Cricket

In Brief

Near the end of Lotus Eaters, as Bloom walks past College Park at the southeastern corner of Trinity College, he thinks of "cricket." Irish people began playing this English sport in the 18th century—the first recorded match took place in 1792 between British troops and an all-Ireland team—and it retains some popularity today. In 1904 the Gaelic Athletic Association despised it as a "garrison game," popular with British soldiers and the wealthy Protestant Ascendancy class whose interests they guarded, and was waging an aggressive campaign to make people choose between such foreign sports and native ones like hurling. But Bloom is drawn to the slow, thoughtful pace of the game. (George Bernard Shaw brilliantly remarked that "The English are not very spiritual people, so they invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity.")

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At the end of Lotus Eaters Bloom characterizes cricket as a tranquil pastime unsuited to the impulsive, violent character of the Irish. As he walks past "the gate of college park" (the entrance to the College Park cricket ground on the south side of Trinity College, an Anglo-Irish bastion), he thinks, "Heavenly weather really. If life was always like that. Cricket weather. Sit around under sunshades. Over after over. Out. They can't play it here. Duck for six wickets. Still Captain Buller broke a window in the Kildare street club with a slog to square leg. Donnybrook fair more in their line." His soft associations with the game (beautiful weather, lolling about waiting for something to happen) seem roughly consistent with those of Stephen Dedalus in part 1 of A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man. Stephen clearly has played cricket, but he never thinks about his athletic efforts. Instead, as a young boy at Clongowes Wood College he meditates on "the sounds of the cricket bats through the soft grey air" as other boys practice. "They said: pick, pack, pock, puck: little drops of water in a fountain slowly falling in the brimming bowl."

Cricket is a subtle game whose intricacies lie beyond the ken of this commentator, but Bloom thinks about fairly routine actions. The bowler (equivalent to the pitcher in American baseball) delivers the ball from one "wicket" (three stakes set in the ground closely enough that the ball cannot pass between them) to a batsman standing in front of another wicket at the end of a long "pitch." The batsman tries to keep the bowled ball from hitting the wicket behind him, and to drive it far enough away that he can run to the other end of the pitch without being put "Out." The fielding team can put a batsman out in several different ways, including hitting his wicket with the bowled ball, catching his hit ball on the fly, and hitting a wicket with the ball before he reaches the other end of the pitch. Any of these actions ends the "wicket," here doubling (confusingly) as a term for the at-bat session. Wickets also end after a set number of bowls. When the bowler has delivered six "fair balls," the umpire signals the completion of an "over," and a different player bowls a new "over" from the opposite wicket—hence "Over after over."

Running one full length of the pitch scores a run, and cricket scores are typically very high because multiple runs can be scored in any one wicket. A batsman who scores no runs before being put out is said to be "bowled for a duck." Bloom thinks of six batsmen in a row being thus shut out: "Duck for six wickets." Gifford remarks that "It would be an extraordinary feat for a bowler to accomplish 'six wickets,' six outs in sequence, in that fashion." So when Bloom imagines this long scoreless stretch just after thinking, "They can't play it here," he seems to be attributing ignominious performance to Irish batsmen.

But the final detail in Bloom's revery offers a parallactic And-Yet to his judgment that the Irish are not very good at cricket: "Still Captain Buller broke a window in the Kildare street club with a slog to square leg." A "slog" is a hard hit, like the "slugging" of power hitters in American baseball, and "square leg" is a defensive position occupied by one of the ten fielders, due left of the batsman ("square" to the axis of the pitch). Like a hard-hit foul ball in baseball, Buller's powerful shot has left the cricket ground, crossed the college wall and South Leinster Street, and slammed into the Kildare Street Club an impressive distance away.

Various stories of powerful shots over South Leinster Street or Nassau Street (they meet near the club) circulated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many of them involving batsmen not named Buller (or for that matter Culler, Gabler's proposed emendation). But John Simpson observes, in a note on James Joyce Online Notes, that "Dublin was bristling with Captain Bullers in the second half of the nineteenth century." An Irish-born cricketer named Charles Francis Buller, "in his youth widely regarded as one of the most promising young batsmen of his generation," may have been the inspiration for Bloom's story. Another possibility is one Frederick Charles Buller-Yarle-Buller, but he was apparently English, and known more as a bowler than a batsman.

In Eumaeus the narrator reflects that the evening newspaper being passed around the cabstand may contain accounts of "the exploits of King Willow, Iremonger having made a hundred and something second wicket not out for Notts." The focus here has shifted to cricket matches being played in England. In fact, as Gifford notes, the 16 June 1904 issue of the Evening Telegraph did report (page 3, column 6) "the day's progress of a match between the county teams of Nottingham and Kent: at the end of the day Iremonger, the Notts star batsman who had started the game, was still at bat having scored 155 runs with the loss of only two wickets (i.e., two of Iremonger's batting partners had been put out). The Notts total for two wickets: 290." James Iremonger was a right-handed batsman for the Notts County team who hit spectacular numbers of runs every year from 1901 to 1906, and especially in the summer of 1904. The narrator calls him "King Willow" because cricket bats were made from willow wood. This example of how English greats can play the game no doubt stands in implied contrast to Bloom's judgment that "They can't play it here."

Bloom has apparently been a fan of cricket throughout his adult life. In Penelope Molly recalls him in the days of their courtship "standing at the corner of the Harolds cross road with a new raincoat on him with the muffler in the Zingari colours." Citing Patrick Hone's Cricket in Ireland (1956), Slote observes that the Zingari were "an amateur cricket club with no home pitch, and thus a 'nomadic' club" (Zingari is Italian for gypsies). The colors worn on their club caps were "green, purple and pink with alternating yellow stripes."

JH 2019
An eleven-man Irish cricket team, probably soldiers of the Royal Artillery, in flannels at their barracks in Waterford, 22 May 1909, in a photograph held in the National Library of Ireland. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Photograph, date unknown, of James Iremonger at bat. Source: www.cricketcountry.com.