Royal Dublins

Royal Dublins

In Brief

The "Royal Dublin Fusiliers," or "Royal Dublins," were an Irish infantry regiment of the British army from 1881 until the founding of the Irish Free State in 1922. Molly Bloom's father, identified in Oxen of the Sun as "a gallant major" and in Ithaca as "Major Brian Cooper Tweedy, Royal Dublin Fusiliers" (though he probably was only a sergeant-major), served in this regiment in the 2nd Battalion stationed in Gibraltar. After his time, the regiment sent both of its regular battalions to South Africa to fight in the Second Boer War from 1899 to 1902.

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In Proteus, Stephen imagines a gypsy woman's companion selling her body to "two Royal Dublins" in Blackpitts, and this association with prostitution continues in Lotus Eaters when Bloom scans the troops in a recruiting poster looking for the regiment that Molly's father served in: "Where's old Tweedy's regiment? Castoff soldier. There: bearskin cap and hackle plume. No, he's a grenadier. Pointed cuffs. There he is: royal Dublin fusiliers. Redcoats. Too showy. That must be why the women go after them. Uniform. Easier to enlist and drill. Maud Gonne's letter about taking them off O'Connell street at night: disgrace to our Irish capital. Griffith's paper is on the same tack now: an army rotten with venereal disease." Slote, citing the Encyclopaedia Britannica, notes that "The full dress uniforms of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Grenadier Guards were quite similar, with the main difference being the cuffs and hats. The Grenadiers wore bearskin hats with a white plume."

When he is accosted by two policemen in Circe Bloom leaps to associate himself with the troops, because of his involvement in a pro-Boer demonstration in 1899: "My wife, I am the daughter of a most distinguished commander, a gallant upstanding gentleman, what do you call him, Majorgeneral Brian Tweedy, one of Britain's fighting men who helped to win our battles. Got his majority for the heroic defence of Rorke's Drift." Now the major, perhaps already glorified from a mere sergeant-major, has become a general officer. Gifford suggests that Bloom is thinking of another man of the same name, Major General Willis Tweedie, who commanded troops in India. The assertion that Tweedy fought in the battle of Rorke's Drift against the Zulus in 1879 may also be fantastic: nothing else in the novel confirms it.

Challenged by a constable to name his "Regiment," Bloom "Turns to the gallery" and affirms his connection with Tweedy's outfit: "The royal Dublins, boys, the salt of the earth, known the world over. I think I see some old comrades in arms up there among you. The R. D. F., with our own Metropolitan police, guardians of our homes, the pluckiest lads and the finest body of men, as physique, in the service of our sovereign." Someone accuses Bloom of being a "Turncoat" who supported the Boers against the British cause, and he asserts that he fought in the Second Boer War "and was disabled at Spion Kop and Bloemfontein, was mentioned in dispatches."

Later in the episode, when Stephen finds himself in trouble with two soldiers, Bloom tells them that "We fought for you in South Africa, Irish missile troops. Isn't that history? Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Honoured by our monarch." The air of fantastical elaboration still clings in the phrase "missile troops." Fusil is French for a long gun, and the first fusiliers in the late 17th century carried flintlock muskets. In the 19th and early 20th centuries they were riflemen, not manners of missile batteries.

JH 2016
Detail from 1902 English postcard showing Royal Dublins in dress uniform. The man on the left is a sergeant. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
1899 photograph, held in the Imperial War Museum, London, of Royal Dublins defending a fortification in the Second Boer War. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Fusiliers' Arch (dubbed Traitors' Gate by Dublin nationalists) on St. Stephen's Green, commemorating RDF soldiers killed in the Second Boer War, photographed by Thorsten Pohl Thpohl in 2003. Source: Wikimedia Commons.