Ormond bar

Ormond bar

In Brief

Most of the action of Sirens takes place in three communicating rooms: "the Ormond bar" where Mina Kennedy and Lydia Douce work and seven named male customers congregate, the "saloon" behind the bar where several of the men go to smoke, play the piano, and sing, and the "diningroom" next door where Bloom sups with Richie Goulding and keeps his eyes and ears on people in the bar. The setting is the ground floor of the Ormond Hotel at 8-9 Upper Ormond Quay, just north of the Liffey and west of Capel Street. No trace of these rooms remains today and no photographs survive from Joyce's time, so visualizing the scene requires careful reading of his text, along with some historical context.

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Considering what Sirens says about the barmaids standing behind the counter and yet going over to the window to see the viceregal cavalcade pass by on the quays, the bar counter must have run perpendicular to the street, ending near a window. A door likely opened directly into the bar from the street, but, if so, a second front door must have led to the hotel proper and its rooms upstairs. When Bloom departs the dining room, he walks through the bar into a hallway that will take him to this door: "By deaf Pat in the doorway straining ear Bloom passed. . . . By rose, by satiny bosom, by the fondling hand, by slops, by empties, by popped corks, greeting in going . . . Bloom in the Ormond hallway heard growls and roars of bravo" for Ben Dollard's performance. The dining room sits on one side of the bar, then, and a long "hallway" on the other.

The interior of the "saloon," used for smoking and for small evening concerts, must have been visible from the bar, because Simon Dedalus looks from the bar "towards the saloon door" and says, "I see you have moved the piano." Miss Douce explains that a piano tuner visited earlier in the day, "tuning it for the smoking concert." Simon, having finished his drink, "strayed away." Soon the hum of a tuning fork emerges from the saloon, and soon after that the notes of Goodbye, Sweetheart, Goodbye, played by "sensitive hands. Brightly the keys, all twinkling, linked, all harpsichording." The saloon, it appears, had a raised platform for performers and a painting of a sea scene on one wall: "— M'appari, Simon, Father Cowley said. / Down stage he strode some paces . . . Softly he sang to a dusty seascape there: A Last Farewell. A headland, a ship, a sail upon the billows. Farewell. A lovely girl, her veil awave upon the wind upon the headland, wind around her." We also learn, when Ben Dollard's big bass voice "rolled to the quivery loveshivery roofpanes," that the saloon is in a one-story part of the building lit by a skylight.

As for the dining room, after Bloom crosses the Grattan Bridge from Wellington Quay to Ormond Quay, he sees Boylan doing the same thing in a car. He follows Boylan, sees him enter the bar, and passes "Between the car and window, warily walking." Just beyond the bar, he runs into Richie Goulding, who invites him to share a meal at the Ormond. Bloom thinks, "Diningroom. Sit tight there. See, not be seen." Some part of the dining room must command a view of the bar, and Joyce has already indicated what it is: shortly earlier, the chapter has shown Pat the waiter coming "to the door of the diningroom" to fulfill "a diner's" request for beer.

Bloom and Goulding seem to enter through yet another street door (happily avoiding a confrontation with Boylan in the bar), because they pass by set tables rather than bar fixtures: "The bag of Goulding, Collis, Ward led Bloom by ryebloom flowered tables. Aimless he chose with agitated aim, bald Pat attending, a table near the door. Be near. At four." This table near the door into the bar, which Bloom chooses in an "agitated" state while trying to appear "aimless," will allow him to look into the bar at 4:00, at which time he knows that Boylan has arranged to meet Molly. When Simon begins singing M'appari, he asks for the door between the two rooms to be propped open: "Bloom signed to Pat, bald Pat is a waiter hard of hearing, to set ajar the door of the bar."

The fact that the text does not show Bloom passing in front of the bar's quayside windows a second time on his way to the dining room suggests that it lies on the upriver side of the bar. Historical records examined by Harald Beck in an article on James Joyce Online Notes confirm this impression. In the 1890s, the Ormond Hotel occupied only no. 8, and there was a drinking establishment on the ground floor. The 18-foot width of no. 8, specified in the property deed, and the presence of the "hallway" occupying part of that width, make it inconceivable that a restaurant could have shared the space. Under new ownership in the early 1900s the hotel expanded into no. 9 on the west side and opened a restaurant.

Beck's note offers several other findings useful for reading Sirens, including a persuasive case that "the derelict premises still standing today at Nos 7 to 11 Upper Ormond Quay" contain no "remnants of the hotel Joyce had in mind." He shows also that the hotel's expansion into no. 9 did not begin until late 1905 or early 1906. The layout depicted in the episode, then, did not exist in June 1904. Joyce's mental picture, Beck suggests, came from his memory of visiting the Ormond during his 1912 trip to Ireland. In a 21 August 1912 letter to Stanislaus he wrote, "I went to see Lidwell last night at the Ormond Hotel" and found him in "the company of several others telling stories," including John Joyce. Both George Lidwell and Simon Dedalus figure prominently in Sirens, so it is reasonable to suppose that Joyce relied on his anachronistic memory to set the scene.

JH 2020
Detail from the 1920 Bartholomew map of Dublin, showing the Lilffey quays from the Four Courts to Sackville (O'Connell) Street, with the location of the Ormond Hotel identified by a blue arrow. Source: Norman B. Leventhal Map and Education Center, Boston Public Library.
Floorplan of the Ormond Hotel's ground-floor premises with street numbers on Ormond Quay shown at the bottom, in a graphic rendering by Sophie Schumann included in Harald Beck's online note. Source: www.jjon.org.
Photograph from the early 1900s, held in the National Library of Ireland, showing the view from Wellington Quay across the Grattan Bridge to Upper Ormond Quay, where the Ormond Hotel sits several doors to the left of the two bell towers of the Presbyterian church. Source: twitter.com.