Denzille Street

Denzille Street

In Brief

In Calypso Bloom recalls running to fetch the midwife from her home in "Denzille street." This street holds associations with more than childbirth. It and the nearby "Denzille lane," encountered in Oxen of the Sun, also evoke the militant Irish nationalism of the Phoenix Park murders in 1882—connections brought near the surface of the book's consciousness by the typically Joycean device of a strange coincidence.

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Mary Thornton, the actual Joyce family midwife whom Joyce imported into his novel, lived at 19A Denzille Street, as Gifford and Igoe note. But in a personal communication Vincent Altman O'Connor observes that this was also the address of James Carey, the Fenian leader who turned queen's evidence during the investigation of the murders and fled Ireland under state protection in 1883, only to be assassinated by an Irish nationalist on a ship off the South African coast.

When Bloom thinks of this notorious figure from his teen years in three different chapters of Ulysses, he has trouble remembering whether he was "Peter or Denis or James Carey." Nevertheless, he seems to know quite a bit about the man's life. In Lotus Eaters he stands in one of the aisles of St. Andrew's chuch thinking about a nearby resident who was known for visiting the church every single day: "That fellow that turned queen's evidence on the invincibles he used to receive the, Carey was his name, the communion every morning. This very church. Peter Carey. No, Peter Claver I am thinking of. Denis Carey. And just imagine that. Wife and six children at home. And plotting that murder all the time."

Carey (who did have a brother named Peter, another approver of militant action) was indeed known for attending mass every day. Igoe quotes a contemporary reporter, J. B. Hall, who remarked on his "reputation for ostentatious piety." Thornton describes Bloom's knowledge of Carey's family situation as "amazingly accurate: in a London Times interview of February 20, 1883, Mrs. Carey says that they have seven children, and that the youngest is a baby two months old" (85). In Lestrygonians Bloom thinks that he was a "Member of the corporation too." Once again he is correct: Carey was elected a Councillor, and some people spoke of him as possible Lord Mayor material.

There is a perfectly ordinary explanation for Thornton and Carey living at the same address: he likely was her landlord. (Assuming, that is, that she lived in Denzille Street before the government took him into protective custody and shipped him out of the country. If she moved in later than June 1893, then she could have rented from his heirs.) Carey had followed in the footsteps of his bricklayer father and become a successful builder and landlord, acquiring tenement properties on Denzille Street, Denzille Lane, Hamilton Row, South Cumberland Street, and South Gloucester Street.

There is also a perfectly ordinary explanation for Bloom's knowledge of the man. Regardless of whether Mary Thornton knew Carey in person or merely heard about him from neighbors in the aftermath of his sensational departure, she may well have shared some of the details with Bloom. Whatever the source of his knowledge, Bloom has been turning the lesson of Carey's life over in his mind for a long time, admiring his nationalism, abhorring his criminal violence, envying his courage, deploring his capitulation.

Eumaeus records this ever-shifting, parallactic ambivalence: "turning queen's evidence—or king's now—like Denis or Peter Carey, an idea he utterly repudiated. Quite apart from that he disliked those careers of wrongdoing and crime on principle. Yet, though such criminal propensities had never been an inmate of his bosom in any shape or form, he certainly did feel and no denying it (while inwardly remaining what he was), a certain kind of admiration for a man who had actually brandished a knife, cold steel, with the courage of his political convictions."

O'Connor observes that when Bloom stands on South Cumberland Street in Lotus Eaters, tearing Martha Clifford's envelope into tiny shreds, he is only a few steps away from one of Carey’s houses where the knives from the Phoenix Park murders were found—a discovery that was widely reported in the newspapers and caused a sensation. (One of Carey's tenants in the house had seen him using a ladder to make secret trips to the attic and climbed up to see what was there. He found two long surgical amputation knives that fit the wounds inflicted in the park.) Instead of taking those few steps to gaze on Carey's house, Bloom turns into the back entrance to Saint Andrew's Church and thinks about the man there.

At the end of Oxen of the Sun, Stephen and the other young men debouche for "Burke's of Denzille and Holles," a pub at the intersection of those two streets just north of the maternity hospital. At the pub's closing hour they head back south, bound for the Westland Row train station where they will board for Monto: "Denzille lane this way. Change here for Bawdyhouse." No one mentions why they fail to proceed somewhat more directly via Denzille Street, but perhaps Joyce prized the opportunity to echo a name that one of the drunkards has given their roving band, "The Denzille lane boys." Gifford notes that this was "A Dublin slang name for the Invincibles." It is a common kind of nickname for Dublin gangs.

Joyce scholarship has not paid much attention to the Denzille-Invincibles nexus, but Dublin has. Denzille Street no longer exists; it became Fenian Street shortly after independence and the civil war of 1922-23.

JH 2018
Detail from Ordnance Survey map showing Denzille Street (red arrow), St. Andrew's Church (blue), Hamilton Row (brown), South Cumberland Street (black), and the route (green) that Stephen and his medical chums follow from the National Maternity Hospital (23) to Burke's pub (22), then back to Denzille Lane (orange), and onward to the Westland Row train station. Source: James Joyce Centre, "So this is Dyoublong?"
Portrait of James Carey by an unknown engraver, published in 1883 and held in the National Portrait Gallery, London. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Sign on Fenian Street, whose name was changed in 1924. Source: John Hunt.
Map from a 2001 site plan to build an eight-story apartment complex on Fenian Street where Burke's pub was once located. Source: