The recruiting poster for the Royal Dublins that Bloom
sees on a wall of the post office makes him think of "an
army rotten with venereal disease." The efforts of
people like Maud Gonne and Arthur Griffith to get British
soldiers off the streets at night may have overhyped this
rallying cry, but it is a fact that Dublin brothels and
streetwalkers did a brisk trade in servicing servicemen. And
Bloom's thoughts throughout the day suggest that venereal
diseases from gonorrhea to syphilis were widespread in the
Gifford remarks that Bloom's characterization is "A
frequently quoted (and largely unfounded) bit of demagoguery
at the British army's expense." But Dublin had by far the
largest red-light district in Europe, and its size
corresponded to the huge numbers of troops stationed in barracks throughout the city.
The curators of the website at www.census.nationalarchives.ie
observe that "The presence of so many prostitutes was
determined, at least in part, by the significant military
presence in the city. And the military do not seem to have
disappointed prostitutes seeking business, judging by the
inmates of the isolation ward at the Royal Military Infirmary"
(accessed 28 Nov. 2013). It would seem that the trade in
sexually transmitted diseases was brisk. Slote, citing Joseph
O'Brien's Dear, Dirty Dublin (1982), observes that
"The British army had the infamous distinction of having one
of the highest rates of venereal disease among world armies at
the turn of the century."
Oliver St. John Gogarty wrote a brilliant "Ode to Welcome" Irish regiments returning from the Second Boer War. Cyril Pearl notes that it was published anonymously "in Dublin's leading—and most snobbish—society magazine."
The Gallant Irish yeoman,
Home from the war has come
Each victory gained o'er foeman,
Why should our bards be dumb?
How shall we sing their praises
Or glory in their deeds?
Renowned their worth amazes,
Empire their prowess needs.
So to Old Ireland's hearts and homes
We welcome now our own brave boys
In cot and hall; 'neath lordly domes
Love's heroes share once more our joys.
Love is the Lord of all just now,
Be he the husband, lover, son,
Each dauntless soul recalls the vow
By which not fame, but love was won.
United now in fond embrace
Salute with joy each well-loved face,
Yeoman, in women's hearts you hold the place.
"There was an unprecedented demand for the magazine," Pearl
observes, "when the intelligence was flashed through Dublin
pubs and clubs that the initial letters of each line spelled
out a less rapturous acrostic: THE WHORES WILL BE BUSY" (Dublin
in Bloomtime, 14).
Bloom's concern about sexually transmitted diseases
resurfaces again and again, from his alarm in Lestrygonians
that Boylan might give one to Molly ("If he...? / O! / Eh? /
No... No. / No, no. I don't believe it. He wouldn't surely? /
No, no"), to Zoe's alarm in Circe (perhaps
hallucinated) that he has "a hard chancre" on his penis, to
the dismay he expresses to Stephen in Eumaeus that the
streetwalker he sees going past the shelter ("a wretched
creature like that from the Lock hospital, reeking with
disease") can be brazen enough to solicit business, to his
opinion in Ithaca that brothels should be "state
inspected and medically controlled."