Tuesday, 24 September 2013
So sailed the stout ship Nansy Hans
Book Two Chapter Three of Finnegans Wake is set in a pub. At the end of the chapter, after the drinkers have all gone home, the landlord, HCE, who is also Roderick O'Conor, the last High King of Ireland, drinks all the dregs, before passing out. At this point, his pub turns into a ship, providing the setting for the next chapter, showing the courtship of Tristan and Iseult. The ship is called the Nansy Hans:
'So sailed the stout ship Nansy Hans. From Liff away. For Nattenlaender. As who has come returns. Farvel, farerne! Goodbark, goodbye!
Now follow we out by Starloe!' 382.27-30
There's a Nancy Hands named in the Phoenix Park nocturne, on p244 of the Wake, where Joyce describes all the animals in the park going to sleep for the night ('The foolish one of the family is within....With Nancy Hands'). Explaining this passage, Joyce told the French writer, Jacques Mercanton, that Nancy Hands was 'the name of a pub in Dublin with an echo of Anna Livia in it.'
Last time I was in Dublin, I found the Nancy Hands pub in Parkgate Street by the Phoenix Park. The astonishing thing is that the pub has a copper relief of a medieval scene with a ship. I thought I'd found Joyce's pub, and the inspiration for his ship transformation scene.
Later, I found that Nancy Hands was the nickname of another pub altogether, the Blackhorse Tavern - now called the Hole in the Wall pub, which is also by the Phoenix Park.
'The present Blackhorse Lane... derives its name from the Black Horse tavern, better known to Dubliners as "Nancy Hand's" from its popular hostess of fifty years ago, or the "Hole in the Wall," from a turnstile into the adjoining Phoenix Park.'
Dillon Cosgrave, North Dublin City and Environs, 1909
So the Parkgate Street pub isn't the one that Joyce was thinking of. Presumably, it originally had a different name, which might explain what the ship relief is all about. Joyce, who believed that his book had the power to predict the future, would have loved the coincidence.
Postscript: October 2013
Back in Dublin last weekend, I had another look at the Nancy Hands pub, and realised that this name appears on the clock, which looks like it's of the same date as the copper relief. So the ship and the name do go together. I'd love to know what's going on here!