Dublin Corporation

In Brief

From Hades onward, the novel makes seemingly countless references to "the corporation" and its members. Dublin Corporation was the name applied collectively to a strong-council (i.e., weak-mayor) city government composed of three kinds of elected officials: "councillor," "alderman," and "lord mayor." These officials, their committees, and many of the bureaus that administered their policies were housed in City Hall, a striking 18th century building which stands just off Dame Street in the heart of central Dublin, near Dublin Castle.

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In 1229, following common English practice, the Anglo-Norman rulers of Dublin established a bicameral representative body called the Corporation for governing the city. The lower house, the "sheriffs and commons," contained seats for 96 representatives of tradesmen's craft guilds and 48 seats for "sheriff's peers." The upper house seated 24 "aldermen," from the Old English ealdorman (elder man), a title which had been used in England for nobles who presided over shires. The aldermen elected a mayor from their ranks, making him answerable to them rather than to the populace at large.

In 1665, during the Restoration reign of King Charles II, the mayor was made into a more glorified "Lord Mayor," but his role remained limited largely to presiding over meetings and representing the Corporation on ceremonial occasions. Circe captures the splendor of the modern mayor's  regalia in the person of "Timothy Harrington, late thrice Lord Mayor of Dublin, imposing in mayoral scarlet, gold chain and white silk tie." The 22-carat "golden chain," mentioned also in Wandering Rocks, was given to the city of Dublin by King William III in 1698 and is worn on many ceremonial occasions. In Nausicaa Cissey Caffrey makes a children's game of the "gingerbread carriage" that since the 1750s has carried the mayor to particularly showy events. But the splendid shows mask a shortage of real power in the office.

The cartoon accompanying this note captures the boredom that must often accompany the fancy displays. It depicts the man who, as Circe notes, was serving in the office on 16 June 1904, "the Right Honourable Joseph Hutchinson, lord mayor of Dublin." In Wandering Rocks James Henry, the assistant town clerk, complains about Hutchinson being out of the country at Llandudno, in Wales, and the city council being in disarray: "Where was the marshal, he wanted to know, to keep order in the council chamber. And old Barlow the macebearer laid up with asthma, no mace on the table, nothing in order, no quorum even, and Hutchinson, the lord mayor, in Llandudno and little Lorcan Sherlock doing locum tenens for him." Lorcan Sherlock was Secretary to the Corporation—"in effect, deputy lord mayor," Gifford notes, and thus locum tenens, holding Hutchinson's place. He became Lord Mayor in 1912.

Timothy Harrington, mentioned above, was another actual Dublin mayor. He served three one-year terms in the years before Hutchinson. The novel mentions at least four other mayors from the two decades before and after 1904. In Lestrygonians, Wandering Rocks, Nausicaa, and Penelope, "Val Dillon" comes up in memories of an 1894 fundraising dinner. Ithaca notices "Dan Tallon," who closed out the 19th century, and "Thomas Pile," who ushered in the 20th. Aeolus and Cyclops observe that "Nannetti" is running to become the next mayor. The list is remarkably close to comprehensive:

Valentine Blake Dillon (1894-95)
Daniel Tallon (1898-99, 1899-1900)
Thomas Devereux Pile (1900-01)
Timothy Harrington (1901-2, 1902-3, 1903-4)
Joseph Hutchinson (1904-5, 1905-6)
Joseph Patrick Nannetti (1906-7, 1907-8)
Lorcan Sherlock (1912-13, 1913-14, 1914-15)

To these historical personages the novel adds one purely fantastical mayor, Bloom himself. In Circe he becomes "Leopold! Lord mayor of Dublin!" Wearing an "alderman's gown and chain," he pushes the pet idea that he had voiced in Hades, that the Corporation should run a tramline from the parkgate to the quays. By including this fantasy, Joyce was perhaps responding to the common saying that Dublin would never have a Jewish Lord Mayor (personal communication from Vincent Altman O'Connor). This tidbit of urban mythology started when a Jew named Lewis Wormser Harris was elected mayor in 1877 and died one day before he was to assume office. The canard was proved false when Robert Briscoe became Lord Mayor in 1956.

In 1840 the old bicameral structure of commoners and aldermen had been altered by a piece of parliamentary legislation called the Municipal Corporations Act (Ireland). The Dublin Corporation became something more nearly like a modern, unicameral city council, but the distinction between two types of representatives was retained. The name Dublin City Council was applied collectively to mere "councillors," while higher-ranking "aldermen" continued to hold privileged positions of administrative and judicial authority. It was not until 2002 that the hierarchical title of alderman was abolished and the name Dublin City Council was applied to the entire representative structure, closing the final chapter of the antiquated Corporation. It remains to be seen if Dublin will ever create a more powerful mayoral office.

The two kinds of representatives appear in Wandering Rocks: "On the steps of the City hall Councillor Nannetti, descending, hailed Alderman Cowley and Councillor Abraham Lyon ascending." Gifford and Slote note that Abraham Lyon was an actual councillor, but that there is no record of an alderman named Cowley. Nannetti plays a fairly significant role in the novel. He was a master printer who ascended to the mayoralty from the Council, reflecting the modern dissolution of the old hierarchy of tradesmen and nobles. Alderman Robert O'Reilly, mentioned in Lestrygonians, was a man of less stature. Gifford identifies him as "A merchant tailor by trade" (another indication of the vanished distinction between tradesmen and aldermen), and "a small-time Dublin politician, listed as an alderman on the markets committee in the 1890s." Bloom has unflattering memories of O'Reilly at the 1894 fundraising dinner, "emptying the port into his soup before the flag fell. Bobbob lapping it for the inner alderman. Couldn't hear what the band played.

A significant number of Corporation members served simultaneously as Members of Parliament in Westminster. That was the case with Harrington and Nannetti and also with John Hooper, an alderman who figures in Hades and Ithaca when Bloom thinks of "the wedding present alderman Hooper gave us," a stuffed owl. All three of these men supported the nationalist agenda of Parnell's Irish Parliamentary Party. It may seem odd that politicians who had attained the stature and influence of MPs would bother themselves with the humdrum work of a mere city council, but the body carried symbolic as well as practical importance. After the abolition of the Irish Parliament by the Act of Union in 1800, the Dublin Corporation was the largest elected body in Ireland and perhaps the only one that could embody hopes of national independence. Daniel O'Connell attached such importance to it that, after his long struggle to become a Member of Parliament (first elected in 1828, he finally was seated in 1830), he ran for election to the Corporation in the 1830s. In 1841 he became the first Catholic Lord Mayor since the reign of James II.

The "city hall" mentioned twice in the novel is a stately neoclassical building from the 1770s. Designed by architect Thomas Cooley and constructed of England's Portland limestone, it was originally built to house the Royal Exchange, a place where Dublin businessmen, and also merchants from overseas, could meet and trade. The Corporation purchased it and renamed it City Hall in 1852. The name and function remain today.

Joyce's interest in the city government of Dublin continued into Finnegans Wake. Thanks to the work of Roland McHugh it can be seen that the section in which HCE takes the stand to defend himself (532-54), often called the "Haveth Childers Everywhere" episode, alludes to at least 72 different Lord Mayors of Dublin, as well as to the original Mayor, Thomas Cusack—joining with other clusters of allusions to rival the hundreds of the world's rivers evoked in the Anna Livia Plurabelle chapter. Elsewhere, the book plays not only with the figure of the Lord Mayor (307, 568) and his chain of office (494, 568), but with the three castles featured in the city's coat of arms (seen in two of the images accompanying this note), and with its official motto: Obedientia civium urbis felicitas, "The happiness of the city consists in the obedience of its citizens" (23, 76).

There are probably many other such allusions in the Wake. In an article titled "Some Irish and Anglo-Irish Allusions in Finnegans Wake," JJQ 11.3 (1974): 266-78, John Garvin notes that "'Up Murphy, Henson, and O'Dwyer, the Warchester Warders!' (FW 446) refers to Murphy, Hernon, and O'Dwyer, the Dublin City Commissioners who administered the affairs of the Dublin Corporation, 1924-30, while the members of the City Council were removed from office" (277).

JH 2018
Dublin City Hall as seen from Lord Edward Street in 2016, photographed by David Dixon. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The "gingerbread carriage," a.k.a. the Lord Mayor's coach, in a recent photograph. Source: www.dublincity.ie.
Lord Mayor Nial Ring, with the Chain of Office, at a Dublin footrace in 2018. Source: twitter.com.
Cartoon portrayal by Thomas Fitzpatrick of The Right Honourable Joseph Hutchinson, Lord Mayor, published in the Lepracaun in 1905, copy held in the Dublin City Library and Archive. Source: digital.libraries.dublincity.ie.
Irish politician Timothy Harrington in 1894, from the Black & White Parliamentary Album 1895. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
View of the Royal Exchange in 1792, in one of James Malton's 25 aquatint etched prints titled Picturesque and Descriptive View of the City of Dublin. Source: Wikimedia Commons.