The Madams of Nighttown; or, a Dublin lupanarology
In “Circe” Bloom and Stephen visit Nighttown, Joyce’s name for the notorious red-light district of Dublin north of the Liffey and east of Sackville/O’Connell Street. In real life Joyce frequented the area: his friend Gogarty nicknamed him ‘the virginal kip-ranger’ [‘kip’ = brothel], and composed this rigmarole limerick about him:
There is a young fellow named Joyce,
Who possesses a sweet tenor voice.
He goes down to the kips
With a psalm on his lips,
And biddeth the harlots rejoice.
John Stanislaus Joyce, My Brother’s Keeper (1958), p. 154
The Joyce family had further connections with Nighttown, as the area formed part of Joyce’s father’s rate-collection district from 1888. In addition (as we shall see) there was also a link through a relative of William Weatherup, one of John Joyce’s fellow rate-collectors.
Several recent booklets have focused on the area, which is often referred to as ‘Monto’, after Montgomery Street at its heart. John Finegan’s The Story of Monto (Dublin, 1978) discusses some of the best-known inhabitants – and concentrates largely on the Dublin Corporation’s long battle to clean up the area into the 1920s and 30s; Terry Fagan’s Monto: Madams, Murder, and Black Coddle (Dublin, 2000?) presents some fascinating eyewitness accounts of the prostitutes and brothel-keepers, mainly from the early twentieth century, after the time of Joyce’s principal involvement with Nighttown.
The purpose of this series of articles is to look at some of the principal Madams, especially those mentioned by Joyce, in order to see what can be discovered about the way they lived and carried on their businesses. The five ladies central to the review are:
Mrs Mack / Meg Arnott / Lizzie Arnold / Maria Lynam / Mrs Cohen
- though others also come under passing scrutiny. We will also be concentrating mainly, but not exclusively, on a small number of addresses in the Nighttown district (Parish of St Thomas, North Dock ward):
Map courtesy of Ian Gunn
1) No 37 Upper Gloucester Street 4) No 20 Lower Mecklenburgh Street
2) Nos 1-4 Lower North Cumberland Street 5) No 39 Lower Mecklenburgh Street, and especially
3) Nos 39-40 Lower North Cumberland Street 6) Nos 82-5 Lower Mecklenburgh Street
(Not shown on the map)
Nos 25-6 Lower Temple Street, No 17 Upper Mercer Street, Nos 104-5 Lower Mecklenburgh Street
When these addresses are mentioned in the following text they are normally presented in bold-face type.
By the late 1880s Thom’s Directory shows that Mrs Mack, Mrs Cohen, and Mrs Arnott occupied houses near each other on Lower Mecklenburgh Street,1 another of the most notorious streets in Nighttown. The following chart shows residency at Nos 82-5 Lower Mecklenburgh Street between 1887 and 1906, according to Thom’s:
We also need to bear in mind that the Madams typically presented themselves as regular lodging-house keepers to the authorities, either renting rooms for a period to particular prostitutes or (more likely) renting out rooms on demand to girls who had picked up clients by soliciting on the streets. The records show that the home addresses of the prostitutes (as recorded for example in prison registers and newspapers) change regularly, suggesting that they were largely a transient population living temporarily where it suited them and moving on (also into and out of Dublin) as need or occasion demanded.
Lower Mecklenburgh Street
The chart shows a monolithic fortress of brothels running from No 82 to No 85 on the north side of Lower Mecklenburgh Street, under roughly the same continuous occupancy from 1888 until 1905 (NB ‘Mrs Noble’ = ‘Mrs Arnott’).
Bloom looking for Stephen mistakes No 82 (Mrs Cohen’s) for Mrs Mack’s (No 85). A girl called Zoe Higgins is at the door and speaks to him, in an episode mixing elements of realistic narrative and hallucinatory experience. What can we discover about these ladies who presided over what was for some at the end of the nineteenth century a realm of sexual pleasure, drunkenness, and profit but which for others brought misery and despair?
It is not easy to uncover reliable information about the Madams and prostitutes who appear in Ulysses, and little detailed data has been published until now. Are they fictional or are they real? If they are real people, the personal information they give about themselves to the authorities, or which others give about them, may be intentionally misleading. Many of the real-life prostitutes appear in the contemporary prison registers and indexes recently published online (www.findmypast.ie). From these, we can see that the police and prison staff had to develop a simple system of cross-referencing names, aliases, physical characteristics, etc., just to try to keep tabs on the streetwalkers and others who were arrested.
Nevertheless, it is possible to cross-tabulate hints in such a way that a coherent picture starts to emerge. The notes which follow constitute the sketchy background to such a picture.
This is the first of six related articles: Continued at:
4) Mrs Arnold at No 40 Lower Cumberland Street and elsewhere
5) Bella Cohen at No 82 (not 81)
1 Mecklenburgh/Tyrone Street: by the late 1890s all of Mecklenburgh Street (Upper to the west and Lower to the east) had been renamed “Tyrone Street”, in an early attempt by the Dublin Corporation to transform the nature of the streets. The more respectable Upper Mecklenburgh Street had been renamed first (around 1886), and the more disreputable part east of Lower Gardiner Street was still called “Lower Mecklenburgh Street” until 1888. Charles Dawson (U 6.151, etc.) argued that the name should be changed in 1888 to “Railway Street” (as indeed it was as part of a later clean-up scheme) because “Tyrone Street” “would offend the memory of a famous Irish chief”; some councillors wanted to shame the occupants of the central part of the street by retaining the old name here, but renaming both ends “Tyrone Street”. Eventually the whole length of the street was renamed Upper Tyrone Street and Lower Tyrone Street (see the Irish Times (1888), 18 December).
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