The first place mentioned in “Two Gallants,” Rutland Square (renamed Parnell Square in 1933 in honor of the Nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell who once lived there) is situated in the north section of Dublin. It is bordered on northwest and southeast by Palace Row and Great Britain Street (now Parnell Street), and on southwest and northeast by Granby Row and Cavendish Row, which becomes Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) south of Great Britain (Parnell) Street.
The central feature of Rutland Square is the Rotunda Gardens just behind the maternity, or “lying-in,” hospital. The gardens were established by Bartholemew Mosse, who also established the hospital itself, according to an 1821 history by George Newenham Wright,
“for the purpose of holding Sunday evening promenades, for the benefit of that establishment. Those entertainments were continued for many years, to the great advantage of the funds of the hospital, until the Association for discountenancing Vice petitioned the governors of the charity to suppress this immoral proceeding; since which the gardens have only been opened on the other evenings in the week during the summer season: on those occasions, one and sometimes two military bands attend, and play from eight to ten o clock, while the persons admitted promenade along a terrace in front of the orchestra, eighteen perches in length; the walk round the entire square, inside, measures 1 fur. 35 per. The interior, which is thickly planted with full grown elms and close underwood, on promenade evenings is brilliantly illuminated with festoons of variegated lamps and other fanciful decorations; and lately, singers have been introduced to amuse in the intervals between the different airs called for by the visiters.–The receipts of one evening, at this place of amusement, have been known to amount to upwards of 20 l. which is an enormous sum, if we consider the moderate price of admission, five pence each” (203).
Donald Torchiana argues that this geographical reference is the first of many that “demonstrate just how clearly the mirror of ‘Two Gallants’ reflects the historic pomp and grandeur of Ascendency treacheries that cast long shadows behind the otherwise mean and stunted posturings of Corley and Lenehan near the end of Irish enslavement” (115). Torchiana surveys many of the geographic references in the story through the lens of their allusive potentials to the political vitriol of the Irish-English relationship. He points out that Rultand Square, for example, was named after the fourth Duke of Rutland, Charles Manners, in 1791, and identifies the duke as “an altogether too convivial Lord Lieutenant” (118).
Facing the square, on the surrounding streets, were, as Wright describes them, “noble structures; amongst them…[the homes] of Lord Charlemont…, Lord Wicklow, Lord Longford, the Countess of Ormond, the Earl of Bective, the Earl of Farnham, and several others” (264).
In the later part of the nineteenth century, the square became a vibrant political center. Parnell held his first public meeting and made his last public speech at the Rotunda Ballroom in Rutland Square. The decades leading up to Irish independence necessarily saw plenty of action in the square due to its proximity, for example, to the General Post Office, which figures so prominently in the Easter Rising. Many streets and landmarks changed after independence, several of them located in the immediate area of the square. The square itself became Parnell Square; part of the gardens became the Gardens of Remembrance, commemorating all who gave their lives for Irish independence; Great Britain Street became Parnell Street, where a statue of the iconic figure stands; and Sackville Street, named for Lionel Sackville, the first duke of Dorset, was renamed O’Connell Street, after Daniel O’Connell.
In “Two Gallants,” the square serves as the beginning of the long circuitous route the story contains:
“Two young men came down the hill of Rutland Square. One of them was just bringing a long monologue to a close. The other, who walked on the verge of the path and was at times obliged to step on to the road, owing to his companion’s rudeness, wore an amused listening face” (49).
The two men make their way to Stephen’s Green and Lenehan agrees to meet up with Corley later that evening in Merrion Street. When Corley is gone, Lenehan doubles back along their previous route, once again reaching Rutland Square:
“He turned to the left when he came to the corner of Rutland Square and felt more at ease in the dark quiet street, the sombre look of which suited his mood” (56-57).
The reboot, as it were, back to the beginning location, aside from all the location’s political implications, signals an alternate reality for Lenehan. Now that he is back at the story’s opening location, he has a chance to follow another path, to make different decisions. And indeed his path begins with a turn to the left, and it’s marked by “dark,” “quiet,” and “sombre” qualities, as opposed to the loudness and tedious attentiveness marked by the original journey’s beginning. Instead of walking down Sackville Street with his friend, he moves west, along Great Britain Street (assuming that the corner referred to is the southern corner, the first corner of the square he would have reached as he approached from the south), a street that also takes us back to the opening of “The Sisters.” Not only in the return to Rutland Square a reboot for Lenehan, an opportunity to re-initiate a journey of his own, it is also a potential return to the childhood state, as Great Britain Street is the very first geographical reference in the childhood section of Dubliners.
Lenehan’s thoughts present the possibility of a fresh start as he continues along his new route. He even imagines how life might be if he settled down. He doubts his friend’s ability to achieve his goal with the girl. But ultimately, he finds his way back to Stephen’s Green where he left Corley. Even after attempting an alternate route, he ends up in the same place. What the map illustrates is yet another of Joyce’s models of paralysis. Despite the various roads and the squares, the circles and the doubling-back, the destination is inevitable.