MacHugh’s perverse glorification of failure is not only ironic
but poignant. Like O’Molloy, MacHugh also confuses fiction
with fact. At the mention of the Invincibles, he claims that
“some hawkers were up before the recorder” (113), but the
hawkers, arrested for selling postcards and mementoes of the
Phoenix Park murders, did not appear before the recorder but
in police court (Gifford & Seidman, 1988: 142). Supposedly a
learned man, the professor, it seems, has a preference for
hearsay over actuality.
Joyce’s representation of MacHugh reaches its climax
when the professor recalls “[t]he finest display of oratory [he]
ever heard” in response to O’Molloy’s recitation of Bushe’s
polished period: a speech made by John F. Taylor on “the
revival of the Irish tongue” (1986: 116). MacHugh declares
that the topic was “new for those days,” that the Revival “was
then a new movement” (116); his account is not altogether
correct, though. When Taylor made the speech at the Trinity
College Historical Society in 1901, the Gaelic League (founded
in 1893) and its campaign for the revival of the Irish language
had already made considerable progress (Gifford & Seidman,
1988: 147-148); neither Taylor’s topic nor the Gaelic Revival
was “new.” Like O’Molloy, MacHugh performs theatrically
He closed his long thin lips an instant but, eager
to be on, raised an outspanned hand to his spectacles
and, with trembling thumb and ringfinger touching
lightly the black rims, steadied them to a new
focus. . . .
His gaze turned at once but slowly from J. J.
O’Molloy’s towards Stephen’s face and then bent at
once to the ground, seeking. . . .
He raised his head firmly. His eyes bethought
themselves once more. Witless shellfish swam in the
gross lenses to and fro, seeking outlet. (Joyce, 1986: