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Finnegans Wake as an Irish Revivalist Work as Demonstrated by the Use of the Celtic Archetype

Updated on December 13, 2014

Fínnegans Wake representing the cyclical nature of Celtic belief...

There’s where. First. We pass through grass behush the bush to. Whish! A gull. Gulls. Far Calls. Coming, far! End here. Us then. Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, Mememormee! Till thousendstheee. Lps. The keys to. Given! A way a lone a last a loved a long the” (Joyce 628)

riverun, Past Eve and Adam’s from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.” (Joyce 3)

Fínnegans Wake as a Revivalist Work

Though James Joyce is not seen as a revivalist, his work Fínnegans Wake bursts with the elements of the warrior king archetype and erects itself as a monumental work of the Irish Revival. Fionn MacCumhail, Arthur, and King Mark are three of the primal forces of Celtic Literature. As such, they blend together as one great collective unconscious of Celtic creation within the character of Tom Finnegan, otherwise known as HCE. Each adds its Celtic mythological element through the allusions, within the literal understanding of the work, to create a warrior king, once, at present, and for the future of Fínnegans Wake. In this way, Fínnegans Wake, is clearly an intentional revivalist work.

Fion MacCumhail, the modern day Finn MacCool, is the “he” in HCE. Just like the character of Fínnegans Wake, he has legendary exploits, human frailties, dies, lies beneath the ground as a giant and will be resurrected to live again.

Where the characters of Arthur and Mark bring about thoughts in the reader of warrior kings, Fionn is also a poet and a man of wisdom. He is the leader of the warrior band, the Fianna. He is not merely a Celt; he is an Irish Celt. In Fionn one finds a hero devoid of Catholicism and fully integrated with the Celtic traditions and Culture. As Fínnegans Wake’s primary character, Fionn represents the Celtic essence of the book that makes it a revivalist work. Fionn lies below the surface of the linguistic play waiting to be brought forth as the Irish Literary Revival blasts the trumpet that wakens Ireland.

One of the most significant Celtic traits of Fínnegans Wake is its cyclical nature. Fínnegans Wake can be said to begin on the last page of the work. This is where the Celtic hero floats away. However, as the cadence indicates the river flows past the end to the beginning and once more begins again. My theory of the book ending and then recycling into itself is based on the punctuation where the sentence of the last page does not end and where the beginning of the first page does not have a capital letter. It seems quite obvious that the end of the book is also the beginning of the book.

The ending lines of the book take on a poetic cadence that needs the beginning of the book for thematic continuity. This poem-like feel smoothly ends in the first paragraph of the book where it slowly glides back into prose as naturally as a waterfall again becomes a river. The ending recycling into the beginning allows Fínnegans Wake to be past, present, and future action. This work encompasses the Celtic view of time and is the ultimate revivalism as everything celtic is born again. The book is Fionn again.

Furthermore, this genesis embodies the Celtic belief system. Cormac’s Glossary Speaks of, “The tuirgen or circuit of births which the soul pass through: ‘the birth that passes from every nature into another; a transitory birth which has traversed all nature from Adam and goes through every wonderful time down to the world’s doom giving nature of one life’” (Matthews 62). The smooth transition and Joyce’s reference to Adam in the introduction demonstrate this belief system in a way that any westerner would understand as the beginning of man.

One can see the poetry motion of the words with the line, “A way a lone a last a loved a long the riverrun (Joyce 628-3).” The impact of this strong iambic rhythm must conclude with the stressed “riverrun.” Without regeneration to the beginning of the book the entire work is impotent. The act of perpetual genesis is the essential oil of the work. Why else would Joyce end the work without punctuation and begin the book with a lowercase letter?

The alliterative nature of this ending/beginning further strengthens the lead to the first page. The hard sound of riverrun is a fitting end to the blending of the consonance and alliterative sounds through the sentence. The symbolic arrival of Fionn is none other than Howth Head which is strongly associated with the legendary Fianna. The “End here” tells us it is the end. And we see that Finn is “Finn, again” and given the keys to the river Liffy. Finn is sent off on a traditional archetypical ending floating away on a funerary boat but begins again on the River Liffy. Fionn arrives from his deep sleep as the Celtic Warrior.

The Dord Fiann: an ancient horn that will wake the sleeping Fionn and his warrior band of Fianna.

This is my version of what the Dord Fiann would look like, the nicks the Ogham of a Celtic Warrior.
This is my version of what the Dord Fiann would look like, the nicks the Ogham of a Celtic Warrior. | Source

Lady Gregory's writings on Fionn and the Fianna.

...there are some say he never died, but is alive in some place yet.

And one time a smith made his way into a cave he saw, that had a door to it, and he made a key that opened. It. And when he went in he saw a very wide place, and very big men lying on the floor. And one that was bigger than the rest was lying in the middle, and the Dord Fiann beside him; and he knew it was Finn and the Fianna were in it.

And the smith took hold of the Dord Fiann, and it is hardly he could lift it to his mouth and he blew a very strong blast on it, and the sound it made was so great it is much the rocks did not come down on him. And the sound, the big men lying on the ground shook from head to foot. He gave another blast then, and they all turned on their elbows.

...But some say the day will come when the Dord Fiann will be sounded three times, and that at the sound of it the Fianna will rise up as strong as well as ever they were. And there are some say Finn, son of Cumhaill, has been on the earth now and again since the old times, in the shape of one of the heroes of Ireland.

... And one night there were two men[telling stories of the Fianna] ... saw two very tall shapes on the two hills on each side of the valley, and one of the tall shapes said to the other: “Do you hear that Man down below? I was the second doorpost of battle at Gabhar, and that man knows all about it better than myself.” (Gregory 403-404).

Writers before, and contemporary to, Joyce wrote of the tales of Fionn.

Memory is the key element of literary recirculation. The illusions to a giant sleeping below the surface metaphorically represents the per-revival culture. Fionn as the giant is an even more virile representation of the Celtic awakening. His story is in the collective unconscious of the Irish people.

Ireland is one of the few places where Celtic beliefs seem to have survived Catholicism’s reformative pen. Furthermore, Irish myth tells that Fionn did not actually die but waits sleeping below the surface of the earth. He sleeps and waits for the Dord Fiann, a horn, which will be sounded three times bringing Fionn and his warriors back to life.

Many Irish Revivalists took up the topic of Fionn's awakening. One such writer was Lady Gregory who wrote of the warrior and his group of Fianna. She also notes the Dord Fiann. Few would argue that James Joyce read the writings of Lady Gregory. Therefore, it is no surprise, if Joyce is writing as a Revivalist, that the Dord Fiann would be mentioned in Fínnegans Wake.

Tristan Also called Tristram or Tristrem; Isolde also called Iseult, Isolt, or Yseult. Principal characters of a famous medieval love-romance, based on a Celtic Legend (itself based on an actual Pictish King). Though the archetypical poem from which all extant forms of the legend are derived has not been preserved, a comparison of early versions yields an idea of its content.

The central plot of the archetype must have been roughly as follows: The young Tristan ventures to Ireland to ask the hand of the Princess Isolde for his uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, and, having slain a dragon that is devastating the country, succeeds in his mission. On the homeward journey Tristan and Isolde, by misadventure, drink the love potion prepared by the queen for her daughter and King Mark. Henceforward, the two are bound to each other by an imperishable love that dares all dangers and makes light of hardships but does not destroy their loyalty to the king.

They continue to meet in secret after they return, but eventually they are separated, in some versions because King Mark discovers them and Tristan is forced to flee in others because the love potion wears off after several years and they separate voluntarily. In most versions of the story, Tristan then goes to Brittany, where he marries Isolde of the White Hands. Tristan’s death is the last major event of the romance, though some versions do not mention it at all. In one, he is recalled to Cornwall, where Mark Kills him, but in the most well-known adaptation, after Tristan is wounded by a poisoned weapon, he sends for the original Isolde, who alone can heal him. If she agrees to come, the returning ship is to have a white sail; if she refuses, a black,. His jealous wife discovers this code, and, when she sees Isolde’s ship approaching, she tells Tristan that she see s a ship with a black sail. Turning his face the wall, Tristan dies, and Isolde, arriving too late to save her love, yields up her life in a final embrace. (MW 1132-1133).

Fionn and Similarities with King Mark

As an Archetype Fionn has all the elements of a Celtic warrior. Things he is known for include feats and feasts, druids and dolman, gods, fairies and hunting hounds. In much of Fínnegans Wake he is late in his life. His quests have been completed and he has already achieved infamy.

Stories of Fionn in Oral and written tradition include his relentless hunting down of his betrothed, Grainne. Grainne accepts a proposal of marriage to Fionn despite the fact that she has never seen him. At the wedding feast Grainne meets Fionn and is shocked at his age. She finds Diarmaid much more to her liking and runs away with him. In this way, the story parallels the stories of King Mark and Arthur.

The theme of youth replacing the aged one is as palpable as in later Shakespearean sonnets. This theme is also symbolic of the Celtic year and the cyclical nature of time as the Celts viewed it.

Fínnegans Wake is set in the Celtic past in a figurative way. Fionn arrives at Howth Head. The time is abstractly during the life of the character of Tristrem. Tristrem, is merged with Lancelot and Diarmaid. The historical steps of the story are alluded to on the first page of the book. The story originated from Pictish oral tradition. It was then told in Brittany (Amorican Gaul) and later it became Christianized and returned to the British Isles to undergo revival associated with Arthurian legend.

In the beginning of the book the tale of Tristram has current action and is clearly prior to the religious elements presented. The references to Tristram in North Armorica, the ancient name for Brittany, hints at his progress as a character in the story of Tristram and the migration of the oral tradition involving the character.

Sir Tristram, violer d’amores, fr’over the short sea, had passencore rearrived from North Armorica on this side of the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war: nor had topsawyer’s rocks by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselse to Laurens County’s gorgeous while they went doubling their mumper all the time: nor avoice from afire bellowsed mishe mishe to tauftauf thuartpeatrick: not yet, though venissoon after, had a kidscad buttended a bland old Isaac: not yet. (Joyce 3).

Finnegan's Wake - in the beginning...

In Fínnegans Wake it is clear that North Armorica is Brittany and not the United States because of the “nor had” indicating the tale is prior to Mark Twain’s, Tom Sawyer in the United State (i.e. the Oconee River in Laurens County, Georgia). Another indication of the ancient date is that this journey is to have occurred prior to the books biblical references. The time frame is before we find “tauftauf” St. Patrick who has yet to thwart Druidic practices and Christianize the scene by extinguishing the druidic fires that burned and the “snakes” throughout Ireland.

Grainne and Diarmaid on the run...

That same sabboath night of the falling angles somewhere in Erio… and all the lilipath ways to womean’s land she rain, rain, rain… There was a wilde old brannewail that laurency night of starshootings somewhere in Erio… And let out and the valleys lay twinkiling” (Joyce 21).

The Pursuit of Grainne...

Fionn is associated with many places within Ireland. It is oral history that has managed to preserve Celtic tradition. Murphy and MacKillip note that Fionn is very important to this preservation, “since the eleventh century, the name Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn mac Cool) has been preserved in manuscript as well as in oral tradition. Fionn is the most popular Irish mythological hero” (4). Proof of Fionn’s infamy is that, “There extand by now one thousand and one stories, all told, of the same” (Joyce 5).

The statement, “Macool, Macool, orra whyi deed ye diie?” (Joyce 6) affirms Fionn as the primary character of Fínnegans Wake. Fionn will soon live again, though, to go about his many quests and entertain at his warrior freasts, “Mister Finn, you’re going to be Mister Finnegain. Mister Funn, you’re going to be fined again!” (Joyce 5).

The strongest representation of Grainne and Diarmaid begins where Grainne and Fionn meet for the first time. Old Fionn is quite alone and “laying cold hands on himself” (Joyce 21). His plan to marry occurs before the breakdown of the Fianna. The Fianna had near perfect peace among themselves. Thus, “everybody loved everybody else" at the point of the wedding feast, .. it was of a night, late, lang time agone, in an auldstaneeld… everbilly lived alove with everybiddy else” (Joyce). Diarmaid is present to watch over Fionn’s interests during the wedding feast, “tristopher and Hilary, were kicka heeling their dummy on the oil cloth flure of his homerigh castle and earthenhouse. And, be Dermot, who come to the keep of his inn only the niece-of-his-in-law, the prankquean” (Joyce 21). Grainne becomes Fionn’s niece-in-law by her sexual relationship with Diarmaid, Fionn’s nephew.

The use of the word prankqueen shows the selfishness of Grainne. She has refused all other men but accepts Fionn without having seen him. Grainne selfishly changes her mind on a whim and causes great havoc to the fianna. Grainne, in a prank-like fashion drugs Fionn and most of the Fianna with wine. All but Diarmaid and a few others fall asleep when, “the prankqueen pulled a rosy one” (Joyce 21). She then puts bonds on Diarmaid that he can’t refuse as a matter of honor. It is this incident which is believed to cause the tumulus breakdown of the Fianna as some of them disagree with Fionn’s pursuit of the couple, “and she made her with foreninst the dour. And she lit up and fireland was ablaze” (Joyce 21).

Grainne and Diarmaid were gone for an extended length of time as the Fianna chased them. Fionn was known throughout Ireland for his relentless pursuit of Grainne. As Grainne is being chased Fionn is called the “old terror of the dames” (Joyce 22). Many times they were warned of Fionn’s approach. In one such instance Bran, Fionn’s hound, barked a warning when Fionn approached, “And there was a brannewail that same sabboath night of the falling angles somewhere in Erio” (Joyce 21).

Another reason for Grainne’s selfish behavior is Diarmaid’s love spot. A woman of the Sidhe had put a love spot on Diarmaid. No woman who sees this spot is able to refuse Diarmaid her love. In the tale of Diarmaid and Grainne she sees this love spot. And, this too, albeit with somewhat perverse undertones, is shown in Fínnegans Wake, “And the prankquean went for her forty years’ walk in Tourlemonde and she washed the blessings of the lovespots off the jiminy” (Joyce 21).

The mysterious questions that Grainne asks seem to be turned toward Fionn as King Mark, in the sentence, “She provorted him to the oncecertain allsecure and he became a tristian” (Joyce 22). Grainne then says to Fionn, “Mark the Twy, why do I am alook alike two poss of porterpease?” Some scholars have taken this to mean that she is asking for a glass of porter. However, everything in Finnegan’s wake has an allusive secondary meaning. It is here that Grainne is likely asking why Fionn sees her as an object as Mark is merged with the pursuing Fionn. We see Fionn demanding her to come back by yelling with the force of a gale at her. When he does so he calls her “my earring.” Or my Eire-ing: that thing which gives Ireland to me. This given the fact that Grainne is the daughter of the High King of Ireland and “Eire” is the goddess from which came the name for Ireland. It also refers to her as an object – an earring or piece of garnishment. Fionn, “Bleethered atter her with a loud finnegale: Stop domb stop come back with my earring stop.” Grainne will have none of this, “But the prankquean swaradid: Am liking it” (Joyce 22).

Allusions to the Grainne and Diarmaid story include the fact that Grainne is running through the natural setting. Diarmaid and Grainne were given the advice to never stay in the same place more than one night. They slept out in the night under the stars and in the elements. Thus, a great deal of natural settings are associated with the bed of Grainne and Diarmaid. This places Grainne out in nature at night.

Allusions to Grainne and Diarmud...

Which our own little Graunya of the chilired cheeks dished up to the greatsire of Oscar, that son of a coole. Houri of the coast of emerald, arrah of lacessive poughue, Aslin-all-muslim the resigned to her surrender, did not she, come lienster’s eve true dotter of a dearmud… A reine of the shee, a shebeeen quean, a queen of pranks. A kingly man, of royal mien, regally robed, exalted be his glory! So gave so take: Now not, not now! He would just a min. Suffering trumpet! He thought he want. Whath? Hear, or hear, living of the land! Hungreb, dead era, hark! He hea, eyes ravenous on her lippling lills” (Joyce 68).

More on Grainne

Grainne’s feelings of Fionn can be found in the mamfesta list. This is where her names include, “E’en Tho’ I granny-a-be He Would Fain Me Cuddle” (Joyce 105). The Celtic representations of HCE are also indicated by the allusion to the three Celtic tales. HCE’s names include, “All for Arthur of this Town… Luck before Wedlock, I divorce Thee Husband… Enclosed find the Sons of Fingal..Coocoohandler” (Joyce 71-72). The word Coocoohandler is a wonderful perversion of the words “MacCool” and “cuckold” This again is the primary factor that brings commonality to Arthur, King Mark, and Fionn. All three lost their Queen to someone in their trust.

Ancestral history is crucial to the Irish. Throughout Ireland are families who can claim their heritage back to one of the great warriors of Ireland. Fionn’s descendant lines are presented in Finnegans Wake. Oscar is Fionn’s son, Ossian is the grandson (greatsire). Fionn, who is left with his bride in the arms of another man, is mockingly represented as the impotent fool with his regal bride stolen indicated by the pun on Diarmaid’s “Spot.” The hint of a dead "Hundred Era" is the loss of the era of the past and the "hundred householder" who was obligated to give hospitality based on his household, the number of animals and people he had.

Fionn and the Salmon of Knowledge

Some of the most interesting histories about Fionn include stories of how he obtained his wisdom. Some stories have him getting his thumb stuck in a fairy mound or knoll, some involve water, others involve salmon. In particular a salmon has supernatural wisdom in Celtic Mythology.

One such story is the salmon which Fionn eats. The druid Finnéces for many years tries to catch a salmon in Fec’s pool which will impart wisdom when eaten. When he catches the salmon he gives it to Fionn to cook for him. Fionn, while cooking it, touches his thumb to the hot fish and then sticks his thumb in his mouth to cool it. In this way he obtains the knowledge of the salmon.

The story of Fionn obtaining his knowledge through the salmon is referenced throughout Fínnegans Wake. There are repeated examples of Fionn in the water and eating or being a salmon. Lady Augusta Gregory writes of this myth in Joyce’s time.

Fionn gains knowledge through eating the Salmon of Knowledge.

My salmon has cat eyes - I think it makes him a bit wiser!  He is lovingly painted with Photo Paint so should not be taken as a realistic version of an Irish fish.
My salmon has cat eyes - I think it makes him a bit wiser! He is lovingly painted with Photo Paint so should not be taken as a realistic version of an Irish fish. | Source

Lady Gregory on Fionn and the Salmon of Knowledge

Seven years Finnéces had been on the Boyne, watching the salmon of Fec’s Pool; for it had been prophesied of him that he would eat the salmon of Féc, when nothing would remain unknown to him. The salmon was found, and Demne was then ordered to cook the salmon; and the poet told him not to eat anything of the salmon. The youth brought him the salmon after cooking it. ‘Hast thou eaten anything of the salmon, my lad?’ says the poet. ‘No,” says the youth, ‘but I burned my thumb, and put it into my mouth afterwards.’ “What is they name, my lad?’ says he. ‘Demne,” says the youth. ‘Finn is thy name, my lad.’ Says he; ‘and to thee was the salmon given to be eaten, and verily thou art the Finn.’ There upon the youth eats the salmon. It is that which gave the knowledge o Finn, to wit, whenever he put his thumb into his mouth, and sang through teinm láda, then whatever he had been ignorant of would be revealed to him. (Gregory 165)

Fishy Allusions!

With a bockalips of finisky fore his feet… Him a being so on the flounder… Overgrown babeling… Platterplate… Rockbound… In Swimswamsum and all livvylong night, the delidale dalppling night… Grace before Glutton. For what we are, gifs a gross if we are, about to believe. So pool the begg and pass the kish for crawsake. Omen. So sigh us. Grampupus is fallen down but grinny sprids the boord. Whase on the joint of a desh? Finfoefom the Fush. Whase be his baken head? A loaf of Singpantry’s Kennedy bread. And whase hitched to the hop in his tayle? A glass of Danu U’Dunnell’s foamous olde Dobbelin ayle. But lo, as you would quaffoff his fraud stuff and sink teetch through that puth of a flowerwhite bodey behold of him as behemoth for he is noewhemoe. Finiche! Only a fadograph of a yestern scene. Almost rubicund Salmosalar, ancient fromout the ages of the Agapemonides, he is smolten in our mist, woebecanned and packt away. So that meal’s dead off for summan, schlook schlice and goodridhirring” (Joyce 6-7).

Lady Gregory on Fionn's Drunken Madness

On that the young woman took a cup of white silver from under a covering, and filled it with strong drink, and she gave it to Finn. “What is this?” said Finn. “It is very strong mead,” said she. Now there were bonds on Finn not to refuse anything belonging to a feast, so he took the cup and drank what was in it, and on the moment he was like one gone mad. And he turned his face toward the Fianna, and every harm and every fault and every misfortune in battle that he knew against any one of them, he sprang it on them, through the mad drunkenness that young woman had put on him… And with the end of the day and the fall of night the bitterness went from Finn’s tongue. (Gregory 277).

A Pig on early 1900s Irish coinage

Though not discussed here, Pigs abound in Irish Literature.  Pigs are both associated with Fionn the Fianna and are present in Finnegans Wake.
Though not discussed here, Pigs abound in Irish Literature. Pigs are both associated with Fionn the Fianna and are present in Finnegans Wake.

The Salmon and Fionn in Finnegans Wake.

Fionn, in Finnegan's Wake, becomes Fionn the obtainer of the Salmon of Knowledge which he becomes as well through it's consumption. When Tom Finnegan dies he is woebecanned. There is sorrow and he is no longer a swimming fish but a dead canned one. This is seen with the word “woe,” the Germanic prefix “be” and the word “canned.” In the following quote Fionn is in the water before he catches the fish. There is mention of the salmon itself and Fionn as a salmon having obtained the knowledge. “Smolten” implies the act whereby Fionn burns his thumb. Furthemore, Finnéces appears who has given Fionn the fish to cook. For Finnéces the meal is “dead off” or no longer able to benefit him since Fionn was the first to eat of it.

Mention of Fionn’s salmon occurs throughout the book. In addition instances of Finnéces appear. In various places he awaits the fish that is prophesied to Fionn. Sometimes he is juxtaposed with St. Fintan, “King Saint Finnerty the Festive who, in brick homes of their own and their flavory fraiseberry bed, heading hartly cry of honeyman, soed lavender or foyneboyne salmon alive, with their priffish mouths all open for the larger appraisination of this longawaited messigh of roratories” (Joyce 41). This reference is particularly interesting because it also puns on religion and makes use of the many Finns of Irish history. Yet, it still hints at the knowledge and poetic talents Fionn obtains while eating the salmon. It must be kept in mind that one of Fionn’s gifts is oral tradition, “longawaited messigh of roratories.”

The league of archers, fools and lurchers is the Fianna who are under their “rude rule of thumb” because Fionn, a thumb sucker, is their leader. Prophecy was performed before any battle as Fionn placed his thumb in his mouth to receive the prophetic knowledge of the salmon. This brings about a humorous scene of a band of great Celtic warriors as big as trees with fierce looks on their faces waiting for their leader to get in a good satisfying thumb suck before they go into battle. The Fianna are the “civil-to-civil imperious gallants into gelts (Irish), bringing alliuing stone allaughing down to grave clothnails and a league of archers, fools and lurchers under the rude rule of fumb” (Joyce 283).

The representation of Fionn and the salmon takes on an interesting almost modern twist. The salmon gave Fionn the ability to rise to a station of a great warrior, his “ladder leap.” It is through his knowledge that Fionn becomes a great leader. At the time of finding the salmon Fionn was born of good breading but he was a mere apprentice after having left the home where he was fostered. Naturally, this allusion works well because it carries the allusion while still maintaining the fall of Tom Finnegan from the ladder. Joyce notes this transition, “…Like the salmon of his ladderleap all this time of totality secretly and by suckage feeding on his own misplaced fat” (Joyce 79).

The answer to one of the riddles in Fínnegans Wake is “Finn Maccool” (Joyce 139). This associates Fionn with the salmon where part of the riddle is he “who could see at one blick a saumon taken with a lance” (Joyce 139). Within this same reference to the salmon there is a second reference to a legend of Fionn and that is to the madness of Fionn. Fionn, “Blowswhiskery around his summit but stehts stout upon his gootles; stutters fore he falls and goes mad entirely when he’s waked; is Timb to the pearly morn and Tomb to the mourning night” (Joyce 139).

Lady Gregory also wrote of Fionn’s madness brought on by strong mead. She indicates that it occurs during the day and ends at the end of the day. Or as Joyce notes, “goes mad entirely when he’s waked” (Joyce 139).

A Hound on Early 1900s Irish Coinage

Fionn and His Speed Hounds

Many of the stories of Fionn involve his dogs Bran and Scoelg. Bran, was the more prominent of the two characters. As previously mentioned, Bran had warned Diarmaid and Grainne of Fionn’s approach. This indicates Fionn’s bad judgment in hunting the couple since Bran was the most faithful of all hounds.

Fionn’s hounds were the speediest hounds available. Mythology portrays them to have been as fast as the wind. In Fínnegans Wake Fionn’s hound Bran is, “A bran new speedhount, outstripperous on the wind” (Joyce 232). The death of Bran was said to have occurred at the hands of Fionn. Bran was chasing a faun that was a human in animal form. Bran ran between Fionn’s legs. At that point Fionn slammed his legs together to protect the fawn and Bran fell dead at his feet. Allusion to this incident occurs where, “...hear of a hopper behidin the door sappin his feet in a pool of bran” (Joyce 486). This incident is enforced on the following page where there is a flea, presumably from the dead dog (Joyce 487).

Fionn’s life parallels the life of King Mark. And, therefore Grainne parallels Isolde. Among Joyce’s references to Isolde are the names: Ysold (Joyce 113), Izod (Joyce 203) eyesoult (Joyce 222), Iseult (Joyce 398), and Isoles (Joyce 486). The most compelling presence of Isolde is a taunting reference which mocks King Mark and the infidelity of Isolde. This song parallels the allusions to Fionn found in, “The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly” (Joyce 45-47). The Ballad alludes to Fionn throughout. Here, the taunted one is King Mark, who, like Fionn, finds himself abandoned for the likeness of the “spry young spark” (Joyce 383). This theme resounds through Celtic literary tradition. Here we find allusions to Grainne and Diarmaid in that Tristram and Isolde are also hunted by the Fionn like figure. This is indicated by the old buzzard and the german “uns” for us. Fionn is the “old buzzard whooping about for uns shirt in the dark/ And he hunting round for uns” (Joyce 383).

Mark in Finnegans Wake

-Three quarks for Muster Mark! 1
Sure he hasn’t got much of a bark
And sure any he has it’s all beside the mark.
But o, Wreneagle Almighty, wouldn’t un be a sky of a lark
To see that old buzaard whooping about for uns shirt in the dark
The winging ones. Seahaw, seagull, curlew and plover, kestrel and capercallzie. All the birds of the sea they trolled out rightbold when they smaked the big kuss for Trustan with Usolde (Joyce 383).

Tristrem and Mark

The story of Tristram is a bit more complex then that of Fionn. However, its history is interesting in that it encompasses several of the Celtic geographical regions. Equally important, it maintains the necessary underlying Celtic theme of old being usurped by the new.

Thus, in Fínnegans Wake the old King Mark/Fionn character finds himself cast aside for the younger more vital figure “Armoricus Tristrem” (Joyce 211). Amoricus as in Brittany meaning Tristram from Brittany. In this quote the large quantity of puns on birds mocks King Mark as a Cuckold.

Robinson's Isolde

“You are no heavier than a cat, “ said he,
“But otherwise you are somewhat like a tiger.
Relinquish your commendable affection
A little, and tell me why it is you dream
Of someone coming always from the North
Are there no proper knights or princes else
Than one whose eyes, wherever they may be fixed,
Are surely not fixed hard on Brittany?” (Robinson 11)

Isolde as a Cat

Isolde, Grainne, Mark, Tristram and Fionn are alluded to on one page where there is a bride caught by a collar and a question of Isolde’s proper husband. Fionn, juxtaposed with the character of Mark, is established as the given rightful husband with the phrase “twillwishyoumaycull” for the phrase, “I will wish you a MacCool.” Grainne meets with Fionn and is forced into marriage. In Fínnegans Wake there is a person who is the bride having lacking for the look of a queen and Mark not receiving proper information from Tristram as is implied with the French negative “ne.” The Cat’s mother is the bride’s mother; a familiar presence at any wedding. In Edwin Arlington Robinson’s publication of Tristram Isolde is repeatedly compared to a cat. Robinson’s version was first published as part of the mass of work during the Irish Revivalist Movement.

Diarmaid Dead of a Cool

Poor Isa sits a glooming so gleaming in the gloaming; the tincelles a touch tarnished wind no lovelinoise awound her swan’s. hey, lass! Woefear gleam she so glooming, this pooripathete Isolde? Her beauman’s gone of a cool. Be good enough to symperise. (Joyce 226).

Grainne at the Death of Diarmaid

The blending of these characters occurs again where one finds Diarmaid killed. It is by the hand of Fionn that Diarmaid is killed and it is he who is alluded to. However, in Fínnegans Wake it is Isolde rather than Grainne who is left alone by the death of Diarmaid.

Isolde in Finnegans Wake

What sound of tistress isoles my ear? I horizont the same, this serpe with ramshead, and lay it lightly to your lip a little. What do you feel, liplove? – I feel a fine lady… Floating on a stillstream of isisglass… With gold hair to the bed… and white arms to the twinklers… O la la! (Joyce 486)

Later, where Fionn is dreaming, it is Isolde of the white-hands he is dreaming of. It is she who winds up being more in love with Tristram than King Mark (also merged with Fionn). Remembering that Isolde has golden hair and white arms and "glasses" as she is "watching." She is asked elsewhere why she has the binoculars up. It is James Joyce's constant allusions under the surface of the writing that creates Isolde's presence in the text.

La Morte Darthur in Finnegans Wake

The merthe dirther! Ahho! It was too bad entirely! All devoured by active parlourmen, laudabiliter, of woman suelch and all on account of smell of Shakeletin and scratchman and his mouth water, acid and alkolic; signs on the salt, and so now pass the loaf for Christ sake. Amen (Joyce 392-393)

The Tower of an Irish Castle

Along Comes Arthur

Isolde and Tristram behave somewhat traitorously. They continued to see one another under the nose of King Mark. This is alluded to where, “The king was in his cornerwall melking mark so murry, the queen was steep in armbour feeling fain and furry, the mayds was midst the hawthorns shoeing up their hose, out pimps the back guards (pomp!)” (Joyce 134-135).

The death of Tristram is presented in Fínnegans Wake with the phrase, “Hear, o hear, Iseult la belle! Tristan, sad hero hear!” (Joyce 398). This later reference is a direct allusion to Le Morte Darthur where Isolde is called, “La Beale Isoud.”

Arthur, a familiar cuckold, is an affective representation of the less than youthful man. Allusions throughout Fínnegans Wake imply his loss of sexual identity such as, “sexcalibe hrosspower… Leaper Orthor… Arthiz too loose!” (Joyce 8-9). Equally important is the fact that Arthur is said to come again. This works well with the rebirth and resurrection theme of Fínnegans Wake. There are hints of resurrection with the puns on the famous phrase, “Rex Quaondam Reque Futurus.”

Later one sees that it is not Arthur’s physical death that is the tragedy. It is the Christianization of the story the “merthe dirther” that is tragic and should be avoided. The narrator hints that one’s heritage is lost by a religious quill and forced social censor.

Joyce on Arthur

Be these meer merchant taylor’s falings of a race referednd with oddman rex? Is now all seenheard then forgotten? Can it was, one is fain in this leaden age of letters now to wit, that so diversified outrages (they have still to come!) were planned and partly carried out against so staunch a covenanter if it be ture than any of those recorded ever took place for many, wee trow, beyessed to and denayed of, are given to us by some who use the truth but sparingly and we, on this side ought to sorrow for their pricking pens on that account. (Joyce 61)

More on Arthur

There are numerous allusions to Morgan la Fay and humorous puns on the phrase, “Once and Future King” in Fínnegans Wake. One such example, “Rooks roarum rex Roome!” (Joyce 17). This certainly hints at the explosion of regeneration which is to follow. Morgan is presented on the following page, “the gyant forficules with Amni the Fay” (Joyce 18). Furthermore, we find the Celtic nature of Morgan where she is truly not a Catholic but a Celt as represented by the smbolism of the snake, “Maye faye, she’s la gaye this snaky woman!” (Joyce 20). She is a “snaky” woman; she is one of the snakes remaining after tough tough thwart Patrick.

Morgan is truly a Celtic figure. For one, she typifies everything found in a Lake Goddess… right down to throwing one’s treasure in the lake as a gift for the battle won. Furthermore, it is she who will bring Arthur and the Celtic tradition back to the Celtic people.

As HCE is also Fionn, Tristram and Arthur. ALP is Grainne Isolde and Guinevere, “I seen your missus in the hall. Like the Queenoviere” (Joyce 27-28). And, mentioned just after Queenoviere is Arthur who symbolically reclines on the island of Avolon waiting to tumble back to his place in time by a great, “allavaloneche” (Joyce 28). Later, the presence of Guinevere and Arthur is reinforced where, “she may be a mere Marcella, this misthress oaf arths” (Joyce 112).

The distortion of the Arthurian tale into a Catholic influenced work appears frequently. The Catholic church appears as an antagonistic pen incorrectly recording the Celtic legends. The Celts are the, “race referred with oddman rex.” Oddman Rex as before indicating the phrase, “once and future king.” The pens are figuratively pricking for their attack on the Celtic history and oral literary tradition. This passage shows the importance of oral tradition to the Celtic Literary Revival.

The History of the Tale

Stories about Arthur and his court had been popular in Wales before the 11th century; they won fame in Europe partly through the Historia regum Britanniae, a pseudo-chronicle written between 1135 and 1139 by Geoffrey of Monmouth. The Historia celebrates a glorious and triumphant king who defeated a Roman army in eastern France but was mortally wounded in battle during a rebellion at home led by his nephew Mordred. Later writers in the chronicle tradition, notable Wace of Jersey and Layamon, filled out certain details, especially in connection with Arthur’s knightly fellowship.

Literary development of Arthurian Legend flourished early in France, where Breton storytellers had orally transmitted the heroic accounts that their Briton ancestors had carried with them into France. Drawing from such Celtic material Chrétien ede Troyes in the late 12th century made Arthur the ruler of a realm of marvels in five romances of adventure. Chrétien’s Perceval is the first extant Arthurian romance to treat the theme of Grain. (MW 75)

Prytwen Arthur's Ship and Shield

Arthur is alluded to where Prytwen appears, “…taking what he foundly thought was short cut to Caer Fere, Soak Amerigas, vias the shipsteam Pridewin, after having buried a hatchet not so long before, by the wrong goods exeunt… she knew the vice out of bridewll was abad fast man by his walk on the spot” (Joyce 171-172) Note that, “Arthur’s shield Prytwen [white shape] is also his boat” (Markale 28). Here one sees puns on Arthurs emotional state as he must “win” for the sake of his pride” his bride who was stolen. This story is again a parallel of Diarmaid and Grainne where Fionn had ‘buried the hatchet” with Diarmaid and yet, Fionn had his “walk on the spot” when he refused to give Diarmaid a healing drink that was asked of him (leading to Diarmaid’s death). Oddly enough, the oral and written tradition of Arthur traveled to Armorica, modern day Brittainy, in reality as did Tristrem the character in the story itself. Thus, the story traveled from the British Isles, to Armorica (Brittany) and back again to Britain.

Joyce as an Irish Revivalist

Arthur’s importance to the book is in his familiarity to literature. Like Fionn, he is a great archetype who will be called to rise again. Fionn is the large man, as all archetype warriors are, in the earthsleep waiting for the mighty horn. Furthemore, Fionn and Arthur are one in the same, “… same the lightning lancer of Azava Arthurhonoured (some Finn, som Finn avant!), he skall wake from earthsleep, haughty crested elmer, in his valle of briers of Greenman’s Rise O, (lost leaders live! The heroes return!) and o’er dun and dale of Wulverulverlord (protect us)!) his mighty horn skall roll, orland, roll" (Joyce 73-74).

Throughout Fínnegans Wake, numerous Celtic characters appear. The three most important characters of Fionn Maccumhail, King Arthur and King Mark merge as one great Archetypal warrior king. This awesome hero waits in the unconscious of the Celtic people. Then, as is indicated by the title of the book, Fionn wakes and comes forth anew at the sounding of the horn of Celtic Revival. One might argue Joyce's point is not so much that the Irish Revivalist movement should highlight those writers who wrote Irish Mythology but in those writers whose Celtic heritage made them an Irish writer and a demonstrator of heritage in their unconscious Irish-ness. With the awakening of the Archetype it is time to give James Joyce his due as a writer of the Irish Literary Revival.


Gregory, Lady. Irish Myths and Legends. Philadelphia: Courage, 1998. Print. (Original work published in 1904).

Joyce, James. Fínnegans Wake. New York: Penguin, 1976. Print.

Markale, Jean. The Celts: Uncovering the Mythic and Historic Origins of Western Culture. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1993. Print.

Matthews, Catlin & John. Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom. Shaftsebury, Dorset: Element, 1994.

Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1995. 1132-133. Print.

Robinson, Edwin Arlington. Tristram. Book League, 1927.

James Joyce Reading Finnegans Wake

© 2013 Christine Patrice Gebera


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