The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly

Finnegans Wake ‒ A Prescriptive Guide

RFW 035.18-038.21

Chapter 2 of James Joyce’s Finnegans WakeThe Humphriad I—concludes with the text and music of Hosty’s Rann, or The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly. This scurrilous piece of satire retells the story of HCE’s rise in the world and his subsequent fall, which is brought about by his Crime in the Park—the Original Sin of Finnegans Wake. The lyrics echo events that have already been recounted in the first two chapters of the book as well as anticipate events that will take place in later chapters.

First Draft

The first draft of The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly was written in October and November 1923, after Joyce had revised the second drafts of Chapter I.1 and the rest of Chapter I.2. The order of the stanzas is not the same as in the final version, and some of the stanzas were left incomplete. Of the fourteen stanzas in the published version, only the first four and last three made it into this draft. Stanzas 5-10 and 14 were added later, along with some interruptions from Hosty’s audience. Each stanza has four lines, like a traditional Irish rann, followed by a chorus of one or two lines:

Have you heard of a Humptydumpty
How he fell with a roll and a rumble
And hifat like Oliver Crumple
Behind the magazine wall
of the magazine wall

I’m afraid my dairyman darling
Like the
All your butt
I’ll go bail like the bull of the Cow
All your butter is
in your horn

He was one time the King of our castle
Now he’s kicked about like any old parsnip
And from Green street by order of his Worship
He’ll be shipped to the jail of Mountjoy
The jail of Mountjoy.
Jail him and joy

He had schemes in his head for to bother us
Stage coaches & wealth for the populace
Cow’s milk for the sick, seven Sundays a week,
Openair love & prisons reform
& prisons reform

But why then, says you, couldn’t he manage it.
I’ll go bail, my big dairyman darling
Like the limping bull of the Cassidy’s
All your butter is in your
His butter is in his Horns
Butter his horns

Sure leave it to Hosty, frosty fiddler, leave it to Hosty to ran the rann, the wran of all ranns.

He was strolling around the
Poor old humpty hippopotamus
When he opened the backdoor of the omnibus
He caught his death of fusiliers
His death of fusiliers
And he’ll lose his ears

But wait
Tis a great pity, so it is, for missus ..... & children
But wait till his missus legitimate
When she gets a grip of old Earwicker
There’ll be earwigs on the green
Big earwigs on the green

Then we’ll have a grand celebration
For to sod the bold son scandinavian
And we’ll bury him down,
in Oxmanstown
Where he’ll
(Hayman 66-68)

  • And hifat like Oliver Crumple I don’t know what Joyce means by hifat. Perhaps Hayman has misread his fat. In Joyce’s manuscript, the word is crossed out and has been replaced with lay low. It appears that Joyce began to write And his fat but immediately crossed out his fat and wrote instead: And lay low like Oliver Crumple.

In the Museyroom Episode, which is evoked by several lines of Hosty’s ballad, Napoleon is called Lipoleum, a conflation of the Greek and Latin words for fat or oil (λιπος + oleum). And in the Prankquean Episode, which also lies behind Hosty’s lyrics, the oilcloth flure, or linoleum, plays a prominent role. I can only assume that HCE’s corpulence is the ultimate source of all these fatty associations.

The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly (Music)


The music for The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly was composed by Joyce himself. It is in A-Major and 6/8 time but there is no tempo marking. By no stretch of the imagination could this be considered an inspired composition.

Note that in The Restored Finnegans Wake, there is no dot on the third note (heard). Anyone familiar with music notation can easily see that this quaver should be dotted, like the first note in the last line (Mag). The history of this dot is quite involved, and is an excellent example of the sort of minutiae that can exercise the minds of Wakean enthusiasts and Joycean scholars.

This piece of music was added to Joyce’s manuscript very late in the composition of Finnegans Wake. According to Raphael Slepon, the editor of FWEET, with whom I have corresponded on this issue, the musical score was sent directly to the printer at the page proof stage in the second half of 1938 (Finnegans Wake was published on 4 May 1939 by Faber and Faber in London and by The Viking Press in New York). Prior to that, the ballad either had no score or had a different one from the final published one:

Joyce’s First Draft of The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly (Music)

According to the University of Buffalo, which holds this early draft, Joyce probably wrote this extradraft manuscript in February 1927. This version begins in 12/8 time, but note how Joyce switches to 9/8 time in the third line, without altering the time signature. It is difficult to tell whether the third note is dotted (as it should be). There is a small mark immediately to the right of the note-head and below the staff, but it is not clear that this is a dot.

When Finnegans Wake was finally published in May 1939, the dot was present in the Faber and Faber edition (London 1939) but missing in the Viking edition (New York 1939).

Unfortunately, the late version of the ballad that Joyce wrote for the printer has been lost—presumably, the printer discarded it when he was finished with it—so we do not know whether the error was Joyce’s or the printer’s. After publication, Joyce prepared a list of errata for Finnegans Wake. In 1945, Viking Press included this list of corrections as a 28-page appendix to their Fourth Printing of the novel. This list was also published separately by both Faber and Faber and The Viking Press as a 16-page booklet. In 1958, these corrections were incorporated in the text of Viking’s Eighth Printing. In this 1958 edition, the third note is dotted, as it should be. But this was not one of Joyce’s errata: the addition of the dot was an editorial decision.

1958 Version of The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly (Music)

Initially, I assumed that Danis Rose and John O’Hanlon removed the dot for The Restored Finnegans Wake because it was not in the original edition of 1939 and because the 1958 correction was not authorial. But John O’Hanlon has been in contact with me and it transpires that the omission of the dot in The Restored Finnegans Wake is just a typo and it will be reinstated in any future printing:

Its absence in the Restored edition is our fault. We sent a copy of the original music block to the printer (Mardersteig) and he had it redone. When we got the proofs for the 2010 edition we simply failed to spot the missing dot! This may be because it was already part of the full page, so easy to miss.

The history of the block is interesting. The final check on the music was done by a Mr Pendleton at the end of August 1938 for Faber and Faber. (John O’Hanlon, personal email)

Without Joyce’s handwritten draft of 1938, it is impossible to know whether Joyce or the printer is responsible for the typo in Viking’s First Edition.

One last point: the sharp sign on the G-sharp on the word butt is arguably redundant. The key-signature for A-Major already has a G-sharp. There are, however, two G-naturals in the last line of the song, so perhaps Joyce felt that as the music is repeated for each successive stanza, the sharp sign is justified to cancel out the G-naturals of the previous stanza.

This ballad, for what it’s worth, has been recorded by several artists. The following performance is by Charles Peake & Company at the Clothworkers’ Concert Hall in the University of Leeds:

Stanza 1

HCE was first compared to Humpty Dumpty on the very first page of the novel:

The great fall of the offwall entailed at such short notice the pftjschute of Finnegan, erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumpty-tumtoes: (RFW 003.17-20)

As a foreign invader, he was briefly compared to Oliver Cromwell during the Museyroom Episode:

Awful Grimmest Sunshat Cromwelly, Looted. (RFW 007.31)

Olofa also alludes to Olaf the White (Olaf Hvitr), the first Norse King of Dublin—another foreign invader. Note that in the lyrics to the music, the spelling is Olafa. Olaf’s first appearance in Finnegans Wake also occurs in the opening chapter (RFW 010.28). Crumple could also allude to Olaf’s co-regent Ivar the Boneless (Ivar Beinlaus), whose cognomen suggests that Ivar could not but crumple.

The Magazine Wall has already featured in HCE’s Crime in the Park:

His clay feet, swarded in verdigrass, stick up starck where he last fellonem, by the mund of the magazine wall, where our maggy seen all, with her sister-in-shawl. While over against this belles’ alliance beyind Ill Sixty (ollollowed ill!), bagsides of the fort, bom, tarabom, tararabom, lurk the ombushes, the site of the lyffing-in-wait of the upjock and hockums. (RFW 006.33-37)

The Magazine Fort in the Phoenix Park

Stanza 2

The second stanza also recycles a few things that have already been associated with HCE. On the opening page of Finnegans Wake, Old Parr was mentioned. Now HCE is compared to an old parsnip.

Dublin’s Mountjoy Gaol, which was founded in 1850, was named for Luke Gardiner II, 1st Viscount Mountjoy (second creation). Gardiner was a Member of Parliament for County Dublin and a prominent property developer in the city. He is commemorated in Mountjoy Square and Gardiner Street, both of which he developed.

Gardiner’s grandfather, Luke Gardiner I had also been a prominent developer. This 18th-century landowner and banker developed Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street), Henrietta Street, Dorset Street, parts of Great Britain Street (now Parnell Street) and Rutland Square (now Parnell Square). In 1728, he served as Ranger of the Phoenix Park, the site of HCE’s Crime. He built a country house, Mountjoy House, for himself in the park, which later became Mountjoy Barracks and is now the headquarters of the Ordnance Survey Ireland.

Another Mountjoy, however, played a much more prominent role in Irish history than either of the Gardiners. Charles Blount, 8th Baron Mountjoy, served as Lord Deputy of Ireland under Queen Elizabeth I from 1600-1603. During these years, he brought the Nine Years’ War—Tyrone’s Rebellion—to a successful conclusion, clinching victory at the decisive Battle of Kinsale. He has already made an appearance in this chapter, as Captain Chaplain Blount, one of the jockeys at Baldoyle Racecourse.

In her Third Census of Finnegans Wake, Adaline Glasheen incorrectly states that Mountjoy Gaol was named for Charles Blount (Glasheen 201).

Green Street Courthouse has not been mentioned before in Finnegans Wake, though it does appear in the Cyclops episode of Ulysses.

Charles Blount : Luke Gardiner I : Luke Gardiner II

Stanza 3

The third stanza enumerates the gifts which HCE bestows upon the people of Dublin when his star is in the ascendant. This stanza anticipates the famous Haveth Childers Everywhere, HCE’s speech that concludes Chapter III.3, The Third Watch of Shaun, or Yawn (RFW 413.34-431.13). This boastful speech is HCE’s apology, or refutation of the charges that have been levelled against him. An early draft of Haveth Childers Everywhere was published separately in 1931.

Stanza 4

His butter is in his horns is glossed by Roland McHugh as a Welsh expression that is applied to a cow which gives no milk (McHugh 45, Roberts 23). Here it is illogically applied to a male—a bull. HCE was associated with bulls in the first chapter of Finnegans Wake. The Battle of Clontarf, which is discussed in the Mutt & Jute Dialogue, took place at Cluain Tarbh, or Bull’s Meadow. The Museyroom Episode includes several references to bulls: Bullsfoot, Bullsear, Bullsrag, and Bullseye. John Bull is a traditional personification of the English, who triumphed at Waterloo. The Papal bull Laudabiliter also figures prominently in Finnegans Wake. This is the putative document in which Pope Adrian IV (Englishman Nicholas Breakspear) grants Ireland to Henry II as a Papal fief. Breakspear will appear in the fable of The Mookse and the Gripes in Chapter I.6, The Quiz (RFW 121.22-126.26).

  • bull of the Cassidys Ballycassidy is a village in County Fermanagh. Why Joyce should allude here to this tiny village I cannot say. The allusion is secure, however, as Joyce twice repeats the connection between bulls and the Cassidys (RFW 069.31, 078.26-27).

Ballycassidy Post Office, County Fermanagh

Stanzas 5 and 6

This pair of stanzas casts HCE’s practice as a professional salesman and hotelier in a bad light.

Sheriff Clancy refers to John Clancy, the model for Long John Fanning in Ulysses. Clancy was sub-sheriff of Dublin for fourteen years from 1885 till 1899. In Ulysses, Long John Fanning is still sub-sheriff in 1904, a piece of artistic licence on Joyce’s part.

As a young activist for the Irish Republican Brotherhood, John Clancy served a sentence in Mountjoy Gaol. Upon release, he became a publican and brewery agent:

[In 1885] he was persuaded by William O’Brien to join the National League and, in a partly-successful effort to win over local republicans, was offered the position of sub-sheriff of Dublin, thereby making him the registrar of the city’s municipal and parliamentary electorate; a position he held for fourteen years. Such was his influence in Dublin popular politics than he soon won the nickname ‘the mayor-maker’. (Dictionary of Irish Biography)

The Mullingar House, Chapelizod

Stanzas 7 and 8

These two stanzas look forward to the mock-epic tale How Kersse the Tailor Made a Suit of Clothes for the Norwegian Captain, which will be one of the two sagas recounted in Chapter II.3, The Scene in the Public. The Prankquean Episode in Chapter I.1 also anticipated this saga, in which HCE is depicted as a Viking who first arrives in Dublin as a bloodthirsty invader before eventually settling down with a wife and family.

Stanzas 9 and 10

Stanzas 9 and 10 recall a scandalous tale involving the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso. In November 1906, Caruso was charged with an indecent act allegedly committed in the monkey house of New York’s Central Park Zoo. The police accused him of pinching the buttocks of a married woman, Hannah Graham Stanhope. Caruso claimed a monkey did the bottom-pinching. He was found guilty and fined 10 dollars, although suspicions linger that he may have been entrapped by the victim and the arresting officer, James J Cain.

In the Circe episode of Ulysses, Bloom is tried and convicted of a string of felonies. He is then taken away by the Subsheriff Long John Fanning to be hanged. In a desperate plea for mercy, Bloom cries out:

Wait. Stop. Gulls. Good heart. I saw. Innocence. Girl in the monkeyhouse. Zoo. Lewd chimpanzees. (Breathlessly.) Pelvic basin. Her artless blush unmanned me. (Overcome with emotion.) I left the precincts. (Ulysses 446)

Dublin Zoo is located in the Phoenix Park, the scene of HCE’s crime, which also involves the sexual exploitation of young women. Noah’s Ark was the antediluvial zoo.

Joyce was no Caruso, but he was a talented tenor in his own right, and this story clearly resonated with him.

Rare Card from the Monkey House Scandal

Stanza 11

This stanza anticipates the other saga that will be recounted in The Scene in the Public: How Buckley Shot the Russian General.

Wellington’s monument was the scene of HCE’s encounter with the Cad with a Pipe. Remember that the Humphriad is continually retelling the same story of HCE’s rise and fall. On some level, The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly is the same as A Royal Divorce, the satirical play that lampooned HCE in the Gaiety Theatre.

Stanza 12

The twelfth stanza concerns HCE’s family.

The audience compares Hosty to Sophocles, Shakespeare, Dante and Moses (alleged author of the otherwise anonymous Torah).

Stanza 13

The burial of HCE will be described in detail in the next chapter. Oxmantown is Dublin’s oldest northside suburb, settled by Christian Norsemen—Ostmen, or Easterners—in the late 12th century, following the Anglo-Norman conquest of Dublin. For more than half a century the Hiberno-Norse Ostmen preserved their distinctive culture in Oxmantown, but by 1300 their Scandinavian names had disappeared almost completely. Many of these Ostmen were buried in the local parish church of Saint Michan’s. HCE will not actually be buried there, but at the bottom of Lough Neagh.

Joycean scholar John Gordon believes that the burial of HCE with the deaf and dumb Danes identifies HCE with his Manservant Sackerson, whose name sounds like a corruption of the Scandinavian Sigurdsson (Gordon 128).

The Crypts in St Michan’s Church

Stanza 14

Funnegans Wake is a circular novel: the opening sentence of the book is also the second half of the concluding sentence. The opening stanza of Hosty’s Rann alluded to Humpty Dumpty and Oliver Cromwell. It is entirely fitting, then, that the concluding stanza should lead us back to the same two characters.

  • And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again, the closing lines in the popular nursery rhyme, are echoed here.

  • in Connacht or hell This alludes to an infamous phrase—To Hell or Connacht—which has come to be associated with an Act of Parliament passed on 12 August 1652 by the Rump Parliament under Oliver Cromwell. The Act for the Settlement of Ireland 1652 imposed penalties including death and the confiscation of land on both active participants and non-combatants of the Irish Rebellion of 1641 and the subsequent unrest. Confiscated land in the provinces of Ulster, Munster, and Leinster were to be made available for settlement by former Cromwellian soldiers. The native population was ordered to vacate this territory and move “to Hell or Connacht”.

Allegedly. The text of the act does not actually include the phrase to Hell or Connacht. In fact, there is no mention of Connacht at all. This Act of Settlement was repealed in 1662.

Roland McHugh claims that the infamous phrase actually occurs in an Act of Parliament of 1654, but I have not been able to find any such act.

So where does the infamous phrase come from? According to John Cunningham, the author of Conquest and Land in Ireland: The Transplantation to Connacht 1649-1680, this slogan is actually post-Cromwellian:

The history of Ireland in the 1650s is synonymous with Oliver Cromwell and with his supposed pronouncement on the fate of the Catholic population: ‛Go to hell or Connacht’. This slogan is shorthand for the policy of transplantation, the forced relocation of people ... The ‛Cromwellian’ slogan offers a useful point of entry into the complex of interpretations which have been constructed around the transplantation across the centuries. It in fact originated in 1790s Ulster in the same vicinity as the Orange Order, and it was seemingly first linked explicitly to Cromwell by a French writer only in 1830. [Footnote: The Speeches of the Right Honourable Henry Grattan, in the Irish, and in the Imperial Parliament, ed. Henry Grattan, Dublin 1822, iii. 220; Gustave de Beaumont, L’Irlande: sociale, politique et religieuse, Paris 1839, i. 62.] (Cunningham 1)

Henry Grattan and Gustave de Beaumont

Cunningham is referring to the sectarian conflict between the Catholic Defenders and the Protestant Peep O’ Day Boys in rural Ulster in the 1790s. Allegedly, To Hell or Connaught was a threatening message pinned by nocturnal raiders to the doors of Catholic households. This was part of the campaign of ethnic or religious cleansing pursued by the more militant members of the Protestant community. The Orange Order was formed by members of the Peep O’ Day Boys in 1795, following the infamous Battle of the Diamond, in which they defeated a contingent of Catholic Defenders.

In 1796, during a debate in the Irish House of Commons, Henry Grattan alluded to the current disturbances:

Those insurgents, who called themselves Orange Boys, or Protestant Boys—that is, a banditti of murderers, committing massacre in the name of God, and exercising despotic power in the name of liberty; those insurgents have organized their rebellion, and have formed themselves into a committee, who sit and try the Catholic weavers and inhabitants, when apprehended, falsely and illegally, as deserters; this rebellious committee, they call the committee of elders, who, when the unfortunate Catholic is torn from his family and his loom, and brought before them, sit in judgment upon his case; if he gives them liquor or money, they sometimes discharge him; otherwise, they send him then to a recruiting office as a deserter. They had very generally given the Catholics notice to quit their farms and dwellings, which notice is plastered on their houses, and conceived in these short but plain words—“Go to Hell, Connaught will not receive you—fire and faggot! Will. Thresham and John Thrustout.” They followed these notices by a faithful and punctual execution of the horrid threat, soon after visited the house, robbed the family, and destroyed what they did not take; and, finally, completed the atrocious persecutions, by forcing the unfortunate inhabitants to leave their land, their dwellings and their trade, and to travel with their miserable family, and with whatever their miserable family could save from the wreck of their houses and tenements, and take refuge in villages as fortifications against invaders ... (Grattan 220-221)

Gustave de Beaumont also cites John Lingard’s The History of England, Volume XI, Page 157, as a source, but the phrase does not occur anywhere in that work. Lingard does, however, refer to a second act of settlement—An Act for the Speedy and Effectual Satisfaction of the Adventurers for Lands in Ireland, and of the Arrears due to Soldiery there, and of other Publique Debts, and for the Encouragement of Protestants to Plant and Inhabit Ireland—passed by Cromwell’s Barebone’s Parliament in September 1653. This act includes the passage:

By the said Act it is thought fit and resolved, That all and every the persons aforesaid, shall before the First day of May, which shall be in the year, One thousand six hundred fifty four, remove and transplant themselves into the Province of Connaught, and the County of Clare, or one of them, there to inhabit and abide; and shall have set forth unto them and every of them respectively, such proportions of Land, and for such Estates or Terms, and under such Conditions, Reservations and Covenants, as shall be answerable in value unto so much of his and their Estates, as by such Articles or Qualification respectively he or they were to enjoy, in such place and maner as you or such as shall be authorized by you shall appoint and direct. And that whatsoever person or persons aforesaid, shall after the said First day of May, One thousand six hundred fifty and four, be found inhabiting or remaining in any part of the Provinces of Leinster, Munster or Ulster (except in the said County of Clare) or (without a Pass from you or any one of you, or under the hand and seal of such person or persons as shall be authorized by you to that purpose) travelling in any of the said Provinces (except the said County of Clare) he and they shall be reputed as Spies and Enemies, and shall for the same offence suffer death.

This, it appears, is the source of the myth that Cromwell said “To Hell or Connacht” (Lingard 134-135).

Oliver Cromwell Mural (Shankill Road, Belfast)

And that’s a good place to stop.


  • Gustave de Beaumont, L’Irlande: Sociale, Politique et Religieuse, Librairie de Charles Gosselin Paris (1839)
  • John Cunningham, Conquest and Land in Ireland: The Transplantation to Connacht 1649-1680, Royal Historical Society, Boydell Press, Woodbridge, Suffolk (2011)
  • David Hayman, A First-Draft Version of Finnegans Wake, University of Texas Press, Austin, TX (1963)
  • Adaline Glasheen, Third Census of Finnegans Wake, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA (1977)
  • John Gordon, Finnegans Wake: A Plot Summary, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse NY (1986)
  • Henry Grattan, The Speeches of the Right Honourable Henry Grattan: In the Irish, and in the Imperial Parliament, Volume 3, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, London (1822)
  • James Joyce, Ulysses, Shakespeare & Company, Paris (1922)
  • James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, The Viking Press, New York (1958, 1966)
  • James Joyce, James Joyce: The Complete Works, Pynch (editor), Online (2013)
  • John Lingard, The History of England, Volume 11, Second Edition, Baldwin and Cradock, London (1829)
  • T R Roberts, The Proverbs of Wales, T R Roberts, Penmaemawr (1885)
  • Danis Rose, John O’Hanlon, The Restored Finnegans Wake, Penguin Classics, London (2012)
  • Giambattista Vico, Goddard Bergin (translator), Max Harold Fisch (translator), The New Science of Giambattista Vico, Cornell University Press, Ithaca NY (1948)

Image Credits

Video Credits

Useful Resources

3 columns
2 columns
1 column
Join the conversion now