In Brief

"Ringsend" is the part of town just east of Dublin on the south bank of the Liffey. It is separated from the city by the mouth of the River Dodder, which once was a broad estuary. By Joyce's time the river had been confined by a walled channel, but Ringsend retained the quality of a separate town on the seacoast. Walking southeast of it on the tide flats in Proteus, Stephen observes some of its present maritime features, and apparently also imagines some others in the distant past.

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"Broken hoops on the shore; at the land a maze of dark cunning nets; farther away chalkscrawled backdoors and on the higher beach a dryingline with two crucified shirts": these are all details that seem to inhere in the present. But those that come after may be fantasies of what Ringsend looked like in the past: "wigwams of brown steersmen and master mariners." Gifford infers from the fact that wigwams are temporary dwellings (round-roofed pole structures used by northeastern Native American and Canadian First Nation tribes, somewhat similar to the Plains Indians' pointed tipis) that Stephen must be thinking of a time when the area was lightly inhabited by seamen who had only one foot on the shore.

Before the construction of the Great South Wall, Ringsend was the last spit of land before the ocean, and hence a destination for ships coming to Dublin. In the 19th century shipping moved into the heart of the city, lessening the village's maritime character. In the years since 1904 the attenuation has continued. The next suburb down the coast, Irishtown, has been extended considerably eastward on reclaimed land, meaning that Ringsend is now landlocked, and it has become just one more working-class suburb.

Ringsend is also mentioned in Hades, Aeolus, Eumaeus, and Ithaca. And although it is not mentioned in this capacity in the novel, it was the place where James and Nora went out walking on their first date.

JH 2016
Detail from a map of Dublin in the 10th edition of The Encyclopaedia Britannica, ca. 1902, showing Irishtown and Ringsend north of Sandymount. Source: www.illustrationsource.com.
Closer view of Ringsend and Irishtown, from a Bartholomew map printed 5 September 1900. Source: David Pierce, James Joyce's Ireland.