Ivy Day in the Committee Room

 Synopsis of Ivy Day in the Committee Room

The story takes place on 6 October, the anniversary of the death in 1891 of the Irish nationalist politician, Charles Stewart Parnell. In the Committee Room, the election headquarters of Mr Tierney, a candidate in the city council elections, the caretaker old Jack is joined by a number of canvassers for Tierney, including Joe Hynes, who then departs.  They are hoping that Tierney will soon arrive and pay them for the work they have done on his behalf. While they wait, they drink beer, talk about politics and the days of Parnell and the forthcoming visit to Ireland of King Edward VII.  Mr Hynes, who is suspected of being a spy for the rival party, rejoins them and recites his poem about the downfall and death of Parnell.

Commentary on Ivy Day in the Committee Room

Charles Stewart ParnellIvy Day The annual commemoration of the anniversary of Parnell’s death on 6 October 1891 is so called because the mourners at the graveyard picked ivy leaves and wore them on the coat lapels.
the Committee Room The headquarters of a candidate during a local or national election, where supporters gather and are given instructions about canvassing and other electioneering tasks.  The title probably also alludes to the fact that, in the case of Parnell,  the meeting at which his party decided not to support him after he was named in a divorce action, was held in Committee Room 15 in the Houses of Parliament. 
MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS … Royal Exchange Ward In fact Mr Tierney is standing in a by-election for a seat on the City Council of Dublin.  If elected, he will represent a central Dublin area to the south of the river.
P.L.G. Poor Law Guardian, one of the officials in charge of the distribution of relief to the poor.  This is not as charitable a post as it seems, since the laws governing treatment of the poor were very harsh and the sums of money distributed were extremely small. 
Christian Brothers The school was in Waterford and was founded in 1802 by a teaching order of priests led by Father Ignatius Rice.  The regime was notoriously harsh but the school offered an education for sons of the poor.  Joyce briefly attended the school at a difficult time in his family’s fortunes.
cocks him up A slang phrase meaning gives him grand ideas about himself.
a sup taken A euphemistic expression meaning that someone has had quite a lot to drink.
bowsy Slang: a ruffian.
a Freemasons’ meeting The Freemasons are a secret society and there was (and is) a good deal of speculation about what goes on at their meetings, some of which take place in darkness or dim lighting.  Catholics in Ireland, backed by the Church, believe that Freemasons are anti-Catholic Protestants.
paid Canvassing (calling on people to ask for their vote) is usually carried out voluntarily by supporters of the candidate’s party, but Tierney’s canvassers are working for money.  Joyce intends this detail as an indication of the decline in political engagement since Parnell’s death. 
tinker A pejorative description, suggesting that the person referred to is like one of the travelling people, shiftless and possibly criminal.
shoneens A version of the Irish word ‘Seonin’ which means ‘a little John Bull’.  John Bull was a term used to describe a particularly patriotic Englishman, so shoneens are Irish people who try to behave as if they were English.
handle A slang term for a title such as ‘Sir’, ‘Lord’ or ‘Lady’.  Such titles were awarded by the English and therefore were disapproved of by Irish nationalist sympathisers. 
King Edward VIIa German monarch King Edward VII (reigned 1901-10) was the son of Queen Victoria (reigned 1837-1901) and her German husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg.  Edward visited Ireland in July 1903, suggesting that the election in this story takes place in October 1902.  Joyce’s father acted as an election agent on that occasion and Joyce makes use of details of the event which he heard from his brother Stanislaus.
an address of welcome To welcome an English king in this way would anger Irish nationalist who regarded the British as a colonising power with no right to rule over Ireland.
the Nationalist ticket At this time, this would have been represented by the Irish Parliamentary Party which argued, not very assiduously or successfully, for Home Rule for Ireland.
spondulics Slang term for money.
Musha … ‘Usha From the Irish muise, an interjection meaning ‘well’ or ‘indeed’.  ‘Usha is a contraction of the same word.
shoeboy A flatterer – a pejorative word.
hand-me-down-shop A second-hand clothes shop.
the houses The public houses which in Dublin stayed open later than usual on Sundays.
moya Another interjection, from the Irish mar bh’eadh, meaning ‘as it were’.
tricky little … up in a corner This will be full of drink, to be sold illegally when the pubs were closed.
a decent skin A good fellow in spite of his shortcomings; a common phrase in Dublin.
hillsiders and fenians The more revolutionary and violent elements in Irish nationalism. 
Castle hacks The seat of British rule in Ireland was in Dublin Castle, so this is a reference to those who worked as spies or informers on behalf of the government and were of course hated by nationalist sympathisers.
Major Sirr Henry Charles Sirr (1764-1841) played a leading role in suppressing the Irish uprisings of 1798 and 1803 and among Irish nationalists.  He was responsible for security in Dublin and his name was associated with a harsh, repressive regime, sustained by the use of spies and informers.
The Black Eagle … Kavanagh’s The names of pubs, the first fictional (belonging to Tierney), the second real and close to Dublin Castle, a meeting place for politicians and those hoping to gain favours from them.
a black sheep One who has disgraced the rest of the flock, suggesting that for some reason – revolutionary politics? drunkenness? – Father Keon is out of favour with his Church superiors.
knock it out A slang phrase: manage to keep going financially.
travelling on his own account See the note above on ‘a black sheep’.  This strengthens the sense that Father Keon has disgraced himself, since he seems to have no regular priestly role.
goster This derives from the Irish word gasrán meaning conversation or gossip.
Yerra From the Irish ara, meaning ‘but’, ‘now’ or ‘really’, used as an intensifier at the beginning of a sentence or clause.
hop-o’-my thumb A rather rude way of describing a small person or perhaps a very young man. 
Wisha This means the same as ‘Musha’ and ‘’Usha’: see earlier note to this story.
Any bottles? The boy is asking for empty glass bottles which could be washed and reused.  He may also have been paid a small sum for each bottle that he returned.
a loan of him Influence over him.

tinpot way A pot made of tin would be cheap, so in this context the phrase means a useless or ineffective manner.
the thin end of the wedge This phrase is taken from tree-felling, where the thin edge of a wedge is driven into a cut made in a tree and, as the wedge, which grows thicker, is driven in more deeply, the tree falls. In general conversation it can be a kind of warning, meaning that if you let something get started in a small way you won’t be able to stop it.
Crofton Crofton, who works in the tax office, also appears in Araby. He is a Protestant and probably a Unionist, meaning that he supports the Act of Union of 1801, but he is prepared to canvas for a Nationalist candidate as a better option than supporting the more politically extreme parties.
boose A slang word for alcohol.
Did the cow calve? Is there something to celebrate?
the Conservatives The Conservatives in Ireland were allied with the Tory or Conservative Party in defending the Act of Union against those in favour of Home Rule.  
Parkes … Atkinson … Ward These are English names, so they were likely to be natural supporters of the Unionists.  If they were really going to vote for Tierney, they would be going against their usual practice.
a big rate-payer  The owner of a lot of property would pay high rates and would be seen as being solid and reliable.
Didn’t Parnell himself In 1885, before he succeeded to the throne and was still Prince of Wales, Edward visited Ireland.  Parnell told his supporters to have nothing to do with the visit.
Till the man was grey Queen Victoria (born in 1819) lived and reigned for a long time, so when Edward VII came to the throne he was already 60 years old.
The old one … these wild Irish This assertion is untrue, since Queen Victoria had been to Ireland four times during her reign, her most recent visit being in 1900, only two years before the story takes place.
King Edward’s life This hints at the fact that, although Edward VII was a popular and quite successful king, his private life was known to be somewhat irregular and he had many love affairs.

the Chief The name given to Parnell by his most ardent supporters.
fawning priests When it became known that Parnell was involved in a divorce case, many Catholic priests denounced him to their congregations.  In a country where the Church had such power and influence, his support among church-goers collapsed very quickly. 

Investigating Ivy Day in the Committee Room...

  • To what extent does Joyce bring personal politics into Ivy Day in the Committee Room (see Social / Political context and Critical approaches for ideas)?
  • How is politics represented in the story: negatively? positively? neutrally?
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