In Brief

Policemen in 1904 Dublin were large human beings, at least by the standards of the day. Several chapters of Ulysses comment sardonically on these towering hulks entrusted with maintaining public order. In Circe, trying to curry favor with two constables, Bloom praises the "Metropolitan police, guardians of our homes, the pluckiest lads and the finest body of men, as physique, in the service of our sovereign."

Read More

As Gifford observes, "The minimum height requirement for the Dublin Metropolitan Police in 1904 was five feet nine inches, well above the stature of the ordinary Dubliner." Photographs from the period show burly specimens, made more imposing by their tall helmets, standing literally head and shoulders above the citizens around them. Many of them were fresh off the farm, and some city dwellers resented having their heads cracked open by these rural Jethros.

In Calypso Bloom nurtures envy, remembering or imagining the servant girl next door being fondled by an off-duty constable. "They like them sizeable," he thinks. In Lestrygonians he indulges his contempt for the troglodytic bulk of constables converging on their mess hall, some "Bound for their troughs" and others marching contentedly away: "Foodheated faces, sweating helmets, patting their truncheons. After their feed with a good load of fat soup under their belts. . . . Let out to graze. Best moment to attack one in pudding time. A punch in his dinner."

Two paragraphs later, Bloom reflects that these men are "Nasty customers to tackle." If anyone resists arrest "they let him have it hot and heavy in the bridewell." Typically, though, he thinks, "Can't blame them after all with the job they have especially the young hornies." He recalls an assault by mounted police on a political demonstration that he attended in 1899, registering both the fact that he was nearly "souped" and the fact that the policeman chasing him fell off his mount and "Must have cracked his skull on the cobblestones."

Cyclops continues the comic attacks when a riot breaks out over the question of whether St. Patrick's birth should properly be celebrated on March 8 or March 9: "The baby policeman, Constable MacFadden, summoned by special courier from Booterstown, quickly restored order and with lightning promptitude proposed the seventeenth of the month as a solution equally honourable for both contending parties. The readywitted ninefooter's suggestion at once appealed to all and was unanimously accepted. Constable MacFadden was heartily congratulated by all the F.O.T.E.I., several of whom were bleeding profusely."

By 1904 the D.M.P. had suppressed many political demonstrations, but they became especially unpopular in 1913 when they helped suppress striking laborers demonstrating for the right to unionize under the leadership of James Larkin and James Connolly. The backlash against the police brutality of those months helped redefine the powers of the constabulary.

JH 2017
Photograph ca. 1897-1904 of a member of the Dublin Metropolitan Police on Eden Quay. Source:
Humorous colorized postcard from 1908 showing "One of the 'Giant' police" on O'Connell Street. Source: