James Fairhall, James Joyce and the Question of History (Cambridge UP 1993)


Charles Haliday was a renowned Dublin merchant and commercial to negotiator, a conservative personage who privately had close ties to both radical Irish nationalism and the Irish antiquarian movement. His eldest brother, William Haliday, executed a competent translation of Geoffrey Keating’s history of Ireland that John Mahoney used as a template in his influential edition of Keating, and employed a technique of facing Gaelic and English pages that John O’Donovan imitated and institutionalized in his Annals of the Four Masters. Williain’s sadly short but brilliant career as a promoter of the Irish language during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries also included work as an Irish tutor for George Petrie. (Prendergast, Intro. Scandanavian Kingdom, 1884 Edn., p.lxxx-lxxxiv). Charles Haliday’s younger brother, Daniel, was a radical anti-Unionist patriot who settled in Paris amidst an enclave of “1798 men” and prominent intellectuals such as Sir Jonah Barrington, who worked on his “Historic Memoirs of Ireland” and “Personal Sketches” in Daniel Haliday’s Paris lodgings. (Ibid., lxxxvii-viii). Charles Haliday’s deep affection for his brothers, uneasily combined with his activities as a commercial activist in Dublin, may well have compelled him to transform a [84] public-relations piece commissioned by the Ballast Board into an evangelical antiquarian attempt to resurrect Dublin’s neglected history. Instead of the commercial advocate he set out to be, Haliday wound up as a revisionary historian along the lines of John Gilbert, whose History of the Ciy of Dublin appeared during the same year as Haliday’s first major presentation to the Royal Irish Academy on the subject of Dublin’s topographical history. Like Gilbert, Haliday was unusually aggressive in his endeavors to recover official documents concealed and neglected by colonial authorities, and his benign demeanor masked a barely restrained subversive energy.

In 1850, Haliday’s successful defense of the Ballast Board against charges of lighthouse mismanagement earned him a commission from them to write a history of the port of Dublin: “They desired to show what changes had been affected under the direction of the Board in the bed of the river and in the harbour, by deepening and straightening the bed of the Liffey and by lowering the bar. In this view it was necessary to know the early state of the river and harbour ...” (Ibid., p.xlv.) Despite Haliday’s extraordinary research into the surveying and mapping of the harbour from the seventeenth century on, his digression into the Scandinavian foundation of Dublin seems to have been widely perceived as an abandonment rather than widening of his original project. According to Prendergast, “Mr. Haliday’s original design was to write a history of the port and harbour of Dublin, with a view to trace the progress of improvement in the navigable channel of the Liffey, but he was ... seduced from his course by a search into a history of its Scandinavian antiquities.” (Ibid., p.cv.) Joyce, who weaves a narrative about the civic “taming” of the Liffey into a famous passage in Finnegans Wake, would not have perceived Haliday’s “seduction” by the Scandinavian past as an abandonment of Dublin’s present. Dublin’s founding by the Scandinavians, according to Haliday, began a long process of changes in the area’s topography in which the “progress of improvement” brought on by civic transformation destroyed as many things as it created, including the seventeenth-century levelling of the Norwegian Thingmount [Thingmote] and the fate of “a bathing place for the poor of Kingstown” which Haliday sought to save from “the Ballast Board discharging the dredgings of the Liffey” and which was destroyed after his death by a “great culvert for the drainage of the Pembroke township across the [85] sands. (Ibid., p.xcviii.) In light of Haliday’s work on the Liffey and Dublin harbour, one can hardly be surprised that HCE’s arch monologue describing the taming of his river-wife as a civic “progress of improvement” includes explicit images of rape (FW547.I4-29). From the perspective of both Haliday and Joyce, civic “improvements” of river and harbour provided a broken grammar of historical continuity crossing the ideological boundaries of distinct historical periods employed in evolutionary and progressivist historiography.

Haliday’s transposed map of Dublin’s topographical history centers on the city’s foundation by Norwegian invaders and the extent to which that foundation remained even as its physical and cultural traces were effaced. After an initial narrative survey of relevant Irish history, Haliday focuses his inquiry upon the “Dyflinarskiri” the area held and governed by Norwegians which they named after the city of Dyflin (Dublin). Haliday deduces that the only extensive Norwegian settlement in Ireland occurred between “the only four ‘Fiords’ marked on the map of Ireland - Wexford and Waterford on the South of Dublin, and Carlingford and Strangford on the North, Dublin being the chief settlement Within this toponymically defined area, “the Dyflinarskiri extended from Arklow on the South to the small river Delvin, above Skerries on the North, and conformable with the Norwegian law extended inwards along the Liffey as far as the salmon swims up the stream, that is to the Salmon Leap at Leixlip ...” (Scandanavian Kingdom, pp.137-38.)

Haliday’s deductions depend in the above passage upon the relation between legal jurisdiction and toponymy: the Norwegians’ topographical names and claims map out physical spaces in terms of political power. Moving further along these lines, Haliday explains how he came to define the Dyflinarskiri by documenting the function of tradition in the transfer of property from one society and culture to another.

... these limits are chiefly assigned to the Dyfflinarskiri [sic] from other circumstances connected with them. In the first place, we find that the specified extent of the sea coast became the maritime jurisdiction of the mayors of Dublin. We are unable to trace the origin of this jurisdiction or to ascertain why it was defined by these limits, unless by supposing that it had previously belonged to the Ostmen .(Ibid., p.139.0

Haliday’s assertion that the boundaries of the Dyflinarskiri transferred into those acknowledged under English colonial law, his claim that Norwegian designations of property translated into those of the Normans and their successors, includes no explication of the obvious cultural kinship between the two cultures. Instead, Haliday follows the curve of his immediate evidence, which brings him to the Norse/Norman transfer of power by way of the Church and its relation to the civil power:

We find that the boundaries of the united diocese of Dublin and Glendalough, are the same as those here assigned to the Dyflinarskiri. Originally ecclesiastical jurisdiction was concurrent with that of the civil ruler ... It is also to be observed that the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the united bishoprics still extends from beyond Arklow, along the sea shore, to the Delvin rivulet, a little south of the Nanny water, and inwards along the Liffey, to the “Salmon Leap,” at Leixlip.
  That this ecclesiastical jurisdiction has been made concurrent with that of the civil ruler is confirmed by finding that all grants of land made by the Ostmen and subsequently by the Anglo-Normans, of land “which was of the Ostmen,” were within the diocese; nor do we find any possessions of the Ostmen outside its boundary.

Haliday’s decision to extrapolate the Dyflinarskiri’s boundaries from those assigned through English and Catholic jurisdiction subtly but radically highlights the events that brought the Ireland and Dublin of his own time into being. In Haliday’s account, the Norwegians and Normans’ cultural kinship was underwritten by the interests of the Catholic Church, which in its adhesion to the “civil power” aided the Normans and their descendants in their conquest of the native Irish, whose “insolence” empowered them repeatedly to defy the dictates of Rome (Ibid., pp.141-42.) Haliday points out that the Roman Church’s alliance with the Norman conquest of Ireland lingered on into the nineteenth century in the form of diocesan boundaries. The transformation of Dyflin into Dublin, of Dyflinarskiri into “Howth Castle and Environs” (FW3.3) preserved topographical designations through a transfer of political power that ultimately destroyed Gaelic Ireland and delivered the country into the British Empire within which Haliday served. Haliday’s ambivalence toward the colonizing process, which is nowhere fully articulated in his book, nonetheless becomes apparent in his discussion of the Stein, an area on the South side of the Liffey where the Norwegian Dubliners assembled on the hill that Haliday calls the Thingmount. This discussion’s digressions and arcane detail [87] barely disguise an unsettling account of Anglo-lreland’s progress and savage triumph in the late seventeenth century. It also clarifies Joyce’s dark depiction of Dublin in Finnegans Wake as a place whose history unfolds continuously in the minds of its inhabitants despite its material erasure through intention, neglect, and collective amnesia.

Haliday begins his discussion of the Stein by tracing its transformation at the hands of successive owners from 1200 AD to 1663, “when Mr. Hawkins built a great wall, carrying the shore further towards the centre of the river.”

The embankments raised by Sir William Carroll, Mr. Hawkins, and Sir John Rogerson, together with subsequent encroachments on the strand of the river, have so greatly altered the outline of the Stein on the north side, that, without reference to maps, it is impossible to convey an accurate idea of its state previously to the seventeenth century; but the point of land referred to may be described as an elevated ridge near the confluence of the Liffey and Dodder ... and was the place where the Dublin Northmen generally landed. (Ibid., pp.147-48.)

Haliday lists references to the Stein in a wide range of Anglo-Irish records, emphasizing its long-term importance as a docking point and the thoroughness of its erasure in modern times: “These minute references to the Stein and its possessors, become necessary to show, that anciently it was a well-known place of considerable extent although not even the name is now to be found on any of our maps, or any reference to it in any modern history of the city.” Haliday elaborates on the Stein’s general fate by discussing the “Long Stone,” a Scandinavian memorial marker standing until the seventeenth century when “the surrounding district was laid out for streets and houses” and “it was overturned to make room for them.” (Ibid., p.151.)

The seventeenth-century levelling of the Stein and its Scandinavian artifacts also included destruction of the Thingmount, the site of the Norwegian legislature or Thingmote. Haliday argues that the Thingmount was identical with the Anglo-Irish Hoggens Butt, a hill 40 feet high and 240 feet in circumference that was levelled in 1682 because “the site was valuable and the earth was useful in raising Nassau-street ... the street being elevated 8 to 10 feet above it. (Ibid., p.166.) The hill’s destruction was ironic, given its significance in Anglo-Irish history. Haliday notes that when Henry II received the conquered Irish and Scandinavian nobles and his victorious Norman adventurers in 1172, he met them on the site of the Thingmount, “where the Scandinavian kings were elected and the laws which governed their territories promulgated,” and entertained his guests “according to the customs of the country.” Despite a crucial intercultural misunderstanding at this meeting - the Irish lords’ acknowledgment of their conqueror did not constitute Norman fealty - the Norwegian Thingmount thus served as the stage for Dublin’s transfer into Norman hands. (Ibid., p.183; Edmund Curtis, A Hislory of Medieval Ireland 1938, p.58, corroborates conjecture regarding Henry II and the Thingmote). When the Anglo-Irish levelled a peculiar hill in the middle of town called Hoggens Butt, they unwittingly destroyed the site of their distant origin as they spearheaded Ireland’s late colonial modernity.

Haliday’s account of the Anglo-lrish destruction of Scandinavian antiquities by inhabitants of seventeenth-century Dublin ironically depends upon seventeenth-century documents designed to further such destruction. Such documents include maps from the Down Survey of 1654, which determined the land forfeited from defeated Irish rebels and granted to the English aristocrats and adventurers who had invested their money and violence in the rebels’ defeat. In his use of Down Survey maps and other Anglo-Irish documents, Haliday worked to mend some of the damage wrought by the culture that produced them, to discover the transposed layers of a Dublin hidden behind the surface opacities of modernity. James Joyce, from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man through Finnegans Wake, treats Haliday’s central topics - Dyflinarskiri and the Thingmount - in a way that satirizes the Irish antiquarianism that Haliday exemplified while affirming problems of historical understanding that Haliday and his antiquarian peers first defined as problems.

In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Dedalus crosses the bridge to North Bull Island from the Clontarf Road and gazes to the South, where the area of Dublin beloved of Charles Haliday meets his eyes:

A veiled sunlight lit up faintly the grey sheet of water where the river was embayed. In the distance along the course of the slowflowing Liffey slender masts flecked the sky and, more distant still, the dim fabric of the city lay prone in haze. Like a scene on some vague arras, old as man’s weariness, the image of the seventh city of christendom was visible to him across the timeless air, no older nor more weary nor less patient of subjection than in the days of the thingmote.


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