In Lestrygonians, thinking that "All kinds of places
are good for ads," Bloom approves of the cleverness of placing
gonorrhea treatment posters in a place where men experience
the effects of the disease: "That quack doctor for the clap
used to be stuck up in all the greenhouses." Greenhouses
were public urinals sited at heavily trafficked spots on
Dublin's streets. The name, now long forgotten, derived from
the fact that these structures were painted green. Although
intended only for men (letters above the entrance, visible in
the second photograph shown here, said "GENTLEMEN ONLY"),
Molly once used one in an emergency. Another shows up in Wandering
Rocks, possibly as an occasion for anti-imperial mockery
only two sentences after a similar insult involving sewers.
Richard Wall documented this sense of "greenhouse" in An
Anglo-Irish Dialect Glossary for Joyce's Works (1987), A
Dictionary and Glossary for the Irish Literary Revival
(1995), and An Irish Literary Dictionary and Glossary
(2001). In his Dictionary of Hiberno-English (2004),
Terence Dolan quotes from the last of these, which says that
the name referred to "the hexagonal, green, cast-iron public
urinals, which were once part of Dublin's street furniture."
Wall is almost certainly wrong about the hexagonal
shape—photographs show that the structures were octagonal—but
he is almost certainly correct about the color. Present-day
confirmation of that can be found on Horfield Common in
Bristol, England. There, just off Gloucester Road at the end
of a concrete path, stands an ornately decorated,
Victorian-era iron urinal, this one round, that is painted a
bright shade of green. While new paint was no doubt applied
recently, it presumably may have been chosen to match what
came before. A photograph of one of the Dublin urinals on
Ormond Quay, taken in the days of color film, shows that it
too was painted green.
In Penelope, Molly's thoughts about penises lead her
to male exhibitionism and thence to greenhouses: "that
disgusting Cameron highlander behind the meat market or that
other wretch with the red head behind the tree where the
statue of the fish used to be when I was passing pretending he
was pissing standing out for me to see it with his babyclothes
up to one side the Queens own they were a nice lot its well
the Surreys relieved them theyre always trying to show it
to you every time nearly I passed outside the mens
greenhouse near the Harcourt street station just to try
some fellow or other trying to catch my eye as if it was 1 of
the 7 wonders of the world O and the stink of those rotten
places the night coming home with Poldy after the Comerfords
party oranges and lemonade to make you feel nice and watery
I went into 1 of them it was so biting cold I couldnt keep
it when was that 93 the canal was frozen yes it was a
few months after a pity a couple of the Camerons werent there
to see me squatting in the mens place meadero."
("Meadero" is a Spanish word for urinal. The "Camerons," or
"The Queens own," were the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, an
Perhaps some connection is implied to the strange moment in Wandering Rocks when Stephen's father confronts the viceregal cavalcade passing by him on Ormond Quay: "On Ormond quay Mr Simon Dedalus, steering his way from the greenhouse for the subsheriff's office, stood still in midstreet and brought his hat low. His Excellency graciously returned Mr Dedalus' greeting." The phrase "brought his hat low" could describe Simon extravagantly doffing his hat, or perhaps making a deep bow. But would this passionate nationalist ever make such a gesture of obeisance?
It could perhaps be claimed that Simon salutes the viceroy in a spirit of sarcastic mockery (your LORDship) or of resigned cynicism (when in Rome . . .), but in James Joyce's Ireland, David Pierce suggests a different way of understanding the gesture. He notes that "The plebeian Joyce took delight in associating the British Establishment with the urinal," notably in the bizarre detail of Edward VII's bucket in Circe. Simon is coming "from the greenhouse," a structure which did in fact stand on the river's edge of Ormond Quay as one of the photographs here shows. Pierce's comical take is that Simon "has forgotten to button his trousers" and bends over to remedy the problem, but the Lord Lieutenant "assumes that one of his subjects is showing respect and returns the greeting. Across the colonial divide, even basic signs get misread" (105).
The practice of giving urban men places to relieve their bladders, at a time when people moved about by foot and indoor toilets were rare, apparently started in Paris. According to a page on the Old Dublin Town website (www.olddublintown.com), they were informally called pissoirs but the "official name was vespasiennes, named after the first century Roman emperor Vespasianus, who put a tax on urine collected from public toilets and used for tanning leather." Introduced 1841 by Claude-Philibert Barthelot, comte de Rambuteau, the Prefet of the former Départment of the Seine, the first pissoirs had a simple cylindrical shape and were often called colonnes Rambuteau. "In 1877 they were replaced by multi-compartmented structures, referred to as vespasiennes. At the peak of their spread in the 1930s there were 1,230 pissoirs in Paris," but then came a steady decline until in 2006 only one remained. From Paris the practice spread to Berlin, which held architectural competitions in 1847, 1865 and 1877 to choose designs different from the Parisian pissoirs. "One of the most successful types was an octagonal structure with seven stalls, first built in 1879. Their number increased to 142 by 1920."
Precise dates seem harder to come by for cities in the UK. The Old Dublin Town page says that French-style urinals arrived "prior to the 1932 Eucharistic Congress, as part of a 'clean up Dublin' campaign," and in The Encyclopaedia of Dublin Bennett notes that "In 1932, several ornamental cast-iron pissoirs were imported from France and erected on the Quays" for that occasion (95). But Joyce's novel makes clear that they were present much earlier. Vincent Altman O'Connor, who recommended the web page to me, thinks that pissoirs may also have been erected "for the same purpose" before visits paid to Dublin by Edward VII (1868, 1885, 1903). Whenever they were installed, there can be little doubt that the "greenhouses" mentioned in Ulysses are simple, one-hole versions of the structures installed in Paris and Berlin in the later 19th century. Numerous photos document their presence in Dublin and show that their external appearance resembled that of the structure in Bristol pretty closely. At least five images of the pissoir on Ormond Quay survive, including the color photograph displayed here. As the poster for The Eagles on its river side suggests, this fixture lasted into the 1970s, when the Dublin Corporation sold it to a student for £10. It ended up converted into a gazebo in someone's back yard in Sandymount.