An old woman in Prince’s street

U 7.684-6: —History! Myles Crawford cried. The Old Woman of Prince’s street was there first. There was weeping and gnashing of teeth over that. Out of an advertisement.

U 12.218-19: —For the old woman of Prince’s street, says the citizen, the subsidised organ.

Familiar newspapers are often given nicknames. Since 1830 The Times of London has been known as “The Thunderer”. The Sporting Times was “The Pink ‘Un”, as was The Financial Times (both were printed on pink paper) and several other papers. The Freeman’s Journal of Dublin was known as the “Old Woman of Prince’s street”. Gifford explains the allusion, but does not provide evidence that the expression predates Ulysses:

A nickname for the Freeman’s Journal. It combines "old woman" (an epithet for Ireland) with a suggestion of the Journal’s rather fussy and cautious editorial support of Home Rule.

Sam Slote’s annotation reminds us that the Freeman’s “offices had an entrance on 4–8 Prince’s Street” in Dublin: see also The Prince and the Freeman by Harald Beck, in JJON, where this map shows the Freeman’s “Printing & Publishing Offices” running down from Prince’s Street to Middle Abbey Street.

The motivation behind the expression “The Old Woman of Prince's Street” is less clear. It is almost certainly modelled on "The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street", an old nickname for the Bank of England. The change from "Old Lady" to "Old Woman" may imply an element of disparagement. The Freeman was the oldest nationalist paper in Joyce’s time, so its nickname was likely to imply great age. Back in the early days, when the newspaper was published over St Audeon’s Arch, near Cook Street, Dublin where, it used to be said, “contrary to law, there is no Printer, nor any other person who answereth questions, but an old woman who is dumb”.1 There is no suggestion that this is the motivation behind the expression “Old Woman” which, as Gifford surmises, may be a metaphor for Ireland connoting fussiness and caution over Home Rule, or simply a familiar epithet felt appropriate for the oldest nationalist Dublin newspaper of Joyce’s.

There is a historical date before which the expression cannot have been used. The Freeman was not always published in Prince’s Street, as we have seen. Smith’s City and County Almanack lists the paper in 1822 as published at 16 Trinity Street, Dublin. Prior to that, it has been published at Blind Quay, 4 Essex Quay, 4 Crane Lane, and elsewhere.

Monday 1 May 1826 was the last date on which the paper was published from Trinity Street. The newspaper’s publication details – found at the top of the final page – show a change between Monday 1 and Tuesday 2 May 1826. First:

and then on 2 May 1826:

The new printer, Edward Duffy, introduced a new publication address for the newspaper in 1826 (and inadvertently introduced a typographical error, which was hastily corrected on 3 May):

At this stage the text simply says that the Freeman was printed for the proprietor of the newspaper in Prince’s Street, but a reference later in 1826 leaves no doubt that these were the Freeman’s new offices:

VAULTS TO LET. Commodious VAULTS, upwards of One Hundred Feet in length, under the Office of the Freeman’s Journal, Prince’s-street, near the General Post Office.

JUST DISENGAGED, And wants a Situation… Any commands to C. B., 8 Molesworth-street; or, at the Freeman’s Journal Office, 5, Prince’s-street.

Freeman’s Journal (1826), 5 October pp. 1 and 2

One remaining issue is whether the expression “The Old Woman of Prince’s Street” can be documented with reference to the Freeman’s Journal before the publication of Ulysses, and preferably whether it can be shown to predate Bloomsday 1904.

Relevant quotations are certainly available from the 1890s, when Joyce was growing up in Dublin. On Saturday 21 February 1891 the Nation reported that:

Latter-day journalism does not, we think, offer a more exquisitely comical spectacle than the old woman of Prince’s-street with her apron to her eye […] When our ancient friend of Prince’s-street veils one eye with the apron, the other and unobstructed orb is so obviously prepared to wink, that the total effect is ludicrous and no more. On Wednesday the Freeman delighted us with an unusually good specimen of the comedy of pathos.

In the following year the Dublin Evening Herald for 30 January observed, on its front page, that:

The Freeman is making itself utterly absurd over the suggested reconciliation of the independents and the renegades […] We are sorry for the unusual dullness of the "intelligence of the English people"; and we can only reply that if those worthy people would apply their “impartial intelligence” to a study of the Independent and Herald instead of following exclusively the “old woman of Princes street” they would soon discover the full extent of the differences, [etc.].

From time to time the less dismissive form "The Old Lady of Prince's Street" appears:

The "Freeman" […] is concerned to point out that though the staff may become warped, and may back-slide into comfortable jobs, the Old Lady of Prince’s street is still an "honest woman".

but the older expression remained the most popular. The Irish Times was known familiarly and rather respectfully as "The Old Lady of Westmoreland Street", but only (it seems) from a later date: the epithet can be found in the Irish Press of 12 August 1936. The Times was also "The Old Lady of D'Olier Street". The paper was founded in 1859 and moved to Westmoreland Street premises in 1882, expanding through to D'Olier Street in 1895. These expressions have not yet been found in Joyce's days.

From the documentary evidence available today, there is no doubt that once again in his choice of the expression the “Old Woman of Prince’s Street” Joyce was selecting and reusing material with which he was familiar from his youth, and in doing so making play with a phrase which would have had a particular resonance to his Irish readers.

John Simpson


1 George Faulkner, Epistle to Gorges Edmond Howard [sic] (ed. 5; Dublin, 1771), p. 24.

Search by keyword (within this site): Newspapers Printing Politics Advertising Phrases Journalism