The 1st section of Wandering Rocks, like the final one, depicts a long journey. At 2:55 PM the Reverend John Conmee looks at his watch and reflects that it is a good time to "walk to Artane," a northeastern suburb beyond Clontarf and Killester. This trip of well over two miles, only a bit more than half of which he will undertake on foot, leads to the O'Brien Institute for Destitute Children, which housed and fed orphan boys and gave them a Christian Brothers education. There, at the request of Martin Cunningham, the priest hopes to secure a place for Paddy Dignam's fatherless son by speaking to "Brother Swan," the Director of the institute.
Father Conmee became Superior of the community of priests and
nuns at St. Francis Xavier's
church in 1898. Just as he acted on the behalf of John
Stanislaus Joyce to see that James and Stanislaus would be
educated without charge at Belvedere College, sparing them
from the ignominy of a Christian Brothers education, Wandering
Rocks finds him acting to see that Patsy Dignam will
have a decent free education from the Christian Brothers. Many
of the places that his fictive persona passes on his walk in
the 1st section, and some of the people he meets, had strong
personal connections to Joyce.
After descending the steps of the presbytery,
Father Conmee walks to the western corner of "Mountjoy
Square," a small park one block southeast of his church, and
then proceeds to skirt half of the park's perimeter. Walking
by "the treeshade of sunnywinking leaves" on the
northwest edge of the park, he crosses paths with "the wife of
Mr David Sheehy M.P." and then, at "the corner of Mountjoy
Square" (the northern one), he meets "three little
schoolboys" who are receiving a Jesuit education at Belvedere.
He gives one of them a letter to post in "the red pillarbox
at the corner of Fitzgibbon street," just across the
street. (If the mailbox still existed—it does not—it would now
be painted green.) In addition to the boys' association with
Belvedere, Joyce would have felt personal attachment to
Fitzgibbon Street. As Robert Nicholson notes in The
Ulysses Guide, his family moved there from Blackrock in
1892; "their house at No. 14 on the right is now No. 34" (75).
Turning right at the corner rather than proceeding up
Fitzgibbon Street to the North Circular Road, Father Conmee
walks along the park railings on "Mountjoy square east,"
the street that fronts the northeastern edge of the park.
There, he greets "Mrs M'Guinness" who is walking on "the
farther footpath" on the other side of the street. After
reaching the eastern corner of the park, diametrically
opposite the one where he began, he turns left on "Great
Charles street," heading northeast.
Glancing at "the shutup free church on his left," he
sees notice of a sermon to be delivered by the "incumbent"
minister, which Gifford glosses as "the minister in charge."
The church, Gifford notes, is shut up "in that it is not open
for prayer, as a Catholic church would be." Designed by
architect Edward Robbins, it was built by Methodists in 1800
and originally called the Wesley Chapel. Some two decades
later it was transferred to the Church of Ireland and
functioned for many years as a "free church," which, according
to the site Archiseek.com, is "one where no pew debts are
paid," relying entirely on "voluntary subscription." The Free
Church closed in 1988, and the building now houses the shutup
Pavee Point Traveller and Roma
Soon after passing this building, Father Conmee reaches the
major thoroughfare regarded in 1904 as the northern boundary
of Dublin. At the end of Great Charles Street he turns right "and
walked along the North Circular road. It was a wonder
that there was not a tramline in such an important
thoroughfare. Surely, there ought to be." Possibly the
priest's legs are suggesting to him that he has chosen too
long a journey to undertake entirely on foot. The North
Circular Road passes by North "Richmond street," the
grim cul de sac in which the protagonist of "Araby," the third
story of Dubliners, lives. The Joyce family lived
there too, and in 1893 James attended the Christian Brothers
school that Daniel O'Connell
founded on the street in 1828. Joyce's fictions never directly
acknowledge those facts, but here the narrative shows Father
Conmee greeting some "Christian brother boys" crossing over
the North Circular Road from North Richmond.
Angling slightly to the right, the North Circular Road
becomes Portland Row. Although this takes him a bit out of his
way (southeast rather than northeast), Father Conmee walks
along it for some way, perhaps because he is hoping to catch
one of the trams that ran up Amiens Street from the Amiens
(now Connolly) Station in 1904, just as various bus lines do
"Father Conmee smelt incense on his right hand as he walked.
Saint Joseph's church, Portland row. For aged and virtuous
females. Father Conmee raised his hat to the
Blessed Sacrament. Virtuous: but occasionally they were also
badtempered." There are two Catholic institutions here, a
church and an Asylum for Aged and Virtuous Single Women. In
1836, devoted layman James Murphy founded an "Asylum for aged
single females of unblemished character," and in 1891 the
Archbishop opened a large new building for its use. At the
time depicted in the novel, an order of nuns called Poor
Servants of the Mother of God would have tended to the needs
of the elderly single women in the hostel. For more on Murphy
and the history of the institution, see M. R., "The Founder of
St. Joseph's Asylum, Dublin," The Irish Monthly 25
(1897): 543-47. Today the nursing home is gone and the
building that once housed it has become part of the Dublin
Institute of Technology.
A little farther down Portland Row, "Near Aldborough house
Father Conmee thought of that spendthrift nobleman. And now
it was an office or something." Edward Stafford, 2nd
Earl of Aldborough, an Irish peer who according to Gifford
"already had town houses in Dublin and London and country
houses in England and Ireland," had this house built in the
1790s "in what was then the country. . . . This monumental
extravagance was compounded by his wife's refusal to live in
the house because she did not like its location." Extravagant
waste though it was, the house is architecturally notable as
the last great Irish work of Palladian architecture of the
18th century, and the last great townhouse built in Dublin.
After Leinster House, it was the second-biggest Georgian
private home in the metropolitan area.
Stafford died in 1801 and the house sat uninhabited for the
next twelve years. A former Cistercian monk, Gregor von
Feinaigle (source of the word "finagle," which indicates
something of his methods), bought it in 1813 and converted it
into a school, which did not last past 1830. At some point in
the 1840s it became a military barracks. In the second half of
the 19th century it was acquired by the Post Office for use by
the Stores Department and it continued in this role until
1999, losing its gardens to Corporation
housing projects in the 1940s. For most of the 21st century it
has been disused, vandalized, and decaying, with significant
water damage from thieves stealing the lead that sealed the
roof. During the Celtic Tiger years, a series of developers
bought the building but failed to realize their plans to
renovate it. Plans are now underway to reclaim its function as
an office building, adding modern glassed-in wings on either
Father Conmee now turns left and heads up the "North
Strand road," which continues Amiens Street to the
northeast. There, the residential tenor of his walk turns
commercial. He passes "Mr William Gallagher," a grocer
and coal merchant, "Grogan's the Tobacconist," "Daniel
Bergin's publichouse," "H. J. O'Neill's funeral
establishment," and "Youkstetter's, the porkbutcher's,"
exchanging salutations all along the way. Every one of these
businesses has disappeared. Nicholson notes that "Bergin's and
Youkstetter's vanished suddenly one night when a German bomber
crew mistook Ireland for Britain (the human victims are
commemorated in a memorial garden nearby). The buildings have
since been replaced by Corporation housing, as was H. J.
O'Neill's funeral establishment, across the road at No. 164"
Approaching the Royal Canal
on the North Strand Road, Father Conmee sees a turfbarge "Moored under the trees
of Charleville Mall," a short quay-like street running
along the edge of the canal on the northwestern side of the
small "Newcomen Bridge." The road passes over the canal
via this bridge, and on it Father Conmee "stepped on to an
outward bound tram," because "he disliked to traverse on
foot the dingy way past Mud Island." Mud Island, known
earlier as Friend's Field or French Field, was the name from
the late 18th century onward for the muddy expanse in the area
where the River Tolka flows into Dublin Bay—the "North Strand"
of the road's name. By 1904 some projects had already begun to
reclaim these tide flats for urban use, and in the 1920s a
large new swath of dry land became the attractively landscaped
Fairview Park that fronts the bay today. The Joyce family
lived in several different houses in the Fairview area, hard
by a muddy beach rather than precious parkland.
Father Conmee continues riding the tram up the North Strand
Road and over the "Annesley Bridge," where it crosses
the River Tolka. He gets off at "the Howth road stop,"
which today would be very close to the Clontarf stop on the
DART line. Here, Nicholson notes, he would be "within view of
15 Marino Crescent, home of Bram
Stoker" (77). From this point on the southwestern edge
of Clontarf, there is not only a Howth Road leading
east-northeast to the Howth peninsula but also a Malahide Road
leading north-northeast to the village of Malahide. Father
Conmee begins walking up "The Malahide road," thinking
about the "road and name," and
the port, and the famous castle and its Talbot lords and
ladies. Walking along this road, he encounters a
"flushed young man" and a young woman with a twig caught in
her light skirt. They turn out much later to have been
Stephen's friend Lynch and his girlfriend, engaged in
fornication in the bushes.
The section ends here, but presumably Father Conmee's legs
carry him the rest of the way up the Malahide Road past
Griffith Avenue to a small country lane that leads first to
the Marino Casino, a lovely 18th century folly designed by
Scottish architect William Chambers for the 1st Earl of
Charlemont, and then to the O'Brien Institute. Today the large
building houses the Dublin Fire Brigade Training Centre, while
the Marino Casino has become a popular tourist destination.