Sir James W. Mackey

In Brief

When Bloom thinks in Ithaca about all the flowers he will plant around his luxurious country cottage, he has a particular nursery in mind: "sir James W. Mackey Limited, wholesale and retail seed and bulb merchants and nurserymen, agents for chemical manures, 23 Sackville street, upper." This well-known shop, next door to the Gresham Hotel where Gretta and Gabriel stay in The Dead, had been in business at the Upper Sackville (or O'Connell) Street address since 1878. It housed "seedsmen," selective breeders offering both exotic plants and improved versions of familiar ones.

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The roots of the business, which reach back into the 18th century, are detailed in an article by Hazel P. Smyth, "Two Hundred Years a'Growing: The Story of Mackey's Seeds Limited—1777-1977," Dublin Historical Record 35.3 (1982): 100-15. One of the partners in an older seeds firm called Toole and Mackey was Stephen Mackey, whose son James William Mackey inherited his portion of the business, as well as land holdings in County Cork, at his death in 1854. The younger Mackey became well respected both as a businessman and as a politician. An Alderman in the early 60s, was elected Lord Mayor in 1866 and again in 1873, and after the second term he was knighted. In 1880 he was elected High Sheriff of Dublin. Mackey died on 14 December 1892, and was buried next to his father in the family crypt in St. Andrew's church in Westland Row.

The seeds business, located on Westmoreland Street at the time of the elder Mackey's death, divided in 1860 into Toole & Company and James W. Mackey. In 1878 the Mackey part moved to Upper Sackville Street, which at the time was a fashionable place for shopping. On 5 April 1922 it was destroyed in a fire that burned all the businesses on the east side of the street from 9 to 28, and some buildings on the west side as well. After rebuilding on the same site, the business reopened in 1925. In 1969 the Gresham Hotel swallowed up the building in an expansion, and in 1970 Mackey's Seeds Ltd. moved to Mary Street.

§ The passage in Ithaca that mentions Mackey's is textually problematic in many ways. Gabler's text contradicts all earlier editions in changing its singular nouns ("merchant and nurseryman, agent for chemical manures") to plurals. Although such reversals of longstanding editorial practice frequently seem arbitrary and unhelpful in the Gabler text, in this instance there are good reasons to endorse the new version. By 1904 Sir James had been dead for more than a decade, so there was no single "man" to correspond to the singular labels. The building's façade advertised it as a place of "seedsmen" and "nurserymen." The listing in the 1904 edition of Thom's (p. 1585) from which Joyce was no doubt working contained the plurals quoted in the novel. And an ad published in a 1914 copy of the Carlovian, Sir James' old college magazine, proclaimed "Ireland's Premier Seed Establishment / James W. Mackey Ltd. / Seedsmen."

Other problems concern punctuation. The 1922 first edition is a disaster: "sweet pea, lily of the valley, [bulbs obtainable, from sir James W. Mackey (Limited)] wholesale and retail seed and bulb merchant and nurseryman, agent for chemical manures, 23 Sackville Street, upper)." The layering of hard brackets on top of parentheses is cumbersome; the brackets separate the name of the business from its description; the parenthesis after "upper" closes a parenthetical clause that was never opened; superfluous commas are intruded both before and after "bulbs obtainable"; and a necessary comma is omitted after "Limited."

The first Odyssey Press edition in 1932 removed the inept comma after "bulbs obtainable" and installed a complete set of parentheses around the long parenthetical clause. It removed the absurd bracketing of "bulbs . . . (Limited)," but replaced it with an equally absurd pair of brackets around "wholesale and retail." The Bodley Head edition that became the basis of Random House and Penguin texts in the 1960s improved on this version very slightly by removing the comma after "lily of the valley," but it left the brackets in place.

The 1986 Gabler text finally did away with troublesome brackets altogether, and it may arguably be the best possible version of this tortured sentence. However, by retaining the parentheses around "Limited" it perpetuates the Odyssey editions' highly inelegant practice of burying parentheses within parentheses. And it does not place a comma following that word, where one seems required. To address these issues, I have made my own arbitrary decision, in editing this text for the website, to eliminate the inner set of parentheses an insert a comma: "sir James W. Mackey Limited, wholesale and resale seed and bulb merchants."

JH 2020
The Mackey store at 23 Sackville Street Upper, date unknown. Source: Hazel Smyth, Two Hundred Years a-Growing.
The Gresham Hotel on fire in April 1922. Source: www.pinterest.com.