Cattlemarket

In Brief

Ulysses makes many references to the "cattlemarket" that for about a century stood at the intersection of the North Circular Road and Prussia Street. Bloom once worked there for a cattle trader named "Joseph Cuffe," who fired him for being too opinionated with a rancher. One of Bloom's strongly held opinions is that the Corporation should build a tram line from the market to the Liffey, so that cattle could be transported by train to the quays rather than driving them through the city streets.

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The Dublin Cattle Market, established in 1863 to replace an older facility in nearby Smithfield, had open-air, metal-railed pens set in concrete foundations to accommodate several thousand cattle and many more thousands of sheep, with walkways for buyers to view the stock before bidding. It was a large and well-designed operation, making it possible for animals from far-flung parts of Ireland to be brought to a centralized market by railcar. Competitive bidding allowed ranchers to get decent prices, and also established prices for sales at fairs throughout Ireland, in the manner of a commodities exchange. Export sales far outweighed purchases for domestic slaughter. At its peak in the 1950s, according to FarmIreland.ie, more than one million live animals (cattle, sheep, and pigs) were annually exported from Dublin after being bought at the weekly Wednesday morning sale. It was the largest such market in Europe.

In Calypso Bloom thinks of "Those mornings in the cattlemarket, the beasts lowing in their pens, branded sheep, flop and fall of dung, the breeders in hobnailed boots trudging through the litter, slapping a palm on a ripemeated hindquarter, there's a prime one, unpeeled switches in their hands." In Hades he thinks that "Tomorrow is killing day," but reflects that the cattle he is seeing in the streets are bound for foreign markets. There was a slaughterhouse on the grounds of the market, as he remembers in Lestrygonians: "Wretched brutes there at the cattlemarket waiting for the poleaxe to split their skulls open."

Ithaca notes that "during parts of the years 1893 and 1894" the Blooms were living in the City Arms Hotel because Bloom was working as a clerk at the nearby cattle market. (The hotel was also a popular choice for foreign buyers visiting the market.) The narrator of Cyclops knows about Bloom's job as a sales clerk ("he was up one time in a knacker's yard. Walking about with his book and pencil"), and about his dismissal ("Joe Cuffe gave him the order of the boot for giving lip to a grazier"). Molly thinks that this was one of four good jobs that her husband has screwed up, and imagines that "he could have been in Mr Cuffes still only for what he did then sending me to try and patch it up I could have got him promoted there to be the manager." Her appeal to reinstate her husband was unsuccessful.

Calypso mentions, and Circe repeats, Bloom's scheme to run "a tramline along the North Circular from the cattlemarket to the quays" on the River Liffey, and Ithaca describes the plan in great detail. Bloom has thought about how track could be laid alongside existing rail lines on the North Circular Road, how the new line could link up with various railroad, shipping, and storage facilities, how it could promote international trade in Irish beef, and how the project could be funded. Assuming that his calculations are practicable, the idea does seem better than driving herds of cattle through the streets of a metropolis—a practice which continued unabated until the closing of the Dublin Cattle Market in 1973. Cattle and sheep marched several abreast in lines that could be half a mile long, with local drovers and dogs occasionally separating them to let trams through.

The market itself was the product of innovative urban planning. In "The Dublin Cattle Market," published in Dublin Historical Record 55 (2002): 166-80, Liam Clare observes that it was designed to replace "the small, miserable, narrow, insanitary, unhealthy and exposed market area at Smithfield, where tired cattle and footsore sheep were cruelly forced through crowded streets; a spot where existing salesmasters monopolised the public market space to the exclusion of competition; a location requiring cattle for export to be driven down the north quays to the docks. In contrast, the new market would be spacious, paved, drained and supplied with ample water. There would be free access for both producers and salesmasters from Smithfield, subject to payment of a small fee. Most of the cattle would arrive directly at the market by rail from the most important grazing areas to the west and north of the city, via the Midland Great Western Railway Company's proposed railhead at the docks, or via the Great Northern Railway. A proposed underground rail link, the Phoenix Park tunnel, would carry stock from the south and south-west. Only the cattle from the south-east would lack convenient access to the new market. The animals, when sold for export, would already be close to the embarkation point, or they could be slaughtered at their proposed new abattoir, clean and convenient, in contrast with the city's existing objectionable slaughterhouses" (167).

JH 2017
1935 photograph of the cattle market on the North Circular Road, held in the Folklore Photograph Collection of University College, Dublin. Source: digital.ucd.ie.
Schematic map of central Dublin in John Henry Raleigh's The Chronicle of Leopold and Molly Bloom, showing Dublin Cattle Market on the northwest edge.
1950s photograph of drover leading cattle through the streets of Dublin. Source: wndmillpark.blogspot.com.
1930s colorized photograph from the Special Collections of the University of California at Santa Cruz, showing a drover herding cattle along the North Circular Road, with a tram close behind. Source: www.independent.ie.