Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Festy King

Frank McNally had a great 'Irishman's Diary' in the Irish Times last week, in which he revealed that the CNN news anchor, John King, traced his family back to Connemara, and had a grandfather called Festy King and a grandmother who was a Joyce.

 Irish Post 11 November 2020

'The forename 'Festy' is itself peculiar to Connemara. It’s short for the Latin Festus, which was often used for males christened in honour of the local saint, Feichin (whose name can be problematic in English)....There is at least one famous Festy in literature too, and he was a 'Festy King' to boot. That was the name given by another Joyce – James – to the defendant in a mysterious court case described at length in Finnegans Wake. Like everything about that book, unfortunately, the events involved are hard to follow. Even with his magic wall, John King might struggle to make sense of them.'

Frank McNally, 'A week of number-crunching with Alan Turing, John King, and Sam McConkey', Irishman's Diary, Irish Times, 11 November 2020

Festus in Latin means joyful, which is also thought to be the origin of the Irish surname Joyce. 

Father Ted fans will know at once why 'Feichin' or 'Fechin' can be problematic in English!

Festy is such a rare name that until recently most Wake scholars thought that Joyce must have made it up. When I first read the book I assumed Festy King was a title rather than a name. In 1969,  F.X.Mathews explored its many possible meanings:

'Perhaps Joyce, with his fondness for American dialect, intends feisty and fisty, apt epithets for the redoutable 'testifighter' (92.4)....Others suggest themselves. Faust King?  Feast King? feste: Festy King is literally king of the feast that is Finnegans Wake. Shem, in the image of Glugg, is the disillusioned poet who had hoped to become a 'feastking' (231.2) in his own right. But the real feastking is of course Shaun, who characteristically partakes of food while his brother scribbles.... Closely allied with the concept of the feast is a second implication. From the time we learn of the great 'mamafesta' (104.4) of ALP we are aware that Joyce is using the root word fest as part of a series of complex puns. The sons manifest the parents...'

F.X.Mathews, 'Festy King in Finnegans Wake', James Joyce Quarterly Vol. 6, No. 2 (Winter, 1969).


Vincent Deane is a brilliant genetic critic and literary detective, who has tracked down many of Joyce's notebook sources in newspaper archives. Among many other Deane discoveries was Joyce's use of the Thompson and Bywaters murder case, which I've posted about here. I took this photo of him last year, talking at the Finnegans Wake at 80 conference in Dublin.

Deane made the wonderful discovery that there was a real Festy King trial, which Joyce read about in the Connacht Tribune of 20 October 1923. It involved two Festy Kings, father and son and, like John King's ancestor, they came from Connemara. 

Bill Cadbury describes Deane's discovery:

'In addition to the plaintiff, Pat O'Donnell, there are two Festy Kings, father and son, as well as a number of other Kings, including a Simon King, whose name Joyce notes and uses. Also reported are two trials concerning altercations at different fairs between Pat O'Donnell and the Kings. In one trial Pat appeals his conviction for attacking the Kings. In the other, the one on which Joyce took notes, the Kings and a certain Peter Naughton are accused of attacking Pat, who they say stole some sheep.'

'The March of a Maker' in How Joyce Wrote Finnegans Wake, p79

Here are the quotations that Joyce used, as given in the James Joyce Digital Archive. I found these by clicking on the blue hyperlinks in the first draft version here.


'Mrs. Naughton swore that she was at the fair with a pig. She saw O'Donnell beat Simon King. Peter Naughton came to his assistance.'

Mr. Pat King, answering Mr. Connolly, said he lived at Myrus. He remembered the fair day at Kilkerrin. He met Festy King senr., and Festy King junr., while he was talking to them he heard a shot and saw O'Donnell arrested. Crossexamined by Mr. Ward: Did you hear that Festy King was arrested?
— I did.
— Did you hear for what reason?
— No.
— Is it not a wonder you did not find out or look after your uncle?
— I had a bullock to look after (laughter).
Festy King deposed that he saw O'Donnell arrested. He gave terrible abuse to the soldiers.
Mr. W: Did you fire at stone on the occasion?
— I did not.
— On your oath, did you not strike O'Donnell with a stone?
— On my oath, before God and his honor, I did not fire a stone either before or after I was born up to this day (laughter).'

Anne O'Donnell deposed that she was at the Kilkerrin fair on the day mentioned. She saw P Naughton strike Pat O'Donnell on the head. She saw Simon King strike him on the head also. Festy King struck him with a stone on the back. They called his mother a drunkard and called himself a son of an idiot...
Festy King senior., was recalled and closely examined by his honor, after which his honor remarked that this witness's last evidence differed from his first direct statement, and he was largely deciding the case on his contradictory evidence. He would give a decree for £10 and costs.'

The easiest way to see Joyce's use of this story is by reading the second draft of the Festy King trial from the Joyce Digital Archive, where the text is still in clear English:

'little headway was made when a countryman, Festy King, who gave an address in Joyce's country in the heart of a wellfamed poteen district, was subsequently brought up on an improperly framed indictment of both counts. It was attempted to show that King rubbed some dirt on his face as the best means of disguising himself and was at the fair of a Monday attended by large numbers with a pig when the animal ate some of the doorpost, King selling it because she ate a lot of the woodwork of her sty in order to pay off arrears of rent. An eyewitness said he personally was pleased to remember the fifth of November which was going to go down in the annals of history and that one thing which particularly struck a person of his observational powers was that he saw or heard Pat O'Donnell beat and murder another two of the Kings, Simon & Peter, between whom bad blood existed but it turned out in crossexamination that where the ambush was laid there was not as much light as would dim a child's altar and to the perplexedly uncondemnatory bench the first King of all, Festy, as soon as the outer layer of dirt was removed at the request of the jury declared through his interpreter on his oath and before God and all their honours that he did not fire a stone either before or after he was born up to that day and this he had the neck to supplement in the same language by postasserting that he would impart that he might never ask to see sight or light of this world or the next world or any other world if ever he up with a hand to take or throw the sign of a stone at man, sheep or salvation army either before or after being baptised down to that most holy and blessed hour.'

Connemara, from an 1880 map of Connaught

Here's an 1880 map of Connemara. The Festy King trial took place in Clifden the capital. Note the 'Joyce Country'.

Vincent Deane also discovered that Joyce had reused phrases from other stories in the same issue of the Connacht Tribune. The phrase 'improperly framed indictment' is from a story titled ''Lamentable': A Missing Mirror':

'At Galway Criminal Quarter Sessions at Wednesday, before his honour, the Recorder. … The Recorder said in every properly framed indictment there was a second count for receiving. That was the regular form.'

The vivid phrase 'as much light as would dim a child's altar' is from another story, 'Lighting the Railway Station':

'At the request of Mr. Greene it was decided to write again to the railway company with a view to getting the railway premises lighted by electricity. Mr. Greene remarked it was a shame that people coming off the train at night had to grope their way in the dark at the railway station for there was not as much light there as would dim a child's altar (laughter).'

Festy King's pig that ate the doorpost is from yet another comical story, 'Cheap Jacks':

'Mr. Greene also referred to an order formerly made by the board that sheep or pigs were not to be allowed on the sidewalks on fair days. After the last fair a trader complained to him the woodwork in front of her house was eaten away by a pig, and when she complained to the owner the only satisfaction she got was that the same pig ate the door of the pigsty at home, and that was the reason she sold it (laughter). ~'

In the final version, Festy's pig is called the 'gentleman ratepayer' (86.27) because a pig was known as the 'gentleman that pays the rent'. 

Tenniel's cartoon of the 'gentleman who pays the rent'

I like to think of James Joyce, sitting in the Victoria Palace Hotel in Paris, scouring the Connacht Tribune for reports of pigs and fights at Connemara fairs. He did feel a personal connection with the area, for this was the ancestral homeland of the Joyces. The region is still called the Joyce Country.

I visited the Victoria Palace Hotel in 2018


The big difference between the Connacht Tribune story and the Wake version is that Joyce's defendant is an Irish speaker, on trial in an English court, the Old Bailey. Ironically, the court has supplied him with an interpreter who speaks the wrong kind of Gaelic! He speaks Brythonic, the Gaelic of Wales, Cornwall and Brittany. Festy should have been given a Goidelic (Irish, Scottish and Manx) speaker.

'Pegger Festy, as soon as the outer layer of stucckomuck had been removed at the request of a few live jurors, declared in a loudburst of poesy, through his Brythonic interpreter on his oath, mhuith peisth mhuise as fearra bheura muirre hriosmas, whereas take notice be the relics of the bones of the story bouchal that was ate be Cliopatrick (the sow) princess of parked porkers, afore God and all their honours and king’s commons that, what he would swear to the Tierney of Dundalgan or any other Tierney, yif live thurkells folloged him about sure that was no steal and that, nevertheless, what was deposited from that eyebold earbig noseknaving gutthroat, he did not fire a stone either before or after he was born down and up to that time.' 91.01-13

The uselessness of the interpreter is shown here by the words in the third line which look Gaelic. They are English, and pronounced as 'with best wishes for a very merry Christmas'.

After proclaiming his innocence, Festy King clumsily tries to make the sign of his Roman Godhelic (Goidelic and Roman Catholic) faith, which causes the court to erupt in laughter. 

'Here, upon the halfkneed castleknocker’s attempting kithoguishly to lilt his holymess the paws and make the sign of the Roman Godhelic faix, (Xaroshie, zdrst!— in his excitement the laddo had broken exthro Castilian into which the whole audience perseguired and pursuited him olla podrida) outbroke much yellachters from owners in the heall (Ha!) in which, under the mollification of methaglin, the testifighter reluctingly, but with ever so ladylike indecorum, joined. (Ha! Ha!)' 91.33

This echoes the frequent public laughter reported in the Connacht trial reports. The patricular source is another Connacht Tribune news story, identified by Mikio Fuse and Robbert-Jan Henkes, this time from 24 May 1924:

'At Galway District Court, before Mr. Sean Ford, Edward Connelly and John Keller were charged with firing into the residence of Mr. J. Bristley, stationmaster, Moycullen, smashing the windows and otherwise damaging the house. ... “Do you remember the statement you made and that you were on your oath?” asked the justice, and the witness replied “It was all lies,” at which there was some laughter in which the witness joined.  The justice remonstrated with the witness, reminding him that he was in a court of justice and not a concert room. He said it was a disgraceful thing that a youth of sixteen should take an oath and then swear that everything that he had sworn was untrue.'

The Maamtrasna Murder Trial

In revising the text, Joyce changed 'a countryman, Festy King' to 'a child of Maam, Festy King' (85.22). This points to a darker source, the Maamtrasna murder trial of 1882, the year of Joyce's birth. This ended in the wrongful hanging for murder of another Joyce Country man, Myles Joyce. The five victims were also Joyces. 

Myles Joyce was tried in Dublin, in English, which he did not speak, communicating with difficulty through an interpreter who spoke an unfamiliar Donegal dialect. Like Festy King, Myles Joyce gesticulated in a desperate attempt to be understood. 

Here's part of James Joyce's own account of the trial in 'Ireland at the Bar': written in 1907 for Il Piccolo della Sera:

Prison photograph of Myles Joyce
'Several years ago a sensational trial was held in Ireland. In a lonely place in a western province, called Maamtrasna, a murder was committed. Four or five townsmen, all belonging to the ancient tribe of the Joyces, were arrested. The oldest of them, the seventy year old Myles Joyce, was the prime suspect. Public opinion at the time thought him innocent and today considers him a martyr. Neither the old man nor the others accused knew English. The court had to resort to the services of an interpreter. The questioning, conducted through the interpreter, was at times comic and at times tragic. On one side was the excessively ceremonious interpreter, on the other the patriarch of a miserable tribe unused to civilized customs, who seemed stupefied by all the judicial ceremony.

The magistrate said: ‘Ask the accused if he saw the lady that night.’ The question was referred to him in Irish, and the old man broke out into an involved explanation, gesticulating, appealing to the others accused and to heaven. Then he quieted down, worn out by his effort, and the interpreter turned to the magistrate and said: ‘He says no, your worship'.

‘Ask him if he was in that neighbourhood at that hour.’ The old man again began to talk, to protest, to shout, almost beside himself with the anguish of being unable to understand or to make himself understood, weeping in anger and terror. And the interpreter, again, dryly: ‘He says no, your worship.’

When the questioning was over, the guilt of the poor old man was declared proved, and he was remanded to a superior court which condemned him to the noose. On the day the sentence was executed, the square in front of the prison was jammed full of kneeling people shouting prayers in Irish for the repose of Myles Joyce’s soul. The story was told that the executioner, unable to make the victim understand him, kicked at the miserable man’s head in anger to shove it into the noose.'

In 2018, Myles Joyce received a Presidential pardon.

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