Nighttown

In Brief

The 15th chapter of Ulysses, usually called Circe, takes place in Dublin's red-light district. Joyce calls it "nighttown," but most Dubliners in 1904 knew it as the Monto, because Montgomery Street ran along one edge. It was also strongly identified with the former Mecklenburgh Street (Tyrone Street in 1904). Most of the action of the chapter takes place in what Ithaca calls "the disorderly house of Mrs Bella Cohen, 82 Tyrone street, lower." The area was only a few blocks east of the busy hub of Sackville Street.

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Lynch refers to Tyrone Street in commenting on Stephen's strange conversational habits: "Pornosophical philotheology. Metaphysics in Mecklenburgh street!" Buck Mulligan too: "I called upon the bard Kinch at his summer residence in upper Mecklenburgh street and found him deep in the study of the Summa contra Gentiles in the company of two gonorrheal ladies, Fresh Nelly and Rosalie, the coalquay whore."

Pearl observes that in addition to a high number of illegal streetwalkers (586 were arrested in 1904, more than double the rate per capita in London that year), "Dublin had, unlike London, a considerable population of whores who functioned lawfully in brothels." He quotes from the Encyclopaedia Britannica: "Dublin seems to form an exception to the usual practice in the United Kingdom. In that city police permit open brothels confined to one area, but carried on more openly than in the South of Europe or even Algiers" (10). The History Ireland website quotes the words of a medical student named Halliday Sutherland, who walked down Tyrone Street one evening in 1904: "in no other capital of Europe have I seen its equal. It was a street of Georgian houses and each one was a brothel. On the steps of every house women and girls dressed in everything from evening dress to a nightdress stood or sat" (www.historyireland.com/20th-century-contemporary-history/monto, accessed 3 February 2014).

Conditions are much different now. Montgomery Street has become Foley Street, and Tyrone Street is Railroad Street. Pearl noted in 1969 that "Today most of Monto has vanished in a waste of parking-lots and corporation flats; but Mabbot Lane, running from Talbot Street to Railway Street, survives." The closet drama that is Circe opens at "The Mabbot street entrance of nighttown," and it is not an elegant location. Pearl: "There were sharp class distinctions in Monto. The most select part was the upper end of Tyrone Street, where the Georgian houses retained some of their elegance and the whores wore fashionable evening dress and were visited regularly by their couturier. Less fastidious were their sisters at the lower end, and in Mabbot Street and Faithful Place, who wore only raincoats which they flicked open occasionally to stimulate trade. In these humbler establishments, 'coshes' of lead pipe were often concealed behind the gaudy religious pictures that brightened the walls" (11). Bella Cohen's seems to lie between the extremes that Pearl describes, but closer to the lower end.

JH 2014
Streets in the Monto, showing Tyrone (Mecklenburgh) Street in the center, Mabbot Street running up to it perpendicularly from the bottom center, and Montgomery Street parallel and two blocks down. Sackville Street is just off the left border. Source: www.rootschat.com.
Photograph of prostitutes in the Monto, date unknown. Source: irishhistorypodcast.ie.