Father Flynn’s death notice reveals that he had been parish priest at St. Catherine’s Church in Meath Street:

“Two poor women and a telegram boy were reading the card pinned on the crape. I also approached and read:

July 1st, 1895

The Rev. James Flynn (formerly of S. Catherine’s Church,

in Meath Street), aged sixty-five years.

R.I.P.

The reading of the card persuaded me that he was dead and I was disturbed to find myself at check” (12).

The church is, of course, a Catholic church, and though it is on the site of a previous cathedral, the new church that took its place had only been completed as it would have appeared in the context of the story in 1857. It’s possible, then, given that he had been living with his sisters for several years since “something queer came over him,” that Father Flynn could have been its first priest (16). According to several editions of the Irish Catholic Directory and Almanac between 1858 and 1904, there were only two head parish priests in St. Catherine’s between the time the church was dedicated in 1858 and Father Flynn’s death in 1895.

Interior of St. Catherine's in Meath Street, photographed by Robert French between 1865 and 1914. Available through the National Library of Ireland's Lawrence Photograph Collection.

Interior of St. Catherine’s in Meath Street, photographed by Robert French between 1865 and 1914. Available through the National Library of Ireland’s Lawrence Photograph Collection.

The reference to the church in “The Sisters” carries implications of religious tension as well. A Catholic church designed by James Joseph McCarthy (though some would dispute this credit), who also designed the Star of the Sea Church around the same time, St. Catherine’s in Meath Street sits just around the corner from St. Catherine’s in Thomas Street, a Church of Ireland establishment where the Nationalist leader Robert Emmet was executed in 1803. Though Emmet was a Protestant, he supported Catholics’ freedom to worship. Thus even though the reference to St. Catherine’s is complicated by the two opposing denominations in near proximity to each other, even the tension is further complicated by the indirect evoking of Emmet whose political ideas were as important, if not more important, than his religious preferences.

St. Catherine's Church of Ireland in Thomas Street, photographed by Robert French between 1865 and 1914. Available through the National Library of Ireland's Lawrence Photograph Collection.

St. Catherine’s Church of Ireland in Thomas Street, photographed by Robert French between 1865 and 1914. Available through the National Library of Ireland’s Lawrence Photograph Collection.

In a story so seemingly centered on religious matters (simony [9], catechism [9, 13], the mysteries of the sacraments [13], Father Flynn, a mysterious fall from grace [16-18], etc.), the complex implications embedded in the reference to St. Catherine’s, just steps away from the other St. Catherine’s, coupled with the bookended references to Great Britain Street and Irishtown, the story’s first and last geographical references, respectively, suggest that, as usual with Joyce, there is much more at work in “The Sisters” than just religious mysteries and dichotomies. Religion is only part of a larger network of issues that, appropriately, the opening story of Dubliners invokes. And as Stephen reminds us later, in Ulysses, he is “servant of two masters…an English and an Italian” (17.638), meaning “[t]he imperial British state…and the holy Roman catholic and apostolic church” ((U 17.643-44). Religion is almost always tangled up with politics in Ireland, and seeing St. Catherine’s in Meath Street on a map, so close to Emmet’s execution site at St. Catherine’s in Thomas Street, helps to highlight the political overtones in the story, which, as it turns out, are just as prominent as the more literal religious ones.

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2 Responses to St. Catherine’s

  1. […] But what does the reference to Ormond Quay contribute to our reading of “A Mother?” The reference, like so many of Joyce’s geographical references, may recall a time before the story’s setting.  Incidentally, in 1850, there were two bootmakers listed in Thom’s Directory in Ormond Quay: William Muldary at 16 Lower Ormond Quay, and James Henry Baird at 11 Upper Ormond Quay. Furthermore, in “Robert Emmet’s Rising of 1803 and the Bold Mrs. Kearney: James Joyce’s ‘A Mother’ as Historical Analogue,” Martin F. Kearney explores the connections between the concert in “A Mother” and Robert Emmet’s 1803 uprising, pointing out that Anne Devlin is evoked in Mrs. Kearney’s maiden name Devlin, setting the stage for a much more politically charged story than what many of the early critics recognized. The author Kearney traces several interesting and convincing parallels between Anne Devlin and Mrs. Kearney, but he also suggests that Mr. Kearney’s character also carries correlative implications to the 1803 uprising. He notes, for example, that there were two Kearneys involved in the events: William Kearney, who “concealed Emmet and several rebel officers in the garret of his inn” (para. 18); and Edward Kearney, who “was the first to be executed, having been adjudged guilty of participation in the bid for Ireland’s freedom. The religious fervor of Joyce’s Mr. Kearney gains poignancy with the realization that Edward Kearney was forced to face the scaffold without benefit of a priest to hear his last confession or to offer spiritual comfort” (para. 18). Most interestingly, though, William Cole, a shoemaker, followed in the footsteps of William Kearney and hid Philip Long, a major member of the uprising, in his house in Ormond Quay. That Joyce stepped Mr. Kearney up from a shoemaker to a bootmaker may be a nod to Emmett’s well-known Hessian boots, which, as article’s author points out, he wore both on the night of the rebellion and during his execution at St. Catherine’s. […]

  2. […] reference. In “The Sisters,” the political implications resonate from the reference to St. Catherine’s, and in “Ivy Day,” it is Kavanagh’s. Furthermore, Fanning, the man Keon meets in […]

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