So we turned into Barney Kiernan’s and there, sure enough, was the citizen up in the corner having a great confab with himself and that bloody mangy mongrel, Garryowen, and he waiting for what the sky would drop in the way of drink.
—There he is, says I, in his gloryhole, with his cruiskeen lawn and his load of papers, working for the cause.
The bloody mongrel let a grouse out of him would give you the creeps. Be a corporal work of mercy if someone would take the life of that bloody dog. I’m told for a fact he ate a good part of the breeches off a constabulary man in Santry that came round one time with a blue paper about a licence.
—Stand and deliver, says he.
—That’s all right, citizen, says Joe. Friends here.
—Pass, friends, says he.
Then he rubs his hand in his eye and says he:
—What’s your opinion of the times?
Doing the rapparee and Rory of the hill. But, begob, Joe was equal to the occasion.
—I think the markets are on a rise, says he, sliding his hand down his fork.
So begob the citizen claps his paw on his knee and he says:
—Foreign wars is the cause of it.
And says Joe, sticking his thumb in his pocket:
—It’s the Russians wish to tyrannise.
—Arrah, give over your bloody codding, Joe, says I. I’ve a thirst on me I wouldn’t sell for half a crown.
—Give it a name, citizen, says Joe.
—Wine of the country, says he.
—What’s yours? says Joe.
—Ditto MacAnaspey, says I.
—Three pints, Terry, says Joe. And how’s the old heart, citizen? says he.
—Never better, a chara, says he. What Garry? Are we going to win? Eh?
And with that he took the bloody old towser by the scruff of the neck and, by Jesus, he near throttled him.
The Cyclops episode of Ulysses is full of vitriol and humour. Most of the episode takes place in Barney Kiernan’s pub in Little Britain Street. The pub is no longer in use and whilst other public houses such as Davy Byrne’s in Duke Street celebrate and manipulate their Joycean heritage, others have quietly disappeared. Burgess notes the glorifying of pubs and poverty, and in this regard Barney Kiernan’s is the most interesting of the public houses of Ulysses.
Joyce’s purpose in life was to glorify the Dublin of pubs and poverty, not to further a shining national image. He was a Dubliner as Bloom and Earwicker are Dubliners, and both Bloom and Earwicker are foreigners.
In The Making of Ulysses, written in 1934, Joyce’s friend Frank Budgen describes Barney Kiernan’s
This pub is still going strong in Little Britain Street, but its great days were from fifty to a hundred years ago. Yet it still stands as it was then, non-party market scales hanging from smoked rafters, cobwebs and all complete. Time was when Dan O’Connell and his contemporaries dropped in from the courthouse for a drink, and later on the Earl of Dudley, the popular Viceroy was an occasional guest, but now, so the genial proprietor assures me, the art of and the taste for conversation (an art developed in the tavern through centuries to perfection) have been vanquished by the cinema, the football field and the puritan licensing laws.
It is interesting to note that it was Joyce who introduced Ireland’s first commercial cinema the Cinematograph Voltanearby at 45 Mary Street in 1909.
Joyce’s books are about Dublin, all of them. In the earlier sections of A Portrait we visit other Irish places, but briefly. We home back to Dublin with relief. But we are wrong if we think that Dublin encloses the work of Joyce, that a knowledge of the city is the key to understanding. The living Dubliner claims a superior appreciation of Joyce because he knows the distance from Sir John Rogerson’s Quay to Mount Jerome Cemetery. This is a delusion. Dublin, in Joyce, is turned into an archetypal city, eventually into a dream city. Moreover, the Dublin of 1904 is, with romantic Ireland and O’Leary, dead and gone.
One of the things that interests me, is the knitting through of the characters real and imagined in Joyce’s writings. Joyce is making a model city and manipulating its citizens and their movements in a game that suits his purposes. All of the biographical capturing adds to our enjoyment of the writings as does Burgess’s book, but it is the writings and not their surroundings that are of primary importance not the city that is of primary importance as Burgess amusingly notes,
Davy Byrne’s is now a smart bar, not a boozer. The Martello Tower is a Joyce museum, an omphalos of petrifaction. It helps us to know something about Dublin, the real city of Joyce’s memory, when we tackle the myths he has made of it, but it is by no means essential. The real keys to an understanding of Joyce are given to the diligent reader, not the purchaser of an Aer Lingus ticket.
Budgen, F. (1960) James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses. Bloomington, Indiana, United States: Indiana University Press.
Burgess, A. (1968) Re Joyce. New York, United States: W. W. Norton & Co.
Joyce, J. (1998) Ulysses. Edited by Hans Walter Gabler, Wolfhard Steppe, and Claus Melchior. Afterward by Michael Gordon edn. New York, United States: Vintage Books.