Grand and Royal canals

Grand and Royal canals

In Brief

Several pages into Hades, the funeral carriages cross "The grand canal" at Victoria Bridge. Later in the chapter, they pass over the "Crossguns bridge: the royal canal." These two canals connect Dublin to the west of Ireland by way of the interior lakelands and the Rivers Shannon and Barrow.

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The Grand Canal and its northern twin the Royal Canal were constructed in the second half of the 18th century and the first two decades of the 19th. Their long curving arms encircle central Dublin, ending near the Liffey on the eastern edge of the city. Each canal is 80-90 miles long (130-150 kilometers), with many locks. As he crosses the Crossguns bridge, Bloom thinks of "Dropping down lock by lock to Dublin. With turf from the midland bogs."

The Crossguns bridge—officially named Westmoreland Bridge when it was built, but the name didn't stick—carries "Phibsborough Road" over the Royal Canal, leaving metropolitan Dublin for the northern suburbs in an area long known as Crossguns. Underneath the bridge is a lock allowing canal barges to be lowered from the landward (western) level to the lower level that is maintained to the east. As the funeral carriages pass over the bridge, their occupants can see that the lock is currently in use: "Water rushed roaring through the sluices. A man stood on his dropping barge, between clamps of turf. On the towpath by the lock a slacktethered horse." Several hours later, in Wandering Rocks, Father Conmee sees the same barge "Moored under the trees of Charleville Mall," about a mile farther east on the Royal Canal near the crossing of the North Strand Road.

Bloom thinks that the Royal Canal goes through Mullingar, and he could visit his daughter by walking or cycling along it. He thinks also of the foul condition of the water in the canals: "slime, mudchoked bottles, carrion dogs." In Ithaca he thinks of the dire "possibility of recourse being had to the impotable water of the Grand and Royal canals as in 1893," Dublin currently being in the grip of a drought.

Near the end of Wandering Rocks the viceregal cavalcade proceeds down Lower Mount Street, and then the narrative mentions an advertisement posted near "the Royal Canal bridge." This must have been a slip on Joyce's part, because Mount Street Lower heads southeast from Merrion Square and crosses the Grand Canal before becoming Northumberland Road. In Hades, as the funeral carriage passes over the Royal Canal, Bloom thinks of "James M'Cann's hobby to row me o'er the ferry." Here too there is a kind of conflation of the two canals, since McCann ran a fleet of boats on the Grand Canal, but in this case Joyce probably knew what he was doing, since McCann had recently died and could be supposed to live in the Glasnevin cemetery.

Molly mentions canals several times in Penelope, without naming them. She remembers that in 1893 "the canal was frozen." This must have been the Grand Canal: the canals did freeze over in February 1893, and in Hades Bloom remembers Rudy having been conceived in March or April of that year "in Raymond Terrace," which lies only a few blocks away. Molly also remembers having kissed Lieutenant Stanley Gardner goodbye "at the canal lock" as he was about to leave for South Africa. 

JH 2015
Map of Dublin today, showing the Grand Canal, the Liffey, and the eastern end of the Royal Canal in blue, crossed by bridges in white. Source:
The Crossguns bridge today. Source: Gareth Collins.
The Grand Canal at the Baggot Street Bridge, in a photograph of unknown date. Source: Chester Anderson, James Joyce.