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Scholarcast 57: James Joyce, Treeless Hills and the Night of the Big Wind

Katherine O'Callaghan


The fall of the great forests of Ireland provided James Joyce with a rich literary trope laden with cultural memory and socio-political resonances, which he utilized throughout his works and most fully in Finnegans Wake. The trope taps into a chain of historical events well-rehearsed by nationalist rhetoric - the arrival of the English into Ireland; colonial exploitation of people and resources; fears concerning fertility and famine; the loss of an indigenous culture – and thus it is compatible with Joyce’s innovative utilisation of repeated motifs with multiple textual resonances. Joyce’s last work both recalls the ancient bardic tradition of lamenting the lost trees, and parodies its use in nationalist discourse by contextualizing and thus de-politicizing this particular deforestation within the cyclical pattern of its repeated natural occurrence.

If Finnegans Wake has a tale, it concerns the fall of a giant who now lies buried in the landscape of Ireland. Ten “thunderwords” recreate the sound of the lamented event. In this podcast I argue that these sounds might be read as the giant oaks falling to the earth, each instance resonating with further events and tropes. The fall motif is intricately linked with forests throughout the book, and becomes an evocation and lament of the tree felling. The unprecedented, and as yet unrepeated, ferocious hurricane which battered Ireland in 1839, known as the Night of the Big Wind, Oíche na Gaoithe Móire, also has a striking presence in Finnegans Wake. Both the falling trees and the big wind become leitmotifs which recur through the text, provoking questions concerning the interplay of the environment and cultural memory. 

Katherine O’Callaghan

Dr Katherine O’Callaghan was the 2014-15 Armstrong Visiting Professor at the University of St Michael’s College at University of Toronto. She was a recipient of a 2-year Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship at the School of English in Trinity College Dublin. She spent 2012-2013 as a Visiting Fellow at the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. Dr O'Callaghan will be a Visiting Lecturer at Mount Holyoke, Massachusetts, from Fall 2015.  She received her PhD, with a dissertation entitled The Space Between: Music and Language in the Writings of James Joyce, from University College Dublin. She has taught at UCD, NUI Galway, NUI Maynooth, and spent a year as a postdoctoral researcher at Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3. She regularly presents papers at international Joyce conferences, taught the Finnegans Wake seminar at the Dublin James Joyce summer school, and has contributed to RTE and BBC radio programmes on Joyce and music. Her current research project is entitled Music and the Irish Novel, an exploration of music as a provocative and radical aspect of Irish novels written in English (1890-present). Her collection, Memory Ireland Volume IV: James Joyce and Cultural Memory (2014, co-edited with Oona Frawley), was published by Syracuse University Press.


Series edited by: Malcolm Sen
General Editor: P.J. Mathews 
Scholarcast original theme music by: Padhraic Egan, Michael Hussey and Sharon Hussey.
Recording, audio editing, photography, video editing and development by: John Matthews, Vincent Hoban & Brian Kelly at UCD IT Services, Media Services.

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