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
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.