The Works of James Joyce

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The Monto in Circe/Ulysses


As I write this paper, a landmark building in Dublin is quietly been torn down in the “Nighttown District, known to locals as “The Monto” The Monto is the setting for the Circe chapter. “Nighttown was slang among Dublin journalist for the late shift on a newspaper. Monto, named after Montgomery Street, was considered to be one of the worse slums in Europe at the turn of the century, rife with depravation and disease. Many of the brothels were frequented by British soldiers, but those Bloom and Stephen frequented were at the upper end of the area” (1).

The building a former convent and Magdalen Laundry had served the “Monto” area of Dublin since the late 19th Century. It was built by the Sisters of Our lady of Charity of Refuge, which adjoins Railway Street , for former prostitutes to reform and do penance for their sins. The Laundry was first known as the Gloucester Street laundry, renamed Sean McDermott Street laundry. The order came to Dublin in 1853, shortly after the famine broke out. Their first laundry was on the north side of the city in Drumcondra, known as St.Mary’s Magdalen Asylum., High Park. In 1902 in Michael McCarthy’s book “Priests and People in Ireland” he wrote about High Park Laundry the following “The order of Our lady of charity of Refuge owns High Park, Drumcondra, in which there are 65 nuns. That institution is, perhaps, the largest and most lucrative public laundry in the city of Dublin. Its vans are to be seen delivering washing and collecting money in all parts of town. It is a Magdalene Asylum, in which it is stated that there are 210 penitents giving their service free until the “nameless graves in the cemetery” claim their poor bodies. This order works another Magdalene asylum in Lower Gloucester Street, within the Mecklenburg Street area, in which there are 13 nuns who keep 90 fallen women at work at the profitable laundry business”. In 1993 the convent and their laundries had been the subject of much controversy, when they exhumed and cremated 133+ Magdalen women (penitents) and buried them together in a mass grave in Glasnevin Cemetery. The order of nuns had lost a lot of money on the stock market and sold the land where the Magdalene women were buried. In order for the sale of land to go through, the bodies of the Magdalen women former prostitutes had to be exhumed. This was done almost in the dead of night very quietly and the Irish media did not cover it as it should have. “The grave diggers had found an extra 75 bodies of Magdalen women with no death certificate and the Irish Government let this pass and gave permission for reburial without death certificates”.(2) Joyce could not have fictionalized a more ghoulish course of events. The bodies were then cremated, so we will never know who were in those graves, but without a doubt they were all former prostitutes, as original burial dates go back to the 1800’s when these institutions were formed to take prostitutes in who wanted to reform. They spent their days washing the sheets from the hospitals of Dublin, the Prison and from the upper class families and the clergy, without pay, washing away their sins. These were the women who actually inhabited the brothels Joyce wrote about in Circe.

“After the scandal of the Magdalen graves, the public began to feel the immediate relevance of a world which seemed to have no real meaning in recent history, slavery. Extraordinary as it may seem, the inmates of the Magdalen Laundries were in effect, slaves, forced to work without pay for their sins. The remains of the women were interred in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery, their names listed on a stark limestone monument notable for the absence of religious symbolism. The dates of their deaths are given and they point to the amazing longevity of these institutions. The earliest is April 1858 the latest December 1994”. (3)

The institutions had an even longer history in Ireland. “The first was established in Dublin in 1766”. (4) “It was only in October 1996” (5) that the last of the laundries closed, this was Sean McDermott Street in the Monto (Nighttown District). “Within these institutions in Ireland around 30,000.00 women were imprisoned in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.”(6) Initially most were prostitutes.


“It about 11.30p.m. And Stephen and Lynch have come on the train from “Westland Row to Amiens Street, which was two stops and would have come out of the station not by the main entrance, but by a side entrance, which was opposite Buckingham Street, up Amiens Street and up Talbot Street. We pick them up going into Nightown , arriving at Mabbot Street, before which stretches an uncobbled tramsiding set with skeleton tracks, red and green will -o”-the wisps and

Danger signals. Rows of flimsy houses with gaping doors. Rare lamps with faint rainbow fans. Stephen is chanting the Introit of a Mass” (7).


“Vidi aquam egredientem de templo a latere dextro. Allelula”

“Shortly afterwards, Bloom comes rushing up Talbot Street. He had been delayed and has chocolate and bread, and now he buys a sheep’s trotter and a crubeen. An old hag grabs his sleeve but he shakes her off and goes in search of Stephen and lynch” (8)

Bloom running and out of breath, meets his father and gets a telling off from him, then his mother appears and lastly Molly. He is unnerved and shaken

“Mrs Breen standing in the causeway, her roguish eyes wideopen, smiling in all her herbivorous buck teeth

Mrs Breen



((Coughs gravely.) Madam, when we last had this pleasure by letter dated the sixteenth instant…

Mrs Breen

Mr.Bloom! You down here in the haunts of sin! I caught you nicely! Scamp!


(Hurriedly.) Not so loud my name. Whatever do you think me? Don’t give me away. Walls have ears. How do you do? Its ages since I. You’re looking splendid. Absolutely it.. Seasonable weather we are having this time of year. Black retracts heat. Short cut home here. Interesting quarter. Rescue of fallen women Madgalen asylum. I am the secretary…

Mrs Breen

(Holds up her finger.) Now don’t tell a big fib! I know somebody won’t like that. O just wait till I see Molly! (Slily) Account for yourself this very minute or woe betide you!


(Looks behind.) She often said she’d like to visit. Slumming. The exotic you see……”

Here we see Bloom is guilt ridden. He’s been caught in Nighttown by Mrs Breen and he’s making excuses as to why he is there, “just a short cut home” Bloom is feeling guilt, his father approached him, his mother approached him and Molly also, but it was Mrs breen who really brought out his guilt. Telling fibs.

His excuse to Mrs Breen “I am the secretary of the Magdalen asylum. His excuse could seem genuine as the asylum was only down the end of the Street. Why else would he be there in Nighttown, coming home the short way from the meeting at the asylum? Blooms being caught red handed in a lie and he’s now afraid Molly will find out, so as Mrs Breen is an illusion, he dismisses her and she disappeared after some small chat and promises of Bloom telling her some secret. Half way through she is gone and Bloom can go forward and get down to the business at hand, finding Stephen and Lynch and the Whores, when he does he suffers nightmares of guilt about his father and his dead son, Rudy, with Molly.

He’s a married man, he’s in the red light district on his way home to Molly and his conscious is bothering him. He eventually ends up at Bella Cohen’s brothel. At the brothel there is an altercation with the British Soldiers Privates Carr and Compton. The Monto red-light quarter was well serviced by members of the British army.


“The Boer Was (1899-1901) and its aftermath brought increased business to Monto from soldiers returning from the war. When one regiment returned to Dublin, Irish Society magazine printed the following verse welcoming them back. It was signed by “JRS of Knocklong”

“The gallant Irish yeoman

Home from the war has come,

Each victory gained o’er foeman,

Why should our bards be dumb?

How shall we sing their praises?

Or glory in their deeds,

Renowned their worth amazes,

Empire their prowess needs.

So to old Ireland’s hearts and homes

We welcome now our own brave boys

In cot and hall; ‘neath lordly domes

Love’s heroes share once more our joys

Love in the Lord of all just now,

Be he the husband, loves, son,

Each dauntless soul recalls the vow

By which not fame, but love was won.

United now in fond embrace

Salute with joy each well-loved face

Yeoman, in women’s hearts you hold the place”.

Dubliners were quick to notice the scandalous message,

When one took the first letter from each line of the verse it reads, “The Whores Will Be Busy”.

As gossip spread, the Journal was sold out in a few hours. The author was believed to be Oliver St.John Gogarty, Joyce’s friend and also a regular visitor to Monto. Buck Mulligan was modeled after Oliver St.John Gogarty”. (9)

“Over that period of time, the madams made the bulk of their money from the British Army.”It was said that the girls in Monto done more damage to the British Army than the Republican Movement," "Had there been an uprising in Dublin in the latter part of the 1800s, well, half the Dublin garrison were out sick with venereal diseases."(10)

“Some of the clients were the cream of English and Irish society. King Edward VII accessed the place through secret tunnels dotted all over Monto, and was a frequent visitor there over a period of time. . The aforementioned Joyce was also a regular”. (11)

“Oliver St. John Gogarty wrote a tribute to Joyce and his visits to Monto

“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.”(12)

“In 19th Century Dublin, right through to the 1930’s, discretion was not the appropriate word to describe Dublin’s booming sex trade. Barely a few blocks in extent, and situated in the heart of the north inner city, Monto was so well known as a centre for late-night drinking and prostitution that it even rated a mention in the 1903 (tenth) edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Visitors who availed of its illicit if hardly concealed pleasures included famous literary figures such as James Joyce and Oliver Saint John Gogarty, not to mention a Prince of Wales, who later returned as King Edward V11.(13)

“Monto derived its name from Montgomery Street, later renamed Foley Street, which runs parallel to the lower end of Talbot Street on the way to what was Amiens Street Rail Station (now Connelly Station). The heart of the Monto was Mecklenburgh Street Lower (renamed Tyrone Street) in 1887, changing again to today’s Railway Street in 1911) and the surrounding lanes and alleys, many of which are now gone forever”.(14)


“December 20th 1920 was the day Joyce finally finished Circe.(16a) Little did he know, but in the shadow was Frank Duff, civil servant , who less than a year later formed the Legion of Mary at Myra House in Francis Street, in Dublin’s Liberties. Duff was born in 1889 in Dublin and attended both Belvedere College, run by the Jesuits, and Blackrock College. Duff finished the reform of The Monto that had begun by the Magdalen Laundries.

The initial objective of the legion of Mary was to visit impoverished women who were patients in the South Dublin Union Hospital in James Street. One evening in 1922 duff was visiting in Chancery Lane, off Bride Street, not far from Myra House, when by chance he entered number 25. He found himself in a lodging house occupied by a considerable amount of prostitutes. Among the girls in that house was Honor Bright. On a June night 3 years later Honor Bright, the single mother of a baby child, was shot dead and dumped under a bush in Ticknock up the Dublin Mountains, promoting a murder trial that became the talk of the country for months. A Garda Supertendent and a dispensary doctor were tried for but acquitted of her slaying. Oral history tells us Honor was going to name the father of her child, “A Monto Baby”

Frank Duff set about the Monto District in 1922 to clean out the prostitutes and make it safe for the local families who also lived in the surrounding streets. One of the main things he did was to have the streets renamed, there by confusing the clients who frequented this district. Following that first visit, Duff returned to Myra House to reflect what he had witnessed and he found out that 25 Chancery lane was not the only such lodging in the Liberties at the time, The Magdalene Asylum helped prostitutes who had resolved to change their lives, Duff decided that their was a greater need to seek out such women in their lodgings and try to persuade them to abandon prostitution”. (15)


“Ironically, Myra House in Francis Street was an old almost derelict building which at one time had been a “Bacon” factory owned by the famous Donnelly meat industry and given to the society as a gift”.(16)

Bella Cohen figures prominently in Circe. The house she rented, 82, Lower Mecklenburgh Street, (Tyrone Street) is the setting for the Circe chapter, featuring a witch who lured men to her lair and then turned them into swine. In Homer’s Odyssey, Circe is a fair headed witch who turned men into swine. Was Joyce aware of the Bacon Factory when he set the Circe chapter in the Monto?

“Joyce was familiar with his subject matter as he was a regular visitor to Monto. He maintained his interest in the area after the publication of his book. In the late 1930’s when living in Paris, he asked one of his Dublin friends to send him a complete list of the names and address of the former madams of Monto. At the time he was writing Finnigans Wake, in which May Oblong one of the last madams is mentioned”.(17)


Bloom lied about why he was caught in Nightown. He was not the secretary of the Magdalen asylum. Yet he was there to rescue Stephen Dedalus from his sinful night just like the zealots from the asylums made efforts to save Dublin women from prostitution. His lie had a measure of truth like much of the hallucinations that he had during his nightmare in Nightown.


1. Monto, Madams, Murder and Black Coddle. Published by the

North Inner City Folklore Group 2002. Also conversations with

Terry Fagan author.

2. Irish Times, Mary Raferty

3. Sunday Business Post, Vincent Browne

4. Sunday Business Post, Vincent Browne

5. Irish Times. Last days of a Laundry, by Gary Culliton. September 25th 1996

6. Sunday Business Post, Vincent Browne

7. Radio Telifis Eireann “Circe”

8. Radio Telefis Eireann “Circe”

9. Conversations with Terry Fagan. Monto, Madams, Murder and Black Coddle

Published by the North Inner City Folklore Group 2002

10. An Phoblacht, Republican News, The Miracle of Monto by Michael Pierce

A chequered history, from prostitution to pilgrimages. September 5th 2002

11. Monto, Madams, Murder, and Black Coddle. Terry Fagan and the North Inner City Folklore Group 2002

12. Madams, Murder and Black Coddle, Terry Fagan, Published by the North

Inner City Folklore Group 2002

13. Madams, Murder and Black Coddle, Terry Fagan, Published by the North Inner City Folklore Group. 2002

14. Madams, Murder and Black Coddle, Terry Fagan, Published by the North Inner City Folklore Group 2002.

15. Conversations with Terry Fagan. Madams, Murder, and Black Coddle, Published by the North Inner City Folklore Group 2002

16. Conversations with Terry Fagan. Also, Monto Madams, Murder and Black Coddle.

16(a) Christie’s (New York) James Joyce’s Ulysses: The John Quinn Draft Manuscript of the ‘Circe’ Episode”. Produced and published in England by Christie’s International Media division. (Auction of the Manuscript Thursday 14th December 2000 acquired by the National Library Ireland.)


Conversation with Senator David Norris, renowned Joyce Scholar at Leinster House, Dial Eireann, Dublin, on Thursday 8th December, 2005 , where the author of this paper was told about Frank Duff by the Senator.

The National Library Ireland “Exhibition” “Ulysses” Friday 9th December, 2005


Allen, Nicholas, George Russell (AE) and the New Ireland, 1905-30, Four Courts Press, 7 Malpas Street, Dublin, Ireland, 2004

Book of Dublin, Published by the Dublin Corporation, Dublin 1929

Christies, New York. James Joyce’s Ulysses: The John Quinn Draft Manuscript of The ‘Circe’ Episode. 2000

Conlon-McKenna, Marita, The Magdalen: London, Bantam Books, 1999

Eliot, T.S. Introducing James Joyce: London, Faber and Faber, Mcmxlii

Ellman, Richard, James Joyce: New York, Oxford University Press, 1983

Fagan, Terry, MONTO, Madams, Murder and Black Coddle. The North Inner City Folklore Group (Dublin, Ireland) 2002

Finnegan, Frances, Do Penance or Perish: USA, Oxford University press, 2004

Gifford, Don, Ulysses Annotated, University of California Press, 1974

Joyce, James, Ulysses, Random House, New York 1934

Kearns, Kevin C, Dublin Tenement Life (an oral history) Gill & Macmillan Ltd, Goldenbridge, Dublin, Ireland,1994

Levin, Harry, James Joyce A Critical Introduction: London, Faber and Faber, 1960

Maddox, Brenda, Nora: Boston, Houghton Miffin Company, 1988

McCarthy, Michael, Priests and People in Ireland, Dublin, Hoggis Figgs, 1902

Picknett, Lynn, Mary Magdalene: New York, Carroll & Graf, 2004

Rodgers, J.P. For the Love of My Mother: Galway, Ireland, MacRuairi Art, 2005

Staley, Thomas F, James Joyce Today: London, Indiana University Press 1966


RTE, Ulysses “Circe”, can be found at

Refer to notes 7 and 8 for this source

Notes 3.4.and 6 on request

Notes 2 on request

Additional Source Maria Luddy “Abandoned Women and Bad Characters”: Prostitution in Nineteenth-Century Ireland