Summary and Analysis
When the novel opens, we are in the mind of a child; fragmented lines from a nursery story are intertwined with sensations and associations of feeling, touching, hearing, and smelling. Joyce takes us inside the mind of a child in order to show us how a child records and responds to the world around him. By carefully choosing language and syntax, Joyce enables us to share what is possibly the earliest childhood memory of the novel's hero — Stephen Dedalus.
Stephen is only three years old when he begins to identify himself with the physical world, with members of his family, and with the sensual world of language; he remembers his father's hairy face, his mother's sweet smell, the uncomfortable experience of wetting the bed, and certain special and fanciful words, such as "baby tuckoo" and "moocow." It was a good time, he says, meaning that he felt safe and secure from harm. Significantly, his favorite song is about wild roses — not tamed, cultivated roses, but wild roses. His taste for rebellion and freedom has already budded.
Stephen's next memory occurs about three years later, when he attempts to compete athletically with a group of rowdy schoolmates at Clongowes Wood College, the Jesuit boarding school which he attends. By comparison with the other boys, Stephen is small and weak, and suffers from poor vision and painful homesickness. During these miserable days, he comforts himself with thoughts of home. As he thinks about these things, it is clear that Stephen is a lonely, sensitive young boy, one who loves learning and relies on the strength he receives from saying his evening prayers.
Stephen's first crisis at Clongowes occurs when Wells, a bullying classmate, pushes Stephen into the square ditch (a cesspool), causing him to be taken to the school infirmary to recover from a fever. While there, Stephen meets Athy, the likeable son of a racehorse owner; Athy confides to Stephen that he too has an unusual name. While Stephen is in the infirmary, he also meets the somewhat sad but compassionate cleric Brother Michael, who cares for sick boys and makes them feel less isolated by reading them the news in the daily paper.
Although Stephen feels depressed by his illness, he comforts himself by melodramatically imagining the beauty of his own burial ceremony and Wells' great remorse for having caused Stephen's unfortunate death. Then Stephen falls into a fitful sleep; he is lulled by "waves" of light, the sounds of imaginary sea waves, and the words which Brother Michael is reading about the death of Charles Stewart Parnell, the young, romantic Irish hero.
Parnell's death becomes more significant in the following scene, when Stephen returns home to celebrate Christmas. At the Christmas dinner are Stephen's parents (Mary and Simon), John Casey (a friend of Simon's), Stephen's greatuncle Charles, and Stephen's old nurse, Dante Riordan. Stephen is particularly excited because for the first time in his life, he is sitting at the table with the adults.
The joy of the occasion is soon interrupted, however, by an argument about the Catholic Church's role in politics and its attitude toward the followers of the late Irish Nationalist, Charles Stewart Parnell.
Casey, a staunch supporter of Parnell's cause, defends Parnell against the injustices committed against him and his cause by the Irish people and by the Catholic Church. According to Casey, the Church hounded Parnell into his grave. The argument naturally includes mention of Parnell's highly publicized love affair with a married woman, Kitty O'Shea, and Dante Riordan vehemently defends the Church's censure of Parnell's involvement with Kitty. Casey says that because the Church interfered with secular matters, it thereby ended a political career which had seemed to promise Home Rule for Ireland.
The argument escalates with an exchange of insults and concludes with Dante's triumphantly shouting, "We crushed him [Parnell] to death!" She slams the door, leaving Simon and Casey weeping over the loss of their beloved hero.
The next scene opens with Stephen back at Clongowes, overhearing a conversation about the punishment awaiting some students who stole some altar wine from the sacristy. Thinking about the dark, silent sacristy and sacred things in general, Stephen suddenly envisions Eileen Vance, a young girl with hands like ivory, so smooth that they remind him of two worshipful phrases that he repeats during the Litany to the Blessed Virgin — "Tower of Ivory" and "House of Gold." Suddenly, Stephen's musings are interrupted by a call to class.
During Father Arnall's Latin lesson, Father Dolan, the prefect of studies, who wields the menacing pandybat in search of "lazy idle little loafers," appears. Dolan notices that Fleming and Stephen are not doing their lessons. After disciplining Fleming, Dolan approaches Stephen, who explains that he has been excused temporarily from his assignments because he broke his glasses.
Refusing to believe that Stephen broke them accidentally, the cynical, sadistic Dolan commands the boy to put out his hands for "pandying." This punishment, according to Dolan, is demanded for idleness and schoolboy tricks. Afterward, Stephen feels humiliated and angered by the unjust cruelty. His classmates are angered too; they believe that Stephen should report the prefect's injustice to the rector of the school.
Stephen briefly considers the consequences of such a bold action; then he sets out, following the winding corridors that lead to "the castle." He confronts the rector with the truth about the broken glasses, and, to Stephen's amazement, the rector, Father Conmee, is both sympathetic and kind; he promises to resolve the situation with Father Dolan on Stephen's behalf. Comforted and exhilarated by the results of the meeting, Stephen rushes from the gloomy corridors of the castle to be greeted by his classmates as a leader and a hero. They lock hands and lift him heavenward. Metaphorically, Stephen is flying, momentarily free of fear and constraint.
At the beginning of the novel, we meet Stephen at the moment when he experiences his first essential awareness of the world around him. He is "baby tuckoo," the center of the universe, the one to whom stories are told and songs are sung. We perceive the world exactly as Stephen does — through sounds, smells, and sensations — all structured by a catalogue of comparisons which introduce the novel's good/bad, cold/hot, light/dark image motifs.
Clearly, even at an early age, Stephen prefers his mother to his father, and he is unconsciously aware of his nurse Dante's political and religious ideologies. He also learns, because of the "Pull out his eyes, Apologise" refrain, that any sudden, natural (spontaneous, artistic) expression of emotion — such as his declaration that he is going to marry Eileen (a little Protestant girl) — will result in swift moral retribution from the stern and practical members of his family. Later, of course, society's censures will parallel Stephen's family's early condemnation of his spontaneous outbursts of emotion and artistic expression.
Stephen's overly sensitive reactions to this censoring incident is proof to us that Stephen is "different." He feels keenly guilty without understanding why; later in life, he will suffer other moments of agonizing, confusing guilt.
The next scene, at Clongowes, focuses on Stephen's growing sense of isolation. Joyce's imagery in this passage — "swarming . . . strong cries . . . pale and chilly . . . thud . . . [and] greasy . . . " — indicates Stephen's general discomfort in his new surroundings. The use of the term "heavy bird," describing the low-flying, ponderous football, introduces bird imagery, imagery which will pervade the novel; here, it is used to identify the mythical escape theme which unifies the novel. Young Dedalus (like his Greek namesake, Daedalus) sees himself in a hostile environment from which, at least for the moment, he is unlikely to escape, although he would like to. Similarly, Stephen (the name of the first Christian martyr) suffers ridicule because of the uniqueness of his name; he is mercilessly questioned about his name by a bullying classmate, Nasty Roche.
Stephen's feelings of loneliness increase as he thinks of the day when his parents said good-bye to him, leaving him helpless in the threatening maze of his new life at Clongowes, where he felt "caught in the whirl of a scrimmage . . . fearful of the flashing eyes and muddy boots . . ." He soon realizes that he can momentarily escape the cruel realities of school life by contemplating things which he finds beautiful and, later, re-creating them with words.
For example, when reflecting on the lighted castle, Stephen remarks, "It was like something in a book." Here, Stephen reveals an early insight into the nature of creativity: he can translate something physical into artistic form. He not only begins to value words, but he also realizes that a particular arrangement of words makes the "nice sentences in Doctor Cornwell's Spelling Book" seem "like poetry." Stephen is already a young artist. This scene plays an important part in Joyce's revelation of Stephen's ultimate escape from a humdrum, priest-ridden life.
Suddenly, Stephen's artistic reverie is interrupted by real life, and we are reminded that although Stephen may be artistic, he is still a little boy. Stephen precisely describes the disgusting details of being pushed into the "square ditch" by a bullying classmate, and, here, in addition to our responding to Stephen's description of the sensations he felt, we should be aware that the sudden shock of the cold, slimy [cesspool] water is heavily symbolic; the submersion into the cesspool is Stephen's crude baptism into an offensive and cruel world, a world which differs greatly from the warm, secure world of home. The contrast between these two worlds, as well as the contrast between a series of hot/cold images (hot is natural and therefore good; cold is unfeeling and therefore bad), sets up another catalogue of comparisons and conflicts which Stephen must try to resolve as he attempts to find his place in the new world of Clongowes.
One of the conflicts which Stephen must face is the class competition between the scholastic teams of York and Lancaster, named after the British royal families involved in the War of the Roses (1445-85). Although the team badges, bearing either a red or white rose, represent two political factions, Stephen is not really concerned with winning the scholastic contest. He is concentrating on a world which might allow the limitless possibilities of "wild rose blossoms." Here, as he will do in future years, Stephen shuns the arbitrary restrictions governing religion and/or politics; he prefers, instead, to re-create (in his mind) a more tolerant world in which he can feel free to express his own wild, creative nature.
In addition to introducing us to Stephen's "differentness" and his feelings of alienation, Joyce is also introducing us to the matter of loyalty — in particular, the matter of Stephen's loyalty to his "mother country," Ireland. The character who most represents Ireland is Stephen's mother, Mary Dedalus, and Stephen's later anxieties about exile from Mother Ireland are foreshadowed here in his thoughts about being exiled from his loving mother while he is at boarding school. Feeling alien and alone, Stephen longs to be "at home [where he can] lay his head on his mother's lap." This longing troubles Stephen, and one night as he waits for sleep, he begins to imaginatively open and close the flaps of his ears, creating a Freudian-like sensation of a "train going into a tunnel." Freud's imagery, not unfamiliar to Joyce, is related not only to the experience of childbirth, but it also is related to the anxiety/release pattern which Stephen is experiencing because of his separation from home. These anxieties increase when Wells asks Stephen about kissing his mother. Once again, unable to understand his feelings of hot guilt, Stephen finds solace in the beauty and precision of words.
One day, while contemplating his loneliness, Stephen begins graphically to establish his own sense of identity by writing in his lesson book, "Stephen Dedalus / Class of Elements / Clongowes Wood College / Sallins / County Kildarel Ireland / Europe / The World / The Universe." This declaration of identity, illustrating his feelings of smallness in an immense world, marks the beginning of Stephen's attempt to consciously arrange the details of his life in his own manner, creatively to establish control, using the power of words in a pattern.
There exists, however, an area of conflict that Stephen cannot resolve by resorting to words. Religion is a problem for the young boy. He finds comfort in the repetition of memorized prayers; he is offered solace, but, at the same time, he is terrified by the notion of the eternal fires of eternal damnation. In the scene when Stephen recites his prayers before going to bed, Joyce conveys his own disdain for the rote memorizations encouraged by the Catholic Church. Such prayers, he believes, offer small hope for people who are deeply troubled; ultimately, such prayers are of little use in times of deep suffering. Stephen's own prayers seem to echo Joyce's observations; it is likely that the boy does not even understand the prayers that he is reciting. Note that his night tremblings seem to cease not after prayers, but after he reminds himself that he will not go to hell when he dies. However, Stephen is not truly comforted. He is still haunted by the terrible image of the prefect's descent down a dark, mythical corridor. Stephen's night fears dissolve only after he remembers that he will soon be going home for the holidays.
Feeling feverish after falling in the square ditch, Stephen realizes that a hand is on his forehead, and he begins to hallucinate that the cold, clammy hand and the beady little eyes that he sees are those of a rat. This preoccupation with rodents leads him to think about dead rats, dead things in general, and ultimately about his own death. In a vivid stream-of-consciousness passage, Stephen begins to contemplate the beauty of his own burial ceremony, fantasizing how greatly he will be missed.
Stephen's thoughts return to reality with the sudden appearance of Brother Michael, a kindly cleric charged with taking care of boys in the infirmary. The fact that Brother Michael is not a priest, like the other clerics in the school, makes Stephen wonder whether Brother Michael's kindness differentiates him from the others; Stephen wonders if Brother Michael is less holy because of his kindness.
While Stephen is in the infirmary, he meets Athy, the affable son of a racehorse owner; unlike Stephen, Athy seems to enjoy the uniqueness of having a "queer name." The infirmary can thus be considered a microcosm for those like Stephen. That is, Brother Michael, Athy, and Stephen are all isolated — either by duties, names, or physical illness — from the rest of the world of Clongowes.
Stephen contemplates his feelings of isolation as he falls asleep, lulled by pleasant memories of home and the sad sound of Brother Michael's voice as it reveals the news from the daily paper that Charles Stewart Parnell, the Irish Nationalist leader, is dead. In his dream, Stephen's preoccupation with his illness and his fears of death merge with his thoughts about Parnell's death, and he begins to identify his own plight with that of the great, rejected Irish hero.
When the next scene opens, Stephen is well and happy; he is back home in Bray with his family, just as they are about to sit down for Christmas dinner. It is a momentous occasion; this meal will be Stephen's ceremonial initiation into the adult world. By being allowed to say grace before the meal, Stephen has joined the world of grownups, a world which he expects will be filled with the excitement, joy, and peace of the season. Ironically, this dinner, which is traditionally held to announce the joyous anniversary of the birth of the Savior of the World, becomes the scene of loud, vindictive, religious and political debate. Ultimately, its angry focus is not on a birth, but on the death of a man who seemingly was once Ireland's savior, Ireland's hope for independence from England, Ireland's best hope for Home Rule.
In a sense, this traumatic experience causes Stephen to confront some of the disappointing truths about the adult members of his household. Dante, his old nurse and governess, a woman whom he has loved as if she were an aunt, is rigid and cruel as she loudly defends her faith and the Church's interference with matters of the state. Interestingly, this scene is based on an actual occurrence in the Joyce household. Dante Conway (the Joyce children's governess) and a Mr. John Kelley (a friend of Joyce's father who had been imprisoned for giving public speeches in defense of Parnell) actually did have a loud, angry argument during a Christmas dinner when Joyce was a boy. The vicious screaming ingrained itself so deeply in Joyce's memory that he was able to re-create its strong, minute details here. As a result of the argument, Stephen realizes that the pursuit of freedom usually includes martyrdom — a situation enunciated by Joyce himself, a belief that Ireland would always destroy her heroes.
This emotionally traumatic Christmas dinner, the climax of Chapter I, marks the beginning of Stephen's loss of innocence. Increasingly, Stephen will begin to view the world with more cynicism and apathy, and before long, he will begin to expect disillusionment in areas of life which he once held sacred. Such is the case when he returns to school and the other children seem to be "smaller and farther away" than they did before. He listens to the fears of his classmates as they discuss the fate of the boys accused of stealing wine from the sacristy, but the details of the sacrilege no longer seem to shock him. Instead, Stephen tries to make sense of his new perspective by relying on the familiar rhythms of the Litany of the Blessed Virgin. For the first time, he begins to examine the actual meaning of the words which he has routinely, unthinkingly, repeated for years. He begins to understand the words not so much for their piety, but for their beauty as art.
In contrast to Stephen's discovering the beauty of the words in the Litany, Joyce juxtaposes the unfair, cruel reality of the Catholic Church, represented by Father Dolan. In careful detail, Joyce re-creates the sound and the motion of Father Dolan's pandybat, as well as the feelings associated with being smacked with the pandybat. Joyce is foreshadowing here what will eventually happen to Stephen, and, as a result, we will more deeply share Stephen's painful, unjust punishment.
Initially, of course, Stephen never suspects the potential cruelty of Father Dolan. Stephen has suffered from the cruelty of his classmates — specifically, he was pushed in the filthy ditch of water and, later, a classmate caused him to break his glasses on the cinderpath — but Stephen has yet to experience injustice from a cleric, a man who is supposed to represent the kindness and mercy of the Catholic faith. Ironically, the sadistic Father Dolan not only fails to hear the boy's "confession" of innocence, but he also oversteps his station by taking pleasure in paddling Stephen mercilessly in front of the class.
Momentarily, Stephen's faith seems to fail him, but he finds a solution to the injustice he has suffered in the chorus of classmates as they cry out in classical echoes of Roman crowds demanding democratic justice. Stephen's solution seems clear: he knows that he must visit the school's rector in order to clear his good name and report Father Dolan's injustice.
Stephen's surname, Dedalus, now becomes important in its relationship to his mythical counterpart, Daedalus. Like Daedalus, Stephen decides that the only means of escape from the tyranny of the school is to challenge the dark, labyrinthine corridors of the castle that lead toward the rector's office. Setting out, Stephen is anxious and selfconscious, convinced that the portraits of the saints on the walls of the corridor are looking down in judgment on him as he defies established tradition. They continue to stare as Stephen opens the refectory door.
What Stephen senses in the rector's office are strong life-and-death impressions, symbolic of Stephen's life-and-death anxiety about overstepping the authority of Father Dolan. As he confronts Father Conmee, the rector, the "solemn smell in the room" hints at the reverence of the occasion, and the skull on the desk portends Stephen's possible fate. But the rector's "kindlooking face" and pleasant manner encourage Stephen to state his problem boldly and with heroic simplicity: "I broke my glasses, sir."
Ultimately, the meeting proves successful, and Stephen feels comforted as he rushes down the gloomy corridors to the encouragement of his classmates. Realizing that he has fulfilled his quest, he feels like a celebrated hero returning from victorious battle. Democracy has prevailed. Carried aloft, airborne in his schoolmates' locked hands, Stephen views his world in a more amiable light: "The air was soft and grey and mild and evening was coming." This balance between light/dark, hot/cold imagery (not light, not dark, but grey; not hot, not cold, but mild) underscores Stephen's feelings of momentary contentment. Note, however, that Joyce says that "evening was coming." This is a hint that with wisdom, darkness will surely follow.
Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes. And he sent forth his spirit among the unknown arts. — Ovid, Metamorphoses.
looked at him through a glass looked at him through a monocle, an eyeglass for one eye.
put on the oilsheet put on an oilcloth, a cotton fabric made waterproof with oil and pigment; often used for tablecloths.
the sailor's hornpipe a lively dance, usually done by one person; popular with sailors.
Dante not Dante Alighieri. This is the nickname of the woman who is Stephen's nanny, or governess.
had two brushes in her press had two brushes in her closet — in this case, an upright piece of furniture used to hold clothes.
Michael Davitt Organizer of the land reform league. Much more of a political agitator than Parnell, Davitt served seven years in prison for attempting to send firearms into Ireland. He advocated nationalization of Irish lands and believed that Parnell was too moderate in his opposition to English rule.
Parnell Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-91); Irish Nationalist leader. Fought for Home Rule; urged Irish Catholics to pay no rents to their Protestant landlords. His political career was brought to an end when his adultery with a married woman was made public.
gave him a cachou gave him a cashew mint; often used for disguising bad breath.
the prefects teacher-supervisors; often senior pupils, as well, who are given authority to maintain discipline.
Kickham had greaves in his number Kickham had padded, protective shinguards in his locker, which was numbered for identification.
a hamper in the refectory a box, or basket of food in the dining hall that belongs to him; probably sent from home.
a magistrate a judge; to brag that one's father was a magistrate is to suggest that one is well-off, well-bred, and better than most.
never to peach on a fellow never to tattle or inform on someone else.
shortbread crisp, dry, buttery bars.
seventyseven to seventysix Stephen has 76 days until classes are dismissed for Christmas holidays.
the haha a sunken wall or barrier in a ditch, constructed to divide land without obstructing the landscape.
lights in the castle The "castle" refers to the complex that houses, among other things, the rector's quarters. The original castle, built in the medieval era, was destroyed in the seventeenth century and rebuilt. The Jesuits purchased it in 1814 and founded the prestigious Clongowes Wood College for boys.
shoulder him into the square ditch shove him into the cesspool.
Wells's seasoned hacking chestnut Wells's chestnut (used in a game); it has cracked (conquered) 40 others.
with her feet on the fender with her feet on a low metal guard before an open fireplace; a fender is used to deflect popping, or falling coals.
You are McGlade's suck. You are McGlade's bootlicker, brown-noser, apple-polisher.
there were two cocks There were two faucets — one marked "hot," the other "cold."
the hour for sums the hour for arithmetic, or mathematics.
Go ahead, York! Go ahead, Lancaster! The class is divided into two teams, each representing one of the two families (Lancaster, red rose; York, white rose) that battled for the English throne during the 40-year War of the Roses (1445-85). Shakespeare's Henry VI, Parts 1,2,3 is set in this turbulent era and concerns its dynastic struggle for power.
he was not in a wax He was not yet seethingly, passionately angry.
first place in elements first place in the various required classes — Latin, mathematics, literature, and so forth.
two prints of butter two pats of butter with patterned marks, or "prints" on top.
the clumsy scullion the clumsy kitchen servant.
sick in your breadbasket sick at the stomach.
knotting his false sleeves Moonan is knotting two cloth streamers that are attached to the shoulders of the prefect's gown, or soutane.
he was in the third of grammar He was an older student.
turned to the flyleaf turned to the blank page in the front of the book.
do something for a cod do something for a joke.
the seawall a strong embankment to prevent the sea from coming up; a breakwater.
the kettle would be on the hob The kettle would be on the shelf around the fireplace where families kept saucepans, teapots, matches, and so forth.
the fire of the smoking turf Turf is the name of blocks of peat which are cut from Irish bogs and burned for fuel.
getting up on the cars Competing with the railroads, these cars were long vehicles used for transport and were pulled by horses.
don't spy on us another way of saying don't "peach" (or inform) on us.
not foxing not pretending.
like the long back of a tramhorse A tram was a horse-drawn passenger vehicle, much like a streetcar.
a dead mass a mass said for someone who has died.
the catafalque a raised structure on which a corpse is laid out for viewing.
a bowl of beeftea a bowl of rich bouillon, or beef broth.
the liberator usually the "l" is capitalized. The term refers to Daniel O'Connell, who was, in 1775, Ireland's leading Catholic politician, advocating the right of Catholics to hold public office.
a green velvet mantle A mantle is a loose, sleeveless cloak.
his feet resting on the toasted boss His feet are resting by the fireplace on a very low, warm stool which has ornamental "ears," or bosses.
looked at himself in the pierglass A pierglass is a tall mirror which fills the space between two windows.
a good breath of ozone round the Head John and Simon have walked to Bray Head, a hill outside Bray, close to the sea.
went over to the sideboard a piece of dining room furniture with shelves, doors, and drawers, used for holding tablecloths, linens, and silverware.
moisty and watery about the dewlaps Dewlaps refer to the loose, wrinkled skin under the throat.
that's the real Ally Daly That's a first-class turkey, the best!
an answer to the canon an answer to the clergy's condemnation of Parnell.
the pope's nose the triangular-shaped "tail" of a chicken or a turkey, where the tail fathers are attached.
Billy with the lip William J. Walsh, archbishop of Dublin; he worked in league with Parnell for land reform but refused to give Parnell vocal or political support when the O'Shea scandal broke.
the tub of guts up in Armagh Michael Logue, another archbishop who didn't, but probably could have, used his influence to dispel the general condemnation of Parnell. Reference is taken from Hamlet.
Lord Leitrim's coachman The reference here is to an Irish coachman who was more loyal to his English landlord than he was to his Irish compatriots who attempted to kill Lord Leitrim. A person who is labeled as "Lord Leitrim's coachman" would be a lackey, subservient to England and having no patriotism for Ireland.
renegade catholics those Catholics who desert their faith.
a spoiled nun a woman who, for whatever reason, has turned away from her calling to be a nun.
the trinkets and the chainies geegaws, cheap jewelry, and china dishes.
not long before the chief died not long before Parnell died.
a drunken old harridan a drunken old hag.
Mr. Fox the pseudonym used by Parnell when he wrote letters to Kitty O'Shea.
condemned to death as a whiteboy Whiteboys were somewhat like eighteenth-century KKK members; they wore white garbs at night and threatened Protestant landlords who were raising rents inordinately.
the fenian movement Inspired by the American Civil War, these Irish-Americans returned to Ireland to stage a revolt of their own. They were quickly and successfully put down.
Terence Bellew MacManus When the body of the exiled MacManus was returned to Ireland for burial, church officials protested his burial in hallowed ground.
old Paul Cullen another Irish archbishop who was anti-nationalist.
upsetting her napkinring A napkin ring is a ring of china, metal, or wood that holds a folded napkin.
They were caught near the Hill of Lyons. "They" refers to five students.
they had fecked cash They had stolen cash.
I know why they scut I know why they tried to escape. "Scut" is defined in the dictionary as the tail of a rabbit, held high while running. In America, the verb form "high-tail it" is similar in meaning to the verb "scut."
the press in the sacristy a closet (a large piece of furniture) in the room where the sacred vessels and vestments are kept.
the crimped surplices stiffly folded, white linen gowns worn over priests' cassocks.
boatbearer he who carries the container with the dry incense during mass.
censer the vessel in which the incense is burned.
in the square in the school bathroom.
smugging perhaps a combination of "smuggling" (suggesting something done clandestinely) and "smug" (meaning, to "make pretty"); here, the term refers to the secret homosexual horseplay that five students were caught at, including Simon Moonan and "Lady" Boyle ("Tusker" Boyle).
a trail of bunting a trail of festive streamers.
The Calico Belly a satiric play on words. Julius Caesar wrote De Bello Gallico (The Gallic War), a work that is often taught in Latin classes.
how many ferulae you are to get A ferule is a metal-tipped cane or rod used to punish children. Here, it refers to how many times the students will be struck.
they are going to be flogged In this context, flogged refers to being whipped by a cane on the buttocks.
out with your bum expose your buttocks.
they had stolen a monstrance In the Roman Catholic Church, a monstrance is a receptacle in which the consecrated host is exposed for adoration.
the noun mare mare is Latin for sea or ocean.
ablative singular the case that contains the ending of the object of the preposition.
the mark of the spade The potato has an incision where the shovel sliced into it.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam To the Greater Glory of God. This is the motto of the Jesuit order; students are usually instructed to place the initials A.M.D.G. at the tops of all their papers.
Hamilton Rowan an Irish Nationalist who escaped from his English captors and hid in Clongowes. He tossed his hat out to make the English believe that he had left the castle; the ruse was successful.
the green baize door The inner door is covered with soft, green woolen fabric.
gallnuts nutlike galls, or abnormal growths on trees.