The Coombe

In Brief

The novel contains a number of references to "the Coombe," a decayed section of the Liberties of SW central Dublin centered on a prominent street of the same name. Gifford notes that "It was once a fashionable and thriving quarter of the city," but in 1904 it contained many tenements, and nearly all of the book's references evoke grinding poverty.

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In Lotus Eaters Bloom thinks of "Those two sluts that night in the Coombe, linked together in the rain"—a recollection which is recycled in Circe. In Hades the cemetery's caretaker, John O'Connell, tells a good one about two drunks searching for the grave of "Mulcahy from the Coombe." In Lestrygonians Bloom thinks of Bob Doran on his annual bender, "Up in the Coombe with chummies and streetwalkers." (The narrator of Cyclops, however, recalls Doran whoring in another part of the Liberties, Bride Street.) In Eumaeus Bloom thinks that the immigrants "over in little Italy there near the Coombe were sober thrifty hardworking fellows except perhaps a bit too given to pothunting the harmless necessary animal of the feline persuasion of others at night."

The only mention of this area that does not reek of alcohol, dirt, and illicit activities comes in Ithaca, when the narrative recalls Bloom's baptism "in the protestant church of Saint Nicholas Without, Coombe." Bloom grew up on Clanbrassil Street, not far south of The Coombe's eastern end.

JH 2015
A tenement room in the Coombe in 1913. Source: www.census.nationalarchives.ie.
The street called The Coombe on John Henry Raleigh's simplified schematic map of Dublin. Source: The Chronicle of Leopold and Molly Bloom.