In the opening story of Dubliners, Eliza, the sister of the just-deceased Father James Flynn, regrets that the family never fulfilled James’s wish to go visit the old house in Irishtown before his death. She explains to the young narrator and his aunt that
“…he kept on saying that before the summer was over he’d go out for a drive one fine day just to see the old house again where we were all born down in Irishtown and take me and Nannie with him” (17).
The trip from the northern side of Dublin to what Don Gifford calls “a poor, working class slum just south of the mouth of the Liffey” (34) would not have taken long at all, especially considering the narrator of “Araby” travels an even greater distance, from North Richmond Street to nearly Sandymount, alone at night by foot and train, and that the boys in “An Encounter” also walk a much greater distance, from the Royal Canal to Ringsend, in an afternoon. But while the young narrators of the childhood stories are active and mobile, the priest and his elderly sisters would require more structure and accommodation for their trip. In fact, Father Flynn had planned to rent
“one of them new-fangled carriages that makes no noise that Father O’Rourke told him about–them with the rheumatic wheels–for the day cheap…at Johnny Rush’s over the way there and drive out the three of us together of a Sunday evening” (17).
Don Gifford identifies Johnny Rush’s as a “cab and car proprietor” operated by Francis “Johnny” Rush. And indeed, Thom’s 1892 directory lists a Francis Rush at 10 Findlater’s place under the category “Carriage, Cab, and Car Proprietors.”
Findlater’s Place is half a block south of Great Britain (now Parnell) Street just off of Marlborough Street. The three aging siblings would have been able to walk to Johnny Rush’s to get their carriage and from there drive down to Irishtown, about 4.5 km (2.8 miles) fairly easily. According to the Google map, it would take 45 minutes to walk and 16 minutes to bike the route. The pneumatic wheels, or “rheumatic wheels” as Eliza calls them, would make the trip more pleasant as they were “tyre[s] filled with compressed air,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, which cites the Freeman’s Journal, or “Freeman’s General” as Eliza calls it, as explaining “[t]here is every reason to expect that a large business can be done in fixing the Pneumatic Tyre to the wheels of carriages, invalid chairs, etc.”
Another implication of the word “pneumatic,” and Eliza’s express non-saying of it, involves spiritual matters, an idea explored more thoroughly by Bernard Benstock in Narrative Con/Text in Dubliners. In his study, he posits the potential correlation between the names of Johnny Rush and Father O’Rourke and the Old and New Testaments. And while internal spiritual and psychological readings of Dubliners spaces abound, it is also worth exploring the external geographical and technological implications of the reference to Johnny to Rush’s.
When viewed on the map, it is clear that Johnny Rush’s in Findlater’s Place is right in between Great Britain Street, the first explicitly defined setting in Dubliners where the priest and his sisters live, and the Gresham Hotel, the final setting of the last story in Dubliners. At the intersection of the first and last setting markers sits the carriage and cab proprietor, reifying the importance of transportation and its manifestations to the whole of Dubliners. Whereas the first story describes a hypothetical cab ride that was never taken because of a character’s death, the final story ends with an actual, though problematized, cab ride to the Gresham where Gabriel learns about his wife’s past lover, long dead and buried yet still powerfully present. While many of the stories in the collection include transportation ranging from cab to tram to train, after Mrs. Sinico is killed by a train in “A Painful Case,” all transportation stops, until, in the opening scene of “Grace,” Mr. Kernan climbs into a cab, bloody and unable to speak due to his injuries. Then, the two cabs in “The Dead” are hard to come by and imbued with possibly violent connotations. Ultimately, Gabriel and Gretta’s cab ride to the Gresham, as opposed to their home in Monkstown which would have taken them past Irishtown, is a kind of reminder of the opening story’s imagined cab ride. And the proximity of the first and final settings, further foregrounded by Johnny Rush’s cab, car, and carriage proprietor right in between them, calls attention to the critical importance of geographical space and the methods of traversing it that James Joyce so carefully delineates in Dubliners.