Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle

In Brief

"Dublin Castle," usually referred to in the novel simply as "the castle," lies off Dame Street, just south of the Liffey in the very center of Dublin. This medieval fortress, reconstructed in the Georgian era as a palace complex, served for many centuries as the seat of British government power in Ireland.

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The Record Tower that dominates the front of the complex was built in the 1220s during the reign of King John as part of a typical Norman defensive fortification: a rectangular courtyard surrounded by four high curtain walls with a circular tower at each corner. The fort was sited where the Poddle river flows into the Liffey at the Black Pool or Dubh Linn that gave Dublin its name, and it was constructed in such a way that the Poddle flowed around three sides, making a natural moat. In the century and a half after disastrous fires in 1673 and 1684, the remaining medieval structures were replaced, the Poddle was diverted underground, and the Castle became more palace than fortress.

King John was the first Lord of Ireland. The Castle served continuously as the seat of his and later English and British governments until independence in 1922. (When the complex was handed over to Michael Collins in that year, the British representative is said to have pointed out to Collins that he was seven minutes late. Collins is said to have pointed out that the Irish had waited seven hundred years, so seven minutes more would not make much difference.) At the time represented in Ulysses, the Castle was the official town residence of the Lord Lieutenant or Viceroy, the King's representative in Ireland. Many administrative offices were also housed in the complex, including legal and treasury offices and those of the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

People who know people in the Castle are by definition "well connected," as Bloom thinks of Mrs. Purefoy's husband in Lestrygonians: "Theodore’s cousin in Dublin Castle. One tony relative in every family." In Oxen of the Sun a Dickensian narrative voice confides to the reader that the Purefoys' newly born son will be named after this important member of the family: "Young hopeful will be christened Mortimer Edward after the influential third cousin of Mr Purefoy in the Treasury Remembrancer’s office, Dublin Castle."

The phrase "well connected" would apply all the more to Martin Cunningham, who works as Chief Clerk in the Crown Solicitor's Office in the Castle. In Wandering Rocks he is saluted by a police guard while leaving the central courtyard on a mission to help Paddy Dignam's family:

     — The youngster will be all right, Martin Cunningham said, as they passed out of the Castleyard gate.
      The policeman touched his forehead.
      — God bless you, Martin Cunningham said, cheerily.
      He signed to the waiting jarvey who chucked at the reins and set on towards Lord Edward street.

The jaunting car that Cunningham hails outside the gate appears to be one attached specifically to the Castle for the use of important bureaucrats. In any case, it becomes known, here and in Cyclops, as "the castle car."

By virtue of housing the vice-regential executive authority, the state prosecutor's office, and both the municipal and the imperial police forces, the Castle inevitably was the nerve-center for the robust domestic espionage apparatus by which the government sniffed out subversion and sedition. In Lestrygonians Bloom imagines the workings of this pervasive network of paid spies and informers: "Never know who you're talking to. Corny Kelleher he has Harvey Duff in his eye. Like that Peter or Denis or James Carey that blew the gaff on the invincibles. Member of the corporation too. Egging raw youths on to get in the know all the time drawing secret service pay from the castle. Drop him like a hot potato. Why those plainclothes men are always courting slaveys. Easily twig a man used to uniform. Squarepushing up against a backdoor. Maul her a bit. Then the next thing on the menu. And who is the gentleman does be visiting there? Was the young master saying anything?"

In Cyclops Martin Cunningham suggests that some state surveillance has been conducted on Bloom: "He’s a perverted jew, says Martin, from a place in Hungary and it was he drew up all the plans according to the Hungarian system. We know that in the castle." In Circe an ominous spy-like figure announces further suspicions:
     (A dark mercurialised face appears, leading a veiled figure.)
      THE DARK MERCURY: The Castle is looking for him. He was drummed out of the army.
At the end of Wandering Rocks the Viceroy's carriage rolls along the quays on the north side of the Liffey, receiving salutations from many of the king's subjects. One greeting from the south side of the river is distinctly unpleasant: "From its sluice in Wood quay wall under Tom Devan's office Poddle river hung out in fealty a tongue of liquid sewage." The Poddle, routed underneath Dublin Castle to an opening in the river wall, not only manages to stick out its tongue at the Lord Lieutenant, but does so with the contents of all the toilets in the complex.

John Hunt 2018
Dublin Castle in the Lawrence Collection held in the National Library of Ireland, date unknown. Source: www.dublincastle.ie.
Reconstruction of the look of the original Dublin Castle by Pi3.124, with dotted lines showing the location of the present-day Dubhlinn Gardens. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
20th Lancaster Foot soldiers leaving Dublin Castle in 1922, after it was handed over to Michael Collins on behalf of the new Irish Free State. Source: stairnaheireann.net.
2012 photograph by J.-H. Janßen of Dublin Castle seen from the Dubhlinn Gardens completed in 1680. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
2008 photograph by Paulmoloney of the confluence of the Poddle and the Liffey at low tide under Wellington Quay. Source: Wikimedia Commons.