O'Connell Street

O'Connell Street

In Brief

Dublin's grandest avenue, "O'Connell Street," runs north from the River Liffey for 500 meters. It is often said to be the widest city street in Europe, and has been described as a more intimate version of Paris' majestic Champs Élysées. A monument to Daniel O'Connell stands at the southern foot of the street, and today a statue to Charles Stewart Parnell marks the north end, though at the time represented in the novel only a foundation stone had been laid. Other statues of historically important figures line the route between these two termini. South of the river and bending west, other streets continue the grand central thoroughfare of Dublin.

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In 1904 the avenue was officially called Sackville Street, a name assigned in the late 1700s when it began to be widened and built up. Sackville Street orginally ran from the Rotunda Hospital to the place where the Nelson Pillar was erected in 1808. Soon afterward it was extended to the river as part of a grand thoroughfare leading to the centers of government power, with the section north of the pillar called Upper Sackville Street and the southern section called Lower. But Joyce's novel only uses the name of the Duke of Dorset once, when Bloom thinks in Ithaca of buying lily-of-the-valley bulbs from a seed and bulb business at "23 Sackville street, upper." Although the name O'Connell Street did not become official until 1924, after Irish independence, the language of Ulysses suggests that this process was far advanced by 1904. Passages in Lotus Eaters, Aeolus, Wandering Rocks, and Ithaca use the new name, not Sackville.

The monument to O'Connell, designed by the accomplished Irish sculptor John Henry Foley, had much to do with this change. Unveiled in 1882, it features a 13-foot bronze statue of the great leader atop a granite plinth that has four winged Victories at its lower corners, and many other figures above, including a personified Ireland trampling on her broken chains and pointing upward to the man who broke them. The erection of the monument moved many Dubliners to give a new name to the street, and members of the Dublin Corporation tried to make the change official in the 1880s. Other residents objected, however, and the Corporation did not obtain legal authority to make the change until 1890. Faced with continuing opposition, it decided to give the new name time to become popular with the citizenry.

After passing the Sir Philip Crampton memorial and the William Smith O'Brien statue on the south side of the river, the funeral procession in Hades crosses the O'Connell Bridge and begins its journey up O'Connell Street by passing "under the hugecloaked Liberator's form." O'Connell was known as the Liberator or Emancipator for his herculean efforts to enfranchise Ireland's Catholics and return the Irish Parliament to Dublin. As the cortège passes up the boulevard, the narrative calls attention to some of its prominent features, including statues erected in memory of Sir John Gray, Lord Nelson, and Father Thomas Mathew.

Ever since the founding of Sackville Street, there has been a pronounced dissimilarity between the part of the street nearer the river and the more northerly half. O'Connell Street Lower has always thrived as a commercial magnet, but the Upper section was too far away from the city center to attract many upscale businesses. As Bloom rolls along the upper section of the street in Hades, approaching the Rotunda, he thinks, "Dead side of the street this. Dull business by day, land agents, temperance hotel, Falconer's railway guide, civil service college, Gill's, catholic club, the industrious blind. Why? Some reason. Sun or wind. At night too. Chummies and slaveys."

Proceeding south across O'Connell Bridge to the other side of the river, the grand urban way continues along Westmoreland Street, passes the former Irish Parliament building on College Green, and moves west along Dame Street before arriving at Dublin's two centers of civic and imperial power: City Hall and Dublin Castle.

JH 2015
Early photograph of the O'Connell monument, date unknown, showing Nelson's pillar in the background. Source: www.libraryireland.com.
Present-day photograph of the O'Connell monument at the foot of O'Connell Street Lower, just north of the O'Connell bridge. Source: Gareth Collins.
Dublin's grand central thoroughfare (outlined in aqua) with locations of the Parnell monument (blue arrow), the O'Connell monument (green), the former Irish Parliament (red), and City Hall and Dublin Castle (orange), on a schematic map drawn by Leo Knuth. Source: Hart and Knuth, A Topographical Guide.