Today on the 98th anniversary of Ireland’s hosting of the Gordon Bennett auto course, the Financial Times says: “World’s leading economies agree on global minimum corporate tax rate: Companies to pay at least 15% • Rules to start in 2023 • Ireland and Hungary among holdouts.”
The English designated the course of the Gordon-Bennett to be run over Irish roads, careening around Irish curves, on roads cut between Irish pastures, racing past Irish schools in Irish cities. James Joyce records, “…through this channel of poverty and inaction the Continent sped its wealth and industry. Now and again the clumps of people raised the cheer of the gratefully oppressed. Their sympathy, however, was for the blue cars” (63). Joyce noted that, for this day, Dublin wore “the mask of a capital,” but it was not even a partner in the Union; Dublin and Ireland were conquests. On that day, Dublin was assigned to bear the inconvenience of hosting and boasting for England’s claim to modernity.
England did not take the prize for that race, “successful Gallicism” taking team honors and a Belgian mercenary serving the Kaiser the individual laurel. Bound by a history of broken promises to the French, Irish Jimmy Doyle was “almost hilarious” at the victory (64). His Hungarian companion “Villona, a brilliant pianist… unfortunately, very poor” (66), having “a sharp desire for his dinner” was likely to encourage the high spirits of his French patrons too (70). [Torciana notes ironically that during the half-hearted invasion of Ireland by a French advance force in 1798, Irish forces mistook Hungarians under British pay for French and were cut down without option of surrender (82). Hungry people sometimes perform ignoble acts. The Doyle prosperity is also the result of butchery performed in the service of the United Kingdom.]
Before the breakdown of the system of empires (Victorian, Hapsburg, Ottoman, German, French) after the first great pan-European war of the 20th Century, the empires most treasured nearby valuable colonies. For the English, this was Ireland; for the Austrian Hapsburgs, it was Hungary. The latter, reluctantly, had created the “two crowns” system that afforded Hungary a degree of autonomy. This became the model for the Irish as Arthur Griffith’s plan for Ireland to become a Crown Dominion. When The Great War threatened, the Royal bargain was if the Irish would fight the war against the Axis, freedom would be forthcoming. The same promise was made to India. Neither promise was honored.
Empires disappeared—the losing empires in a flash—the winners at snail’s pace. New global empires replaced the old. These are economic in nature (weren’t they always?). One of these is in Europe. Under empires and other unions, the Irish and Hungarians still had to maneuver against more prosperous, populous nations practicing Metternick’s “realpolitik” to their disadvantage. They developed practices, local laws, and policies that balanced their national well-being against the power of their new partners. This is the source of today’s headline. More powerful countries still wrest an advantage over less powerful ones.
The Races of Castlebar also refer to the French/Irish initial victory then crushing defeat by the British after the unspirited invasion by the French in 1798. After the disastrous defeat, French prisoners were treated cordially, feted, then sent off to the accompaniment of military bands. Irish prisoners were hung on the spot. (Torchiana 80-81). The 1903 replay of the Year of the French witnessed blue cars “scudding in towards Dublin, running evenly like pellets in the groove of the Naas Road” (Joyce 63). Jackson and McGinley note that Naas courses from Kilmainham Gaol to Richmond Barracks. They continue, “Being hanged was known as doing the Kilmainham minuet.” The mutual chivalry of English and French militaries in 1798 is paralleled in Joyce’s story by Ségouin’s gentle treatment of his English school chum Routh, while Doyle will be “hung out to dry.” Ségouin’s motives may not be pure. His name originates in the word sagouin that may translate to “morally dirty” (35).
Hormonal surges prod reckless youth to swell the ranks of armies and the crops of military cemeteries. The same euphoria leads them to tempt the limits of “Rapid motion through space” and to risk everything in untested business ventures. Joyce reflects enthusiasm for speed and financial recklessness with the booming rendition of “Cadet Roussel in chorus, stamping their feet at every: ‘Ho! Ho! Hohé, vraiment!’” (Joyce 72).
Young Doyle joins the prosperous troop with the help of his father’s money. This fortune was gained by trading nationalist principles for a police contract to provide butchered Irish meat. The Doyle wealth relies on the conquering Royals. There is a “…the metro-colonial… border zone both joining and dividing an imperialist and an irredentist culture,” says Valenti. He points to Joyce’s use of the terms “doublingers” and “dyoublongers” for conflicting goals of nationalism and economic success (329). There can be no independence without wealth, but there can be no wealth without complicity with the Crown. The character of the older Doyle modeled William Field. Arthur Griffith’s United Irishman called Field “a flunky of the Crown.” He was a Member of Parliament, and president of the Irish Cattle Traders and Stock Owners Association, a suspicious position for a butcher to hold (Jackson and McGinley 35-41).
Jimmy Doyle was educated on the profits of his father’s ethical compromise. “(I)n spite of temporary errors (he) was at heart the inheritor of solid instincts” (67). However, under the influence of his former mates from Cambridge, he shows the shakiest judgment over “bad courses” academic, personal, financial, and automotive. He has learned none of the necessary skills for any of his undertakings. Despite his pricey Catholic education, Protestant bachelors are leveraged by the facing structures of the Bank of Ireland and the Church of Ireland’s Trinity College, welcoming Irish Protestants but virtually excluding Irish Catholics from the island’s economy. Cunning Gogarty, for example, managed to attend Protestant and Unionist Dublin University, circumventing a religious ban against Catholics.
Joyce calls the style of the young men “fast and loose.” Jackson and McGinley remind us this is also the name of a game of deception ( 37). Torchiana suggests a conspiracy afoot between Ségouin and Routh to cheat Doyle and Farley, but no convincing evidence is provided (83).
The room “drank the health of the Queen of Hearts and of the Queen of Diamonds” (Joyce 74). Bowen says the Queens of Hearts and Diamonds are symbols of sacrifice and wealth (Bowen 59). He fails to note that Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James VI/James I, was known as the Queen of Hearts when the Stuarts played fast and loose with Irish blood and treasure in her family’s mismanaged cause (Jackson and McGinley 39).
“Ségouin shepherded his party into politics,” says Joyce ( 71). Tempers rise, hindering Jimmy’s rational thinking and wagering.
The room grew doubly hot and Ségouin’s task grew harder each moment: there was even danger of personal spite. The alert host at an opportunity lifted his glass to Humanity and, when the toast had been drunk, he threw open a window significantly. (Joyce 71)
The game continues with Jimmy further impeded. The deciding hand “lay between Routh and Ségouin.” The Englishman takes the pot. We are denied knowledge of any secret cash settlement between them after the cards are cleared. The Irish have been pawned again in a game of European Diplomacy.
Valenti tells us that Joyce wrote “After the Race” as a colonialist rather than as a Modernist (375). Ellmann referred to “After the Race’ as an Irish story distinguished from Yeats’ Celtic gaming in “Red Hanrahan.” He called Yeats “melancholy and warm,” Joyce “meticulous” (164). Zack Bowen commented that “Jimmy, (as) Ireland, as in the days of (Wolfe) Tone, having been an unimportant but involved bystander in the struggle, understands that ‘he would lose, of course.'” In European politics and economics, the game is run by the house, the house is a property of the prosperous and populous nations- France, Germany, and England. Other nations, rivals, or allies should guard their hands. To do otherwise is to suffer, in the words of Tindall, “(r)omantic illusion, disenchantment, and frustrated escape” (23).
Little has changed.
Bowen, Zack. “After the Race,” James Joyce’s Dubliners: Critical Essays, edited by Clive Hart, Viking Press, 1969, pp. 53–61.
Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce, Oxford University Press, New York. 1983.
Joyce, James. Dubliners. Enhanced Media, 2016, Retrieved June 19, 2021.
Joyce, James. James Joyce’s Dubliners: An Illustrated Edition with Annotations, edited by John Wyse Jackson and Bernard McGinley, St. Martin’s Press, 1993, pp. 35-41.
Joyce, Stanislaus. My Brother’s Keeper: James Joyce’s Early Years, edited by Richard Ellmann, Da Capo Press, 1958, pp. 199, 225.
Tindall, William York. “Dubliners.” A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1959, p. 23.
Torchiana, Donald T.” ‘After the Race’: Our Friends the French, the Races of Castlebar, and Dun Laoghaire,” Backgrounds for Joyce’s Dubliners, Allen & Unwin, 1986, pp. 77-90.
Valente, J. (1998, October). “Complicity: Metro-Colonial Tactics in Joyce’s Dubliners.” JSTOR. https://JSTOR.org.