Page 2. " The brush with the maroon velvet back was for Michael Davitt and the brush with the green velvet back was for Parnell. "
Michael Davitt
Public DomainMichael Davitt - Credit: Beka

  Michael Davitt was a leading figure in the Home Rule movement, and is especially remembered for his role as a revolutionary founder of the Land League. His unceasing efforts were instrumental to future Irish Land Acts after the Gladstone First Land Act of 1870.

Charles Stewart Parnell
Public DomainCharles Stewart Parnell

 Charles Stewart Parnell was the founder and leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party.  He led his party as a Member of Parliament from 1875 to his death in 1891. Gladstone described him as remarkable; Asquith said he was one of the three or four greatest men of his era. He was however involved in a scandal due to his marriage to a divorced woman.

Page 3. " She played the sailor's hornpipe for him to dance. "
Public DomainHornpipe - Credit: HaCeMei

The hornpipe was originally an old solo dance to the sound of the Celtic instrument of the same name. It is believed to have originated for exercise purposes on the confined decks of Royal Navy ships.

The sailor's hornpipe is featured in Popeye the Sailor Man, a Disney Cartoon released in 1930. Mike Oldfield included this tune in his Tubular Bells album.

Listen on Spotify:

Sailor's Hornpipe

Tubular Bells


The dance itself looks like this

Page 6. " He wondered from which window Hamilton Rowan had thrown his hat on the ha-ha and had there been flowerbeds at that time under the windows. "

Archibald Hamilton Rowan (1751-1834) was a radical and founder member of the Society of United Irishmen, who sought to establish a republic, along French Revolutionary lines, in Ireland. He is thought to have escaped arrest by throwing his hat on to the ha-ha (garden trench that serves in place of a fence), to make the English soldiers believe he had escaped in one direction while he ran off in another.

Page 7. " Wells's seasoned hacking chestnut, the conqueror of forty. "

Wells's chestnut would be prized as a particularly good contender in the game of conkers, which is played across Ireland and Great Britain with nuts from Horse Chestnut trees. In the game, two contenders take turns to swing their conkers, which have been threaded on to string, at each others'; the person who breaks the other's conker is the winner.

A World Conkers Championship is held each year in Ashton. 

Public DomainConkers - Credit: Margaret Clarkson
Page 8. " Right! Bravo Lancaster! The red rose wins. Come on now, York! Forge ahead! "

The schoolboys are split into different 'houses' which compete for points; the houses are named after the opposing sides in England's Wars of the Roses

Lancaster and York
Public DomainLancaster and York

This historical struggle for the throne of England was fought between the houses of York and Lancaster. It lasted from 1455 to 1485, when it was won by Henry Tudor from the house of Lancaster. He married Elizabeth of York, thus uniting the two families.


Lancaster Rose
GNU Free Documentation LicenseLancaster Rose
York rose
GNU Free Documentation LicenseYork rose
Tudor rose
GNU Free Documentation LicenseTudor rose



Page 14. " When would he be like the fellows in poetry and rhetoric? They had big voices and big boots and they studied trigonometry. "

The pupils of Clongowes are divided into three classes, or 'lines'. Each line is further divided into two years. The names of the years are as follows:

1) Rudiments 

2) Grammar

3) Syntax

4) Humanities

5) Poetry

6) Rhetoric

Stephen is therefore looking up admiringly to the oldest two years in his school, the 17 and 18 year old boys.

Poetry gives them an insight into the aesthetic function of language.

Rhetoric, in the restricted sense, is Aristotle's well-known treatise on the art of persuasion. In the broader sense it is a discipline based on Aristotle's principles, standing alongside grammar and dialectic as one of the three ancient arts of discourse.

Trigonometry, a branch of mathematics concerned with the geometry of triangles, is also important for the shaping of logic in the mind of Stephen and his peers.

Page 15. " air and rain and turf and corduroy. "

Turf, in this context, is peat. Dried peat was the main fuel burnt in the home.

GNU Free Documentation LicensePeat

 Corduroy is a ridged form of velvet and is considered a very durable cloth. It has other names, such as corded velveteen, elephant cord, pin cord and Manchester cloth.

GNU Free Documentation LicenseCorduroy
Page 18. " And the train raced on over the flat lands and past the Hill of Allen. "

The site mentioned here is historical as well as legendary. The 9th baronet of Donadea started building a circular tower on the hill. While digging for the foundation of the tower, a large coffin was unearthed which was said to contain the bones of Fionn mac Cumhaill - a famous warrior in Irish mythology.

Google Map
Page 19. " Leicester Abbey lit up. Wolsey died there. "

 Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (c.1471-1530) was an English statesman and a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He was unfortunate enough to hold the office when King Henry VIII of England wanted to separate from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. When Cardinal Wolsey could not find a way to permit this within the bounds of the Roman Catholic Church, Henry broke away from the Church and Wolsey fell from power. His offices and properties were stripped from him, and he might have lost his head as well if he hadn't fallen ill and died in Leicester.

Page 22. " He said over to himself the song that Brigid had taught him "

It is uncertain whether these lyrics are from an actual song or were invented by Joyce.

The tune can be heard here.

Page 23. " Why is the county of Kildare like the leg of a fellow's breeches? "

The first riddle in  A Portrait.  The town of Athy ('a thigh') lies towards the south of the county.

Kildare County
Public DomainKildare County - Credit: Kildare County Council