CURATES AND COUNTERJUMPERS

It has sometimes been claimed that in the Cyclops episode of Ulysses the Citizen abuses JP Nannetti, a man of Italian origin who was lord mayor of Dublin 1904-06, a trade unionist and also Irish Party MP for College Green.

Hairy Iopas, says the Citizen, that exploded volcano, the darling of all countries and the idol of his own.

However, it seems pretty certain that the abuse was directed at the long-haired William Field MP. In a sense this is a pity as there would have had a political resonance had it been directed at Nannetti.

The Citizen was a caricature of Michael Cusack, one of the founders of the GAA, it being Cusack’s habit to address those he met with the greeting “Citizen!” Whatever about anything else both men had a short fuse and were “difficult”.

The GAA reflected the late nineteenth century split between constitutional and physical force nationalists. In the early days of the asssociation, the IRB tendency was quite powerful and had the focus and the commitment, if not quite the numbers. In a desire to maintain control, the central executive arranged for the executive to hold extensive powers, including the right to appoint a handicapper for all events, even if a local club had a qualified handicapper available. Some apolitical members found this rule bizarre; other more savvy types knew it was about power.

The humble, not to say lowly, Dublin Grocers’ Assistants Athletic Club came up against this rule in 1887 and were due to be expelled for non-compliance. However others joined in the dispute and a trial of strength followed, revealing some interesting town versus country and class tensions in addition to laying bare the overarching physical force versus constitutional methods division.

The grocers’ curates were mystified as to why they should be required to have a handicapper from Limerick when they had a perfectly good one within their own club. The Dublin County Board of the GAA backed the curates and sent a number of outraged letters to the executive arguing that “Such vexatious and tyrannical readings of the rules as the central have adopted ... will do more harm to the GAA than all the Coercion Acts could possibly do.” They also argued that they were better positioned to judge on the matter than “gentlemen, no matter how estimable, from remote districts like Aherlow, Athenry, Castleconnell, Adare, Nenagh or Ballylanders”. The word bog was not used in official correspondence but one suspects it may have been employed in private deliberations.

When the Dublin County Executive met, a Mr Fitzpatrick addressed the meeting saying he represented a club “composed of workingmen and he knew the difference between them and counter-jumpers” which may have reflected a view that the IRB types were guilty of anti-working class and anti-urban prejudice. Counter-jumpers is a term no longer heard but it was once common and appears in Joyce’s work. In rough terms it means those who would look down on others as socially inferior but who started out in relatively humble circumstances themselves.

If the IRB had a conspiratorial advantage, the constitutional nationalists had the numbers and, in part through the intercession of Archbishop Croke ‑ himself a constitutional nationalist ‑ the matter was eventually settled in favour of looser control from the centre. But some blood was spilt along the way.

JK Bracken – vice-president of the GAA national executive and a member of the IRB, had, it was claimed, the previous year agreed to recommend to the executive that the offensive rule regarding central control of handicapping should be relaxed. When the heat increased Bracken found it prudent to deny he’d made such an undertaking and wrote an angry letter along those lines to the Freeman’s Journal. The Freeman, despite having a number of IRB men on its editorial staff, was strongly constitutional in its nationalist politics. Nanetti, an official of the newspaper’s own club, wrote in to deny Bracken’s account and to insist that he had in fact made the undertaking. Others also wrote to this effect.

Nannetti was an ardent Parnellite and constitutional nationalist who would have been despised by the extreme IRB element, which accused the Irish Parliamentary Party of struggling for the right to pay Britain’s national debt. Nannetti also appears in Ulysses as the printer foreman in the Freeman and as Bloom’s boss. (Joyce took some liberties with the timeline.)

Michael Cusack was decidedly on the far national wing of the GAA and would not have had much time for Nannetti. (Cusack, who was prone to disputation had, at the time of this dispute, actually fallen out with the GAA and resigned from the organisation setting up a paper, The Celtic Times, which criticised its leadership.) Had the Citizen denounced Nannetti it would have reflected a real political division.

Bracken, originally a stonemason from Tipperary, perhaps unfortunately does not appear in Ulysses. His son Brendan Bracken became involved in magazine publishing in Britain. He was the founder of the modern Financial Times and his job in the early days was, like that of Leopold Bloom, selling newspaper advertising. He successfully hid his Irish origins and went on to become First Viscount Bracken and Winston Churchill’s Minister of Information from 1941-45. In the 1950s he fiercely opposed the policy of withdrawal from Empire. Interestingly, George Orwell, whose Nineteen Eighty-Four featured a severely skewed “Ministry of Truth” based at least partly on the Ministry of Information, worked for the BBC during the war, when Bracken was his ultimate superior. He was not liked by Orwell or indeed by most of his civil servants, who cheered when news of his defeat in the 1945 general election came through.