Howth tram

In Brief

Dredging up still more silliness from his past, Stephen remembers a younger self "On the top of the Howth tram alone crying to the rain: naked women!" He was doing this not in Dublin or its populous suburbs, but on a tram that took travelers to the relatively remote and wild Howth peninsula, which juts into the sea about 10 miles north of Dublin.

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The "Howth tram" ran from 1901 to 1959, on a route that departed from Fingal (just outside Dublin) and circled scenic Howth Head, which had few inhabitants outside the village of Howth on the northern coast of the peninsula. The cars featured an upper deck screened with wire mesh, as shown in the photos at right.

Unless he was taking the tram to Howth to make a connection at the railway station with a train bound for some other part of Ireland (unlikely in his case, though this is the reason that the line was constructed), Stephen must have been engaged in a minor act of tourism, using the metropolitan network of trams to access a site of natural splendor not far from the city.

§ His ability to release his sexual longing into the relatively pristine air of such an environment identifies him with the novel's other two protagonists. Bloom has gone on a school trip to the Poulaphouca waterfall SW of Dublin and masturbated in the woods, for which he is accused in Circe by a grove of yew trees ("Who profaned our silent shade?"), and chastised by a nymph modeled on the one over his bed ("O, infamy!"). In Gibraltar, Molly has allowed Lieutenant Mulvey to fondle her as "we lay over the firtree cove a wild place I suppose it must be the highest rock in existence." And both Blooms, soon to be Mr. and Mrs., have enjoyed a rapturous sexual idyll together "lying among the rhododendrons on Howth head" (Penelope).

Stephen's hopeless cry of desire on the top of a train car, strangled by religious guilt and justified by misogyny ("What else were they invented for?"), looks pitiful by comparison to the more natural experiences of sexual passion that the Blooms have had in splendid surroundings. But all of these episodes cohere in expressing an association between Nature as landscape and human sexual nature. As Simon Dedalus says of a sexual encounter in Hades, "it's the most natural thing in the world."

JH 2014
Cars of the Howth tramline in the Howth railway station, date unknown. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
"Electric Tramway to Howth Summit," a postcard printed in 1907. Source: Wikimedia Commons.