1132 A.D. & SAINT Brighid

by Riverend Clarence R Sterling © 1998

Notes on Some Implications in Chapters II;4 and III;1




From James Joyce, the genius who placed the portmanteau word among the stars, comes (inevitably) the portmanteau number (saints preserve us). So while reaching into the "1132" satchel, I want to emphasize that what I shall pull out will in no way contradict the other outstanding interpretations extant. My lemma should rather reinforce others, and gild our appreciation of James Joyce's awesome skill at making numbers and ideas mesh and reverberate. There is however a "smoking gun" significance for 1132. This stumbling student of Mr Joyce's required some time to discover it. Clues, however, confirm my radix for 1132 in Finnegans Wake once dug ( -- at least it's within the Heisenberg parameters stating "an area of uncertainity can never be reduced to zero").

What we know quickly from the text is worth reviewing at this point. Most germane is that Mr Joyce wants us to realize that 1132 is a date, a year. Surveying what might be called the 1132 section of FW (pp. 387-420), we note references to " . . . the year of the flood 1132" [387.23], " . . . the freebutter year of Notre Dame 1132" [388.20], " . . . around about the year of buy in disgrace 1132" [391.02], " . . . old year's eve 1132" [397.30], and in the final page featuring 1132 (as a numeral anyway), we have what seems the dénouement: not only the year (of what we may not know yet), but a specific day in history, " . . . 31 Jan. 1132 A.D." [420.20]. The other 1132 entries in this section of FW largely involve plays on the numeral as part of a street address, by which we are perhaps instructed that not only is a specific time in mind, but a specific place as well.

If we take time and space as the vertical and horizontal planes of a Cartesian grid, then the intersection marks some particular event. But what? And again, it's worth iterating that hints abound, but their value is mostly post facto, i.e., they are esoteric and encrypted to the extent that we are as in a dark room and unlit signs pointing to the light switch are of little use. But even after the light becomes present, to be intelligible the signs must be in a language we know, and this means escaping from the wind of my extended metaphor to a much more pleasant focus of discussion, and that is the patron saint of Ireland, St. Brighid, so respected as to be called the Mary of the Gael.

One should like to spend a great long time on the subject of St. Brighid, but she still would not be done justice by such meager skills as I muster, and I suspect she will pardon me for appearing crass in bringing to the table only a handful of knowledge chosen because it applies to our search:

a) yes, Ireland is blessed to have three patron saints in all, including (with Brighid), Patrick and Columba;

b) yes, some scholars within and without the pale of the Church are disturbed by the fact that Brighid reappears in various guises in various times and seems part historic, part mythic -- part Christian, part pagan - part here, part there, and so on -- but that is no problem for Joyceans and other such simple-hearted souls of the laity;

c) one of her dualities is that she is herself; -- but also an incarnate representative of Mary;

d) as a saint, Brighid is the protectress of dairymaids; as a Celtic "supernatural lady," her associates are the cow and lamb;

e) as a saint, her day is February 01; as a Celtic "supernatural lady," she is associated with February 02, lambing day (one of the four primary Gaelic holy days, and the least known -- Imbolc, meaning "bag of cream" or "butter-womb");

f) as a saint, she founded the Cella Roblorum, or Church of the Oak (Cill-daur > Kill-dara > Kildare), which I think (therefore I am probably wrong) is not too far from the Liffey headwaters; as an ancient Celtic goddess and representative of the Bona Dea, Brighid has never left us and is capable of appearing anywhere anytime in any guise;

g) as the first abbess of Kildare, she was followed by an unbroken line of abbesses who commanded great respect from the people and were responsible through Brighid's order for maintaining by precise ritualistic means a continuous fire ignited by St. Brighid before her death in ca. 522. The abbesses were assisted in this by 19 nuns.

In 1132, a truly horrid and disgusting event occurred which one does not care to have to relate, but it must be confronted, and that is the rape of the Abbess of Kildare -- allegedly ordered by Dermot MacMurrough of Leinster for the purpose of destroying her sanctity and rendering her unfit for her office. This is said to have been done for the end that MacMurrough might enhance his power by imposing in her place a kinswoman of his own. The travesty was amplified by depredations on the monastery of Kildare.

The rape of the Abbess of Kildare is an especially disturbing instance of that aspect of Irish politics (perhaps endemic to most politics) which Joyce naturally despised - the ugly face of internal betrayals evoked by the image of an old sow eating her children. (It has a savage resonance with the issue which awoke in childhood Joyce's passionate disdain for the banality of evil, and that was the verbal rape of Katharine O'Shea by the clergy through which the political power of Charles Stewart Parnell was broken). Meant as an opening move in MacMurrough's checkered rise to power, the rape of the Abbess of Kildare threw open the gate to a hellish path which led to the Norman occupation of Ireland. St Brighid's house had been purposefully shattered because it bred harmony. We are still trying to fit together the broken shards.


James Joyce was intensely proud of being born on February 02, lambing day, that is on Imbolc, which by the old reckoning shares the claim for being St. Bridgid's Day along with February 01 for reasons we must gloss in this amount of space (but which include the fact that the Celtic day was measured in a lunar manner like the extant Semitic calendars so that a calendar day begins at sunset, not midnight). Joyce considered St. Brighid to be his muse and liked to have his works first issued on February 02 to honour her. She is invoked in all post-Chamber Music work. As St. Bride [220.03], Brighid continues to maintain her abbey, now a "finishing establishment" for the "The Floras . . . a month's bunch of pretty maidens." She is Maria in "Clay," the moocow in Portrait, the old milk woman in Ulysses, the maid in Exiles (and don't miss the milk truck), the broken branch in "Tilly," (one means allowed to stoke the sacred fire at Kildare was to wave air over it with a branch), and a thousand references to milk and things bovine in FW.


Brighid was born herself by manifesting from a bucket of milk being carried out the door by her mother, a milkmaid. And the Irish Catholic Church, before it came under the foot or aegis, as you will, of the Roman Catholic Church, baptised in milk rather than water. Within our fleeting 20th century, Irish farmers have been seen still crossing the flanks of their cows with milk-dipped fingers.

For those still with me, we return to the clues of our quest:

1) [388.19-20] ". . . round about the freebutter year Notre Dame 1132"; by "freebutter," we are referred to St. Brighid's dairy attributes and to Imbolc (butter-womb). It is said that no one went without butter in Brighid's parish. "Notre Dame" [Our Lady] points to her as "the Mary of the Gael." [388.26-27] " . . . 1132 Brian or Bride street" cites her nickname, Bride (also Bridey and Biddy) (and perhaps as well a Brigantine writer -- Brian O'Naillgusa). There are also, as always, interminable portmanteaus we must largely pass over, such as "Lacytynant" (Latin cum French cum Joyce for "having milk");

2) [389.13] ". . . at or in or about the late No. 1132 or No. 1169"; the Norman-Anglo Conquest of Ireland began in 1169, when a mercenary invasion force from Norman-occupied Wales captured Wexford and Waterford. A year later they took Dublin, and over the next century, 75% of Ireland would fall. Dermot MacMurrough's wily reign of deceit, beginning in 1132, paved the way for the Norman occupation. Church politics in this is glossed by plays on the Kill [church -- cf. Kill-dara] [389.06-07]; an allusion to Mary [via her Portuguese apparition, "Fatima" 389.15]; and her son, Jesus ["Fitzmary"= son of Mary] [389.13]); " . . . the matther of Erryn . . . was to rule . . . the grandest gynecollege" [389.06-09]. Mr Joyce reminds us: the mother of Ireland was supposed to rule the central clerical assembly - but her command had been savagely interrupted;

3) [391.02] ". . . year of buy in disgrace 1132 or 1169 or 1768" -- and the treachery of greed echoes for six centuries into the tensions leading to the Irish "agrarian outrages." (Don't miss the appearance of the villainous MacMurrough on the facing page as "Mahmullagh" [390.09], followed soon by the poignant: "The good go and the wicked is left over . . . evil flows . . . Woman. Squash . . . by decree" [390.29-33];

4) [397.30] ". . . old year's eve 1132, M.M.L.J. old style" -- the clarification that we are to view the date (when we come to it fully) by the "old style" (the Celtic moon-based calendar) which begins each day at sunset (" . . . old year's eve"), blurring our modern distinction between any two of our current "days" [cf. "Christmas Eve/Dec. 24"]; -- and now, with the light on, we return to the dénouement:

5) [420.20] "31 Jan. 1132 A.D." is thus henceforward seen clearly as a finger pointing to the awful rape of the Abbess of Kildare, recorded as occuring in that year (1132) to a woman charged with perpetuating the spirit and ritual and facility and order of the saint whose day is 01 Feb. (an extension of the eve of 31 Jan., by the "old style").

"Once Bank of Ireland's . . . Milchbroke. Wrongly spilled . . . Now Bunk of England's" [420.32-34]. The violation of a holy maid in a soldier's bed made the shores of Ireland into England's bunk for 750 years. You may cry over the spilling of sacred milk.


Although the Riverend is on record as requesting no followers, I sincerely thank you for attending his discourse, and apologize for its length. Meanwhile, the top of the morning to you, a phrase, by the way, which refers to the cream which rises to the top of a dairy bucket just as did once the infant St. Brighid.

Yours, in her grace's watch, the

Riverend Sterling thouart@ix.netcom.com <mailto:thouart@ix.netcom.com>

1998SEP22 POB 1584 Ojai, CA 93024-1584


Adapted and developed from my e-mail to the Joycean newsgroups, first to < fwake-l@listserv.hea.ir <mailto:fwake-l@listserv.hea.ir>> in Sept 97;

later to <fwread@ lists.colorado.edu> & <jjoyce@listserv.utah.edu> in July 98.


The Annals of Loch Cé: A Chronicle of Irish Affairs, 1014-1590. ed. W. M. Hennessy, 2 vols. (London, 1871; reflex. facs., Dublin: Irish Manuscripts Commission, 1939). 1132.

Condren, Mary. The Serpent and the Goddess: Women, Religion, and Power in Celtic Ireland. Harper & Row: San Francisco, 1989. pp. 107 & 112-113.


Dolley, Michael. Anglo-Norman Ireland. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1972. p. 30.

Gwynn, Aubrey. The Twelfth Century Reform. Dublin: Gill, 1968. p. 54.

" " with R. N. Hadcock. Medieval Religious Houses. London: Longman, 1970.

p. 320.



FOR AN EARLY "1132 AD . . ." IN THE SCHEMATA, SEE THE LIST ON PAGES 129-130 OF T. CONNOLLY'S EDITION OF SCRIBBLEDEHOBBLE (pp. 746-7 of the original) [thanks to Bill Buttler].