tristan and Isolde episode, in which Tristan appears as a 'handsome brineburnt sixfooter Gaelic, rugger and soccer champion', fondling Isolde's 'palpable rugby and association bulbs'.

I wonder if the 'enthusiast' Joyce attended the 1931 match with was Samuel Beckett. At Portora Royal School, Beckett played rugby as a halfback and was captain of the First XV. According to a contemporary, Douglas Graham, Beckett was 'blind without his spectacles, but bold as a lion in the scrum' (quoted by Russell Smith, Samuel Beckett in Context, p.15)

Joyce sent Fallon a copy of transition, containing the latest extract from Finnegans Wake. Fallon was baffled by the piece, not spotting that it had several references to rugby in it! This is another example of Joyce's delusion that the more stuff he packed into the Wake, the wider its appeal would be.

Ulick O'Connor tracked the rugby references down:

I found this sentence which now appears on page 457 of Finnegans Wake: 'By the horn of twenty of both of the two saint Collopys, blackmail him I will.'
  I remembered that there were two brothers, Bill and Dick Collopy, who had played for Ireland against France in the 1920s. I checked the records and found that they had both been playing the day that Joyce and Fallon had seen the match in Paris. Then on page 446 there was this reference which confirmed my view: 'in that united I.R.U. stade'. I.R.U. stood for Irish Rugby Union. Stade was the Stade Columbe where the match was played. Then on page 451 came a reference to Fallon's own rugby club, Bective Rangers: 'And I tell you the Bectives wouldn't hold me.'  In Joyce's day the Bective first fifteen contained several Old Belvederians and it turned out that Joyce used to go out to their grounds in Ballsbridge to watch the team play, which is presumably where he got the inspiration for his comparison on page 499 of the moon rolling through the clouds like a rugby ball in a scrum: 'I'd followed through my upfielded neviewscope the ruckaby moon cumuliously god-rolling himself westasleep amuckst the cloudscrums...'

Introduction to The Joyce We Knew, p.15


Another game Joyce is known to have seen was one between France and the New Zealand All Blacks, at Colombes Stadium in Paris in January 1925. The All Blacks were touring France, Britain, Ireland and Canada, and winning every game they played.  The team, whose star player was the Maori fullback, George Nepia, won the nickname, 'The Invincibles' - coincidentally also the name of the Irish nationalists who committed the Phoenix Park murders (a big event in the Wake).

The New Zealand scholar, Richard Corballis, has written an article about this match in James Joyce Quarterly 44.1 (2006)  

According to Corballis, Joyce was particularly taken by the 'haka' (Maori war chant), which the team, led by Nepia, performed before the game. This is how it went:

Kia whakangawari au i a hau! I au-e! Hei! (Get ready for the clash)
Ko Niu Tireni e haruru nei. Au! Au! Au-e ha! Hei! (New Zealand's storm is about to break)
Ko Niu Tireni e haruru nei. Au! Au! Au-e ha! Hei!
A ha-ha!
Ka tu te ihiihi (We shall stand fearless)
Ka tu te wanawana (We shall stand exalted in spirit)
Ki runga ki te rangi, (We shall climb to the heavens)
E tu iho nei, tu iho nei, hi! (We shall attain the utmost heights)
Au! Au! Au!

The All Black Haka in Paris, during the later 1926-7 tour
These pictures also come from Frederic Humbert's rugby pioneers blog
Another haka, for the Paris cameras in December 1926
I've found a couple of films of the haka on youtube, here and here.

Wanting to find out more about the haka, Joyce wrote to his favourite sister, Poppy (Margaret Alice), who had become a nun, Sister Mary Gertrude, and emigrated to New Zealand. Corballis cites a tribute to Sister Mary Gertrude which appeared in the Tablet a month after her death: 'When the All Blacks first visited Paris, James Joyce attended the games and later requested that Sister Mary Gertrude send him the Maori words with translation and music of the Haka.'

Joyce included the haka in Finnegans Wake, in his warfare section, where he introduces the story of how Buckley shot the Russian General:

Au! Au! Aue! Ha! Heish!
As stage to set by ritual rote for the grimm grimm tale of the four of hyacinths, the deafeeled carp and the bugler’s dozen of leagues-inamour or how Holispolis went to Parkland with mabby and sammy and sonny and sissy and mop’s varlet de shambles and all to find the right place for it by peep o’skirt or pipe a skirl when the hundt called a halt on the chivvychace of the ground sloper at that ligtning lovemaker’s thender apeal till, between wandering weather and stable wind, vastelend hosteil-end, neuziel and oltrigger some, Bullyclubber burgherly shut the rush in general.
Let us propel us for the frey of the fray! Us, us, beraddy!
Ko Niutirenis hauru leish! A lala! Ko Niutirenis haururu laleish! Ala lala! The Wullingthund sturm is breaking. The sound of maormaoring The Wellingthund sturm waxes fuercilier. The whackawhacks of the sturm. Katu te ihis ihis! Katu te wana wana! The strength of the rawshorn generand is known throughout the world. Let us say if we may what a weeny wukeleen can do.
Au! Au! Aue! Ha! Heish! A lala!   335.04 etc

Note the references to the 'maormaoring' of the haka, imagined as a storm breaking. 'Wellingthund' is both the Iron Duke at Waterloo and the capital of New Zealand. Corballis concludes:

The battle between Wellington and Napoleon, which permeates the Wake, may reflect, among other things, the 1925 match between New Zealand and the French. Moreover, since this particular All Black team has always been known as the "Invincibles," there may even be a rugby pun involved every time that word, in its various guises, appears in the text....It may not be too impudent to suggest that Colombes Stadium is as significant a site in the Wake as the Phoenix Park.

Richard Corballis, 'The Provenance of Joyce's Haka', James Joyce Quarterly 44.1 (2006) 

Fweet lists many more rugby references here.

And here's an entertaining article about Joyce and the Maori haka, by Dean Parker, from the New Zealand Herald.

1 comment:

  1. there's a fine line here between detached artist and fan... remember little sd's reluctance on the soccer field. (i was reminded recently that jaj at belvedere was an enthusiastic swimmer)