Brian Boroimhe House
Brian Boroimhe House
Just north of the Crossguns
bridge on Prospect Road, the funeral carriages in Hades
pass a pub called the "Brian Boroimhe house,"
named after the great Irish leader Brian Boru who reigned as
High King from 1002 to 1014 and whose army defeated the Danes
at Clontarf. The mourners are now in the suburb of Glasnevin,
home of the Prospect Cemetery,
and Bloom thinks, "Near it now." This pub is noteworthy as one of about a dozen mentioned in Ulysses
whose doors remain open today, and it is intriguing on other
grounds, particularly Joyce's Irish spelling of its name.
The 1904 issue of Thom's directory listed the owner
as "J. M. Ryan, proprietor and family grocer, tea, wine, and
spirit merchant," in keeping with the 19th century tradition
(now moribund) of "spirit grocers."
Today the name over the door of the pub is P. Hedigan, but he
is still advertised as a "wine merchant" and "family grocer."
The name of the pub itself is the Brian Boru, and it always
has been. Nevertheless, an old map hanging on a wall in the
establishment identifies it as "The Brian Boroihme House"—a
misspelling of the Irish name Boroimhe. Although at two points
in Ithaca the ancient king is referenced by his usual
appellation, "Brian Boru," here in Hades his name is
rendered in Irish, and with the proper spelling.
Joyce was eternally attentive to tiny details and also keenly
attuned to the suggestive power of names. In a personal
communication, Senan Molony suggests that he must have wanted
his readers to reflect on the particular, highly unusual form
of Brian's name in the funeral chapter. "Boroimhe," he
notes, means "cattle tribute" (bó = cow, cattle + roimhe
= tribute, mortgage payment, tithe). Brian Boru ("Brian of
the Tributes") must have earned his name by amassing enough
power to demand payments of cattle from lesser warriors. In a
novel where Stephen is called a "bullockbefriending bard,"
where Mr. Deasy writes a letter warning about the danger that
foot and mouth disease
poses to Irish cattle herds, where newspapermen attend a
meeting of the Irish Cattle Traders and Stockowners
Association, and where an entire chapter echoes the warnings
of Homer's Odyssey about taking cattle that do not
belong to you, the non-standard spelling of Brian's name is
surely worth noticing and reflecting on.
And, indeed, Hades too has been preoccupied with
cows. By this point in the chapter, the funeral procession has
crossed paths with a consignment of cattle being driven
through Dublin's streets to the quays for shipment to England,
and Bloom (who once worked at the cattlemarket where Aughrim
Street meets the North Circular Road, on the northwest edge of
Dublin) has asked why the Corporation doesn't run a tramline
from that area to the quays. The map in the Brian Boru shows
that the pub once lay only a few blocks from a railway station
along the Royal Canal, and only one block from "The North City
Cattle Lairs." Presumably cattle arrived at that station from
points west and were penned in stockyards quite near the Brian
Boru pub, before being driven to the quays. By calling
attention to the root meaning of the pub's name, then, Joyce
ties it to the export trade in Irish cattle. Ireland's
greatest king once exacted tribute in the form of valuable
livestock. Now the nation pays the same form of tribute to its
Another possible, but much less compelling, account of the
pub's significance has to do with its Christian associations.
Brian Boru's forces are said to have camped on the site of the
pub on the night before the Battle of Clontarf, and popular
mythology holds (with little basis in fact) that the battle
represented a victory of Christian Irishmen over pagan
invaders. The pub is commonly said to be the only pub in
Ireland to display a cross on its front. This is not quite
true—the Oarsman in Ringsend, to
cite one example, sports a Celtic cross in the tympanum atop
its façade—but the pub's exterior does appeal to the popular
expectations. A mural high on one wall, probably from the
later 20th century, shows Brian holding a sword and a
cross-embossed shield against a background of Viking longboats on the
waves. A much older painting above the shopfront, probably
from the Victorian era, shows him leading his massed troops
into battle holding a large crucifix for inspiration.
Molony points out two other, more telling problems with the theory. First, if Joyce and his father stopped at a pub after Matthew Kane's funeral on 14 July 1904, it could not possibly have been the Brian Boru because, as a poster that also hangs in the pub shows, the house had closed in advance of an auction sale on July 15. Second, it seems highly unlikely that members of a funeral party would ever have behaved so badly to one of their party. Not only would the solemn occasion dictate sober decorum and at least outward displays of christian charity, but giving vent to violent religious bigotry under the influence of alcohol purchased by Kane's family would constitute the worst kind of disrespect.