To Artane

In Brief

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.

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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 Centre.

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 today.

"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 side.

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" (76).

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.

JH 2019
Bartholomew's 1900 map of Dublin, with Father Conmee's route to the O'Brien Institute superimposed in blue arrows. Source: Pierce, James Joyce's Ireland.
Trees today flanking Mountjoy Square North, the street that runs along the northwest side of the park. Source: John Hunt.
The former Free Church on Great Charles Street, now home to the Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre. Source: John Hunt.
North Richmond Street today. Source: John Hunt.
The building that once housed the Asylum on Portland Row. Source: John Hunt.
Aldborough House in the 1940s, in a photograph posted in 2014 by BishopRick9. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Newcomen Bridge on the North Circular Road, and a lock on the Royal Canal. Source: buildingsofireland.ie.
Trams crossing the Annesley Bridge in 1898. Source: www.pinterest.com.
The O'Brien Institute and the Marino Casino, in a photograph held in the Lawrence Collection, National Library of Ireland. Source: lawrencecollection.com.