Blackpitts

In Brief

As Stephen contemplates the gypsy couple on the sands in Proteus, he imagines the woman offering herself to men in the street while her pimp works two others in a bar: "Her fancyman is treating two Royal Dublins in O'Loughlin's of Blackpitts." He is thinking of a time that he spent walking through this bleak part of town in the Liberties: "Fumbally's lane that night: the tanyard smells." In Aeolus he makes this neighborhood the fictional residence, not of the gypsy couple, but of the two women that he spotted earlier on the beach, who now star in his Parable of the Plums.

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Blackpitts is a short street just west of Clanbrassil Street on the south side of Dublin. Fumbally Lane runs east for a couple of blocks from the north end of Blackpitts, whose name is variously said to derive from burial pits used during plague years (the "Black Death"), or from black vats used by tanners starting in the 18th century. In 1904 this working-class neighborhood was the site not only of tanneries, but also of piggeries (pig pens) and illegal cockfighting venues. Gifford identifies one particular tannery as the source of "the tanyard smells" that Stephen remembers: "Kelly, Dunne & Co., tanners, fellmongers, and woolmerchants, 26-27 New Row South, just around the corner from Fumbally's Lane." He speculates that "O'Loughlin's" is a "shebeen" or unlicensed pub.

When Stephen locates his two fictional vestals in this area, saying that they "have lived fifty and fiftythree years in Fumbally's lane," Professor MacHugh asks, "Where is that?" Stephen replies, "Off Blackpitts." The thoughts of squalid sexuality that he entertained about the gypsies continue to play in his mind as he composes this scene: "Damp night reeking of hungry dough. Against the wall. Face glistening tallow under her fustian shawl. Frantic hearts. Akasic records. Quicker, darlint!" The conjunction of the two pairs of walkers in the artist's mind may have something to do with the genesis of his heavily sexualized story, in which two aged virgins spit seeds off the top of a phallic tower.

Stephen may know this area because Richie and Sara Goulding lived nearby, before moving to their present house in Strasburg Terrace, Irishtown. Gabler's 1984 edition of the novel includes, in Ithaca, a recollection of visiting his beloved "aunt Sara, wife of Richie (Richard) Goulding, in the kitchen of their lodgings at 62 Clanbrassil street."

JH 2015
The Blackpitts section of Dublin, in a photograph taken ca. 1880-1900. Source: www.census.nationalarchives.ie.
Rear of houses in Blackpitts, in a photograph taken in 1913 by John Cooke to document the terrible living conditions. Source: dublincitypubliclibraries.com.