Drums of braided cord

U 5.109-12: She raised a gloved hand to her hair […] Drawing back his head and gazing far from beneath his vailed eyelids he saw the bright fawn skin shine in the glare, the braided drums.

U 15.1057-60: The Honourable Mrs Mervyn Talboys (in amazon costume, hard hat, jackboots cockspurred, vermilion waistcoat, fawn musketeer gauntlets with braided drums, long train held up and hunting crop with which she strikes her welt constantly)

“Drums” seems to be an odd word to use here – “braided drums”. None of the meanings of drum given in the Oxford English Dictionary seem to be relevant. And yet Don Gifford (Ulysses Annotated) is surely near the mark in glossing “braided drums” as “the ridges of cord on the back of the woman’s glove”.

Joyce was familiar with another word, drum, from Irish. The initial element of the placename Drumcondra, now a suburb of urban Dublin, is Irish druim/droim = ‘ridge, back’. This is typically represented as drum in English (see drum n.2 in the OED, and similarly in Joseph Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary - both include the topographical sense).

Patrick Dineen’s Irish-English Dictionary shows that the word could have wider meanings in different contexts (here from the revised edition of 1927):

DRUIM […] a ridge, a hill; the top or upmost part, upper surface […] DRUIM NA COISE (NA BHRÓIGE), the instep; DRUIM NA LÁIMHE, the back of the hand; […]

It seems that the gauntlet and the gloved hand had a braided back, or a braided ridge along the back, and that Joyce is making use of a word he would have encountered in placenames if not elsewhere in Dublin.

John Simpson

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