Fine old custom
The "fine old custom" that Simon Dedalus is glad to
see "has not died out" is the one that he and his
companions are observing in Hades: riding through the
center of town in horse-drawn carriages to attend a funeral.
Later during the ride to Glasnevin, Bloom suggests that it
might be desirable to replace equine transport with electric
trams, a modern innovation that was catching on in cities
throughout Europe and North America. The idea was never
adopted in Dublin.
Slote notes that "The custom is that a funeral
procession will take a route through the centre of the city,
thereby giving many a chance to pay their last respects. On
any given day, several different funeral processions would run
through the city. This custom has since died out." The
tradition of the funeral cortège is very ancient, dating back
at least to the time of the Roman empire. In the late 19th
century and the early years of the 20th, hearses bearing the
deceased and other vehicles carrying mourners were commonly
drawn by horses, but new mechanized modes of transport were
quickly making this practice obsolete. Automobiles were first
used in an American funeral procession in 1909. Several years
later Lyle Abbot, the automobile editor of the Arizona
Republican, coined the term "motorcade," and where the
tradition survives today it usually takes this form.
But automobiles were rare at the time represented in the
novel (only one appears in all the pages of Ulysses),
while many North American and European cities had tram
(streetcar) systems. Mexico City and Milan introduced
dedicated funeral trams in the 1880s—horse-drawn at first, it
seems, but soon electric—and by the end of the century
countless large cities had followed suit. Although Dubliners
were justifiably proud of their new electric tram system,
their city was behind the times on this count.
As the funeral procession slowly picks its way through a herd
of lowing cattle, Bloom remarks to his fellow riders, "I can't
make out why the corporation
doesn't run a tramline from the parkgate to the quays . . .
All those animals could be taken in trucks down to the boats."
Martin Cunningham responds favorably: "Instead of blocking up
the thoroughfare . . . Quite right. They ought to." But then
Bloom volunteers his related idea "to have municipal
funeral trams like they have in Milan, you know. Run the
line out to the cemetery gates and have special trams,
hearse and carriage and all." His proposal initially
meets with derision, but practical considerations soon prompt
a more serious reception.
Martin Cunningham recalls, and Mr. Power remembers, an
occasion when a hearse overturned rounding the sharp turn at Dunphy's Corner, spilling
a corpse onto the roadway. Such incidents have not remained
confined to olden times. In 2008 mourners were horrified when
the horse-drawn hearse bearing the remains of Caroline
Thompson through the streets of Ipswich, England suffered a
similar accident. Two of the four horses bolted after the
driver performed an evasive maneuver and hit a street bollard.
The carriage slammed into automobiles and overturned, the
horses ran away in terror, the coffin slid onto the street,
and the funeral was delayed for an hour.