Located in the ancient Dublin city center, Winetavern Street, though only briefly mentioned, plays an interesting role in Dubliners. In “The Dead,” the collection’s final story, Gabriel and Gretta are finally able to find a cab after the party where Winetavern Street meets the quays on the south bank of the Liffey where they have been walking: “At the corner of Winetavern Street they met a cab” (214). They had been unable to get a cab at the aunts’ house in Usher’s Island two quays west of Winetavern Street, which divides Merchant’s and Wood Quays. At the end of the party, the guests can only manage to get one cab, which is claimed by Freddy Malins, his mother, and Mr. Browne, so Gabriel and Gretta, along with Bartell D’Arcy and Miss Callaghan, begin walking east along the quays in hopes they’ll meet a cab closer to the city center.

Winetavern Street, pen, ink, and watercolor by Flora H. Mitchell.

Winetavern Street, pen, ink, and watercolor by Flora H. Mitchell.

The most obvious reason for the lack of cabs is the time of year and time of day. It’s generally agreed that the Morkans’ party takes place between January 2nd and 6th, between New Year’s and the Feast of Epiphany. Furthermore, when the guests leave, “[t]he piercing morning air” (206) is already making its way into the hall, and yet as the group begins their walk, “[t]he morning was still dark. A dull yellow light brooded over the houses and the river” (212). During the 2nd to the 6th of January, the sun rises at around 8:15 am, and stars start becoming imperceptible at about 6 am. Nevertheless, it is early enough still when they leave for sunrise to be a a long way off as is indicated by the need for a candle when the couple arrives at the hotel. Indeed the street lamps are still lit when Gabriel sits alone at the end of the story imagining his journey westward.

The walk from 15 Usher’s Island to the corner of Winetavern Street, according to the map, would take 8 minutes. Since a horse travels between 4 mph (6.4 kph) at a walk and 8 mph (13 kph) at a slow trot, the cab ride would have taken about another 10-15 minutes. If we imagine the entire scene at the hotel spans an hour, then the time between the end of the party and the end of the story is roughly an hour and a half. Could the party have gone on until 4:30 am? That seems unlikely. Nevertheless, that the morning is spilling into the hall at the start of the journey and the street lamps are still lit at the end of the story indicate that the group had to procure their cabs sometime between midnight and 4:30 am. Surely there would be a lack of cabs during these hours, especially over the holidays.

The photo, "Imperial Hotel and coaches, The Mall, Waterford," shows two horse-drawn cabs. Photo taken between 1900 and 1910, from the National Library of Ireland.

The photo, “Imperial Hotel and coaches, The Mall, Waterford,” shows two horse-drawn cabs. Photo taken between 1900 and 1910, from the National Library of Ireland.

But other tensions surround the procuring of cabs in the story as well. First, cabs are the only mode of transportation used in the stories following “A Painful Case.” There is a distinct lack of movement and mappable travel in the stories between that one and “Grace.” It is as if Emily Sinico’s death by train halts all travel, at least by means of apparatus. We first see a cab appear in “Grace,” as an inebriated and bloodied Mr. Kernan is being loaded into it by Mr. Power. Because Mr. Kernan can’t speak, Mr. Power must give the directions to the driver. Similarly, the first cab, in “The Dead,” the Browne-Malins cab, appears in a fog of confusion. Mr. Browne only reluctabtly gets into the cab, and then he and Mr. Malins give the driver contradictory directions. Ultimately, the driver is asked “Do you know Trinity College?” a rather insulting question for a Dublin cab driver, and told to “drive bang up against Trinity College gates,” instructions that connote a potentially bloody end to this inebriated group’s trip.

But even Gabriel and Gretta’s cab, which seems innocuous enough, is associated with threatening layers. They find the cab at Winetavern Street, a street named historically for its primary premises–taverns. According to J.T. Gilbert’s 1851 A History of the City of Dublin, the street, which was also called Wine-street, was the site of a violent fire. Gilbert cites “the native annalists record” which details the 1597 events:

“One hundred and forty-four barrels of powder were sent by the Queen to the town of the ford of hurdles (Dublin) to her people, in the month of March. When the powder was landed, it was drawn to Wine-street…,  and placed on both sides of the street, and a spark of fire got into the powder; but from whence that spark proceeded, whether from the heavens, or from the earth beneath, is not known; howbeit, the barrels burst into one blazing flame and rapid conflagration (on the 13th of March), which raised into the air, from their solid foundations and supporting posts, the stone mansions and wooden houses of the street, so that the long beam, the enormous stone, and the man in his corporal shape, were sent whirling into the air over the town by the explosion of this powerful powder; and it is impossible to enumerate, reckon, or describe, the number of honourable persons, of tradesmen of every class, of women and maidens, and of the sons of gentlemen, who had come from all parts of Erin to be educated in the city, that were destroyed. The quantity of gold, silver, or worldly property, that was destroyed, was no cause of lamentation, compared to the number of people who were injured and killed by that explosion. It was not Wine-street alone that was destroyed on this occasion, but the next quarter of the town to it.” (qtd. in Gilbert 154-55)

Though increasingly less direct, the connotations of drunkenness and disastrous injury present in the three instances of even primitively mechanized transportation after the disaster in “A Painful Case” show a wariness with the potential speed of movement. And though the cab Gabriel and Gretta find at Winetavern Street and their successful journey seems to indicate a gradual re-implementation of the evolving technology driving transportation at the turn of the century, the underlying historical connotations that are conveyed through the reference to this particular street suggest forward movement may not be re-evolving quite as smoothly as it appears to be.

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