French were on the sea

In the 1790s, when Irish patriots were looking for French assistance in their uprising against the British, a song called The Shan Van Vocht crystallized Irish feelings about the looming conflict. Mulligan's "when the French were on the sea" in Telemachus alludes to a line in the song, and in Cyclops Ned Lambert repeats this nugget of Irish cultural memory: "Since the poor old woman told us that the French were on the sea and landed at Killala."

JH 2011

The French in Killala Bay, oil painting by William Sadler, displayed in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin. Source:

Liam Clancy and Maura O'Connell singing The Shan Van Vocht. Source: YouTube.