17. Bicycles, Blood, Bloom and Burgundy

The entrance to the Harcourt Street vaults under the former railway station which was opened in 1859 and closed almost 100 years later. The entrance to Findlaters is on the right and the POD night club on the left (Sketch by Tony Colley)

In recent years, Findlaters have been identified with a fun item on the city’s calendar of events, the Bloomsday Messenger Bike Rally. The idea, which was first floated to the guests of the Junior Chamber of Commerce during my acceptance speech for the Business Heritage Award 1993, was to add colour and pageant to Bloomsday, which then had no visuals and was confined to readings in Joycean pubs and wanderings along Leopold Bloom’s route. Bill Cullen, chairman of Renault Ireland, a guest that evening, caught the idea, and the Rally was born, in aid of the Irish Youth Foundation–after all to be a messenger boy at the age of say, fourteen, was the first rung on the ladder, as Bill had proven. David Norris, Ken Monaghan and Bob Joyce were entertaining parallel thoughts about the development of a Joyce centre in North Great George’s Street in the north inner city. In 1994 the Rally became a reality on a bright sunny 16 June and celebrity readings took off at the Joyce Centre.

Gay Byrne, who had once aspired to be a Findlater messenger boy,1 gave the Rally a dream launch on the Late Late Show—riding onto the set were Feargal Quinn, Patrick Campbell, Bill Cullen and yours truly.§ Pete St John, composer of ‘Dublin in the Rare Ould Times’ and ‘The Fields of Athenry’, launched a cassette, in word and in song, with the four bassoons above, merchant-bicyclists,

*Leopold Bloom is the main character in Ulysses. The first celebration of Bloomsday was in 1954 when John Ryan, Patrick Kavanagh, Flann O’Brien, Anthony Cronin and Tom Joyce toured the sites of Joycean interest on the 50th anniversary of Bloom’s odyssey. They started at the Martello tower in Sandycove and reached the Bailey later in the day, failing to make their intended destination, Glasnevin Cemetery

David Norris, Senator, TV personality and Joycean scholar

Nephew and grand-nephew respectively of James Joyce

§ All chairmen or managing directors of public-spirited Irish companies

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Feargal Quinn left and Dorothy Gray, President of the Junior Chamber of Commerce presenting the author with the Business Heritage Award 1993.

articulating with an amazing degree of professionalism!

When we started the Bike Rally, it was often suggested that there is little of bicycles in Ulysses, but they are there nevertheless: College sports today I see. He eyed the horseshoe poster over the gate of College Park: cyclists doubled up like a cod in a pot. Damn bad ad. Now if they had made it round like a wheel. Then the spokes: sports, sports, sports: and the hub big: college. Something to catch the eye.2

On 16 June 1904 there was a sports meeting in College Park, run by the Bicycle and Harriers Club. It was a ‘pleasant sequel’ to the College Races held one week previously. They consisted of four cycle races, three foot races and a composite race, and the events described by Joyce were the half-mile handicap cycle race and the quarter-mile foot race.3 As per usual somebody’s nose was out of joint about the boy that had the bicycle always riding up and down in front of her window. Only now his father kept him in the evenings studying hard to get an exhibition in the intermediate that was on and he was going to Trinity college to study for a doctor when he left the high school like his brother W. E. Wylie* who was racing in the bicycle races in Trinity college university.4

George Russell, known as Æ, was a dominant figure in the Irish literary renaissance of the period. The bicycle was one of Æ’s trade marks as he travelled all over Ireland organising farmers’ co-operative societies. His eyes followed the high figure in homespun, beard and bicycle, a listening woman at his side. Coming from the vegetarian. Only weggebobbles and fruit. Don’t eat a beefsteak. If you do the eyes of that cow will pursue you through all eternity. They say its healthier.5

In 1881 we find an ancestor of the Bloomsday Bike Rally sponsors, Guinness,

* W. E. Wylie was later a barrrister (1905), served with Trinity College officer corps during the Rising, became a High Court judge in 1920 and was chairman of the Royal Dublin Society for many years (See also Leon Ó Broin’s W. E. Wylie and the Irish Revolution 1916–1921).

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breaking the most unusual world record: ‘On solid tyres and on a high bicycle Harry Guinness won the world record for slow bicycling at Crystal Palace cheered on by a large crowd of supporters’. The high bicycle, then in fashion, was almost impossible to ride at any other than top speed. To travel slowly was an art form.6

We are all proud that, in 1888, an Irishman invented and commercialised the pneumatic tyre.*Greatwheel Dunlop was the name was on him: behung, all we are his bisaacles’.7 Belfast vet, John Boyd Dunlop was experimenting with his son Johnny’s tricycle tyres and developed the pneumatic tyre.8 His veterinary practices were the largest in Northern Ireland and later he had considerable business interests in Dublin.

But few know that in 1876 an Irishman, William Bindon Blood of Clare and Dublin, patented and produced the first new lightweight tricycle.‡ These had been preceded by boneshakers with solid wooden wheels. The new tricycle was the alternative mount for those who were of the wrong age, temperament, physique or sex to ride the ordinary. Between 1876 and 1892 tricycling attracted thousands of adherents who saw themselves as somewhat superior to the common run of bicyclists.

The patent for the Blood tricycle 

My said Invention relates to improvements in tricycles consisting in a novel method of mounting and operating the two front wheels so as to cause the tricycle to run in a curved direction to the right or left, as may be desired; also in an improved system of bracing in order to secure perfect rigidity in the frame; and, thirdly, in a new arrangement for carrying the treadles of a tricycle or other similar machine. My improved tricycle may also be made available for use by ladies.

To carry out my invention I construct a tricycle with one driving wheel which runs behind the seat, and two guiding wheels in front, which are carried in vertical forks.

* Unknown to Dunlop at the time, a William Thompson of Westminster had taken out a patent for an air tyre 43 years earlier, but did not develop his idea commercially.

Among these was Todd, Burns & Co., the department store in Mary Street originally founded by Alexander and his partners Todd and Burns (see Chapter 2) where he was chairman.

The Bloods were cousins of the Findlaters and were partners in Findlater’s Mountjoy Brewery and in William Findlater & Co., solicitors. (See Burke’s Irish Family Records 1976 edition for details of the Blood family.)

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Bloomsday in Dublin

Photo: Peter Thursfield, The Irish Times 15 June 1996

Dawson Street

Joyce Centre

Singing the Rally Anthem—‘Molly Malone’ on the steps of the Mansion House

Photographs: Andy Murray & Paul Oatway

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In 1893 in picturesque College Park, in Dublin’s Trinity College, Charles Findlater won the one-mile bicycle novices’ race and received a magnificent portico clock which one hundred years on sits proudly on my mantelpiece.* Some prize for a novices’ race, it weighs all of three pounds! He also won a number of long distance races with the Irish Road Club. In 1899, again in College Park, surgeon, writer and wit, Oliver St John Gogarty, the basis for the character Buck Mulligan in Ulysses, won virtually all the cycling events in the College races; he was first in the mile, the mile handicap, and the three-mile and would have won the five-mile had his tyre not burst at the beginning of the race. He competed with the Dublin University Cycling Club and was the last of the great Trinity cyclists. Alas he never won an Irish title.9 Those were the days when sport paved the way to student fame in Trinity. The College Races were the most important outdoor social event of the year in Dublin. The Viceroy and his court attended, while it was the occasion of the first showing of summer fashions. Thousands of people attended for the two days and the gathering was enlivened by bookies shouting odds from the back of the crowds. Here is how one spectator described the College Races as early as 1850: ‘Taking my position on an elevation near the Park wall, the coup d’oeil was truly magnificent. Twenty thousand spectators, three-fourths of them the gentler sex, were circled round the scene of operations, and certainly the galaxy of beauties, adorned with all the grace of fashion suited for so brilliant a day, shed a lustre which must have astonished and delighted Phoebus, as it did the writer and all who witnessed it.’10

Bicycles were the trendy purchase of the day, and it is no surprise to find that the Findlaters were in the business, with Martin and Findlaters’ bicycle shop at the lower end of Dawson Street where Waterstones now stands. The wife of Charles’s partner Martin was a twin sister of Alfie Byrne’s mother. Alfie served his apprenticeship in the bicycle shop and was a lifelong friend of the Findlater organisation. ‘Alfie Byrne, the Perennial Lord Mayor of Dublin (ten times), with his neatly waxed moustache, his chain of office, his hand ever outstretched to shake and be shaken, and his wallet always at the service of the destitute. Elected simply on the strength of his personal popularity.’11

It was inconceivable that Joyce would overlook Alfie and so we find him in Joyce’s fairy tale, The Cat and the Devil, published in 1936, where a Monsieur Alfred Byrne was Lord Mayor of Beaugency.

In 1897 while all this was going on in Dublin, two Irishmen, already mentioned in this book, had a most unusual encounter in Edgeware, then a village on the outskirts of London as George Bernard Shaw, a cousin on the Wheeler side of our family, describes in his account ‘On Pleasure Bent’:

It occurred to me that if I went into the country, selected a dangerous hill and rode down it on a bicycle at full speed in the darkest part of the night, some novel and convincing piece of realism might result . . . [and it did]. Probably no man has ever mis-

* Charles, an engineering graduate of Trinity, survived Gallipoli but died on the Somme, aged forty-six.

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Interior of Martin and Findlater’s bicycle shop in Dawson Street

understood another so completely as the doctor misunderstood me when he apologised for the sensation produced by the point of his needle as he corrected the excessive openness of my countenance after the adventure. To him who has endured points made by actors for nearly three years, the point of a surgeon’s darning needle comes as a delicious relief. I did not like to ask him to put in a few more stitches merely to amuse me, as I had already, through pure self-indulgence, cut into his Sunday rest to an extent of which his kindness made me ashamed; but I doubt if I shall ever see a play again without longing for the comparative luxury of that quiet country surgery, with the stillness without broken only by the distant song and throbbing drum-beat of some remote Salvation Army corps, and the needle, with its delicate realism, touching my sensibilities, stitch, stitch, stitch, with absolute sincerity in the hands of an artist who had actually learned his business and knew how to do it.

It so happened that my voice, which is an Irish voice, won for me the sympathy of the doctor. This circumstance must appear amazing almost beyond credibility in the light of the fact that he was himself an Irishman; but so it was. He rightly felt that sympathy is beyond price, and declined to make it the subject of a commercial transaction. Thereby he made it impossible for me to mention his name without black ingratitude; for I know no more effectual way of ruining a man in this country than by making public the smallest propensity on his part to adopt a benevolent attitude towards necessitous strangers. I was no more to him than an untimely stranger with an unheard-of black eye, for this doctor actually did not know who I was.

With a cynicism for which his charity afterwards made me blush, I sought to reassure him as to the pecuniary competence of his muddy, torn, ensanguined and facially spoiled visitor by saying ‘My name is G.B.S.’, as who should say ‘My name is Cecil Rhodes, or Henry Irving, or William of Germany.’ Without turning a hair, he sweetly humoured my egotistic garrulity by replying, in perfect lightness of heart, ‘Mine’s F.; what are you?’ Breathing at last an atmosphere in which it mattered so little who and

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The still unopened Volnay bottle as advertised in The Irish Times on 16 June 1904 and another advertisement for the same wine.

what G.B.S. was, that nobody knew either one or the other, I almost sobbed with relief whilst he threaded his needle with a nice white horsehair, tactfully pretending to listen to my evasive murmur that I was a ‘sort of writer’, an explanation meant to convey to him that I earned a blameless living by inscribing names in letters of gold over shop windows and on perforated wire blinds. To have brought the taint of my factitious little vogue into the unperverted consciousness of his benevolent and sensible life would have been the act of a serpent.12

The ‘F’ in this account was of course Dublin-born and Trinity-educated Dr Alex F., brother of Adam and Charles.

Joyce is well known to have used the Dublin street directory and papers of the day when writing his masterpiece, so it is no surprise to find that on the original 16 June 1904 Findlaters were advertising Burgundy in The Irish Times and that Burgundy finds its way into the text as Bloom lunches in Davy Byrnes ‘Tiptop . . . Let me see. I’ll take a glass of burgundy and . . . let me see’, and ‘Good glass of burgundy, take away that. Lubricate.’13 and ‘Sips of his wine soothed his palate. Not logwood that. Tastes fuller this weather with the chill off.’14 Extraordinarily one unopened bottle of the wine that we advertised on that day has survived to this very day.

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Most characters, merchants and traders of the day find their way into Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, and Adam Findlater Jnr (Chapter 6) is no exception:

Where do they get the money? Coming up redheaded curates from the county Leitrim, rinsing empties and old man in the cellar. Then, lo and behold, they blossom out as Adam Findlaters or Dan Tallons.* Then think of the competition. General thirst. Good puzzle would be cross Dublin without passing a pub. Save it they can’t. Off the drunks perhaps. Put down three and carry five. What is that? A bob here and there, dribs and drabs. On the wholesale orders perhaps. Doing a double shuffle with the town travellers. Square it with the boss and we’ll split the job, see’ .15

As well as in Ulysses, Adam also appears a few times in Finnegans Wake. Without a knowledge of our history the reader would be hard pressed to interpret: ‘While for whoever likes that urogynal pan of cakes one apiece it is thanks, beloved, to Adam, our former first Finnlatter and our grocerest churcher, as per Grippiths’ varuations, for his beautiful crossmess parzel.’16 Or a further play on the church: ‘The Reverest Adam Foundlitter.’ Or yet another ‘By whom as my Kerk Findlater’s, ye little chuch rond ye corner’.17 Or ‘Findlater and Gladstone’s, Corner House, Englend’.§ Or ‘Is that the great Finnleader himself in his joakimono on his statue riding the high horse there forehengist?18

And again, more obscurely,

Yes, we’ve conned thon print in its gloss so gay how it came from Finndlader’s Yule to the day and it’s Hey Tallaght Hoe on the king’s highway with his hounds on the home at a turning’

Which however works better when read to the rhythm of:

Do ye ken John Peel with his coat so grey,

Do ye ken John Peel at the break of day,

Do ye ken John Peel when he’s far far away,

With his hounds & his horn in the morning.

* Dan Tallon was a significant publican who became Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1899 and 1900; Adam was also a substantial licence-holder.

Adam campaigned against a higher rateable valuation on licensed premises and succeeded. Urogynal = original; crossmess = Christmas; former: Adam died in 1911, 28 years before Finnegans Wake was published. Griffith’s Valuation was published in the 1850s.

Finnegans Wake p 420. The Abbey Presbyterian Church in Parnell Square, known as Findlater’s Church, was paid for by Adam’s great-uncle Alexander in 1864.

§ Finnegans Wake p 170. In the 19th century Alexander Findlater of Dublin and Thomas and Robert Gladstone of Liverpool were partners in various wine firms in England. The one Joyce refers to is probably that at Findlater’s Corner under London Bridge. Thomas was related to the prime minister.

Finnegans Wake p 334. I learnt that Adam hunted with the Ward Union from a letter written by his brother Dr Alex from ‘a dug-out, a hole in the ground on the side of a hill’ while engaged in the Gallipoli campaign in 1915: ‘Felt a bit jumpy before the flag fell [fighting started], but now feel as if I am in the middle of a good hunting run as I used to enjoy when having a hunt with poor Adam with the Ward Hounds.’

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The Rally is a jolly affair. Bikes come out of hiding in butchers’ back stores and off pub walls. The bicycle trade comes up trumps with repairs and servicing. Sponsors love the event, there’s a day of fun in and around Dublin’s fair city in return for the modest contribution to the worthy cause. There’s a great buzz of anticipation as the riders robe out in their Joycean garb and sign on in the Harcourt Street Vaults. It’s then wobble, wobble down to St Stephen’s Green and two circuits for the most agile to equalise the veterans and newcomers. The Lord Mayor awaits us outside the Mansion House. The rally anthem, ‘Molly Malone’, is sung with gusto by the participants from the Mansion House steps, conducted by a composer of note. It’s 11 am and the Mayor must signal ‘off.’ Down Dawson Street, into College Green and on to O’Connell Street, up around Parnell Square and to the Joyce Centre for a courtesy call. TV cameras whirl, journalists jockey for position and microphones beg, ‘speak to me’. Edwardian ladies and gentlemen swish and preen as the occasion requires and the old cob horse looks on as if he had seen it all before.

Moore Street, or an appropriate inner city street, calls. Free Guinness and oysters for the riders and stall-holders for twenty minutes. It’s fun, it’s bedlam, it’s organised chaos, above all it’s craic. Everyone gets sustenance, the residents of the street receive a few souvenirs, and the riders leave with their baskets lighter and a few choice words added to their vocabulary, the best to an elegantly dressed solicitor in black topper, ‘You’re a posh shite!’ It’s all in the fun of the day. We push on for pit-stop No. 2, one year it was in Temple Bar, another in the yard of

Grandparents Willie & Lucie’s ‘tandem’ tricycle on which they used to go on picnics.

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Dublin Castle, another amongst the antique shops of Francis Street, and yet another on the cobblestones of Custom House Dock. Tourists stand back in amazement as we crocodile along Henry Street or up Grafton Street, the pennyfarthing man towering over the crowd. Bicycle bells ring-a-ling, hooters honk, and horns hooting achieve a narrow passage through the lunchtime throngs. We need to reach our destination by 1 o’clock, this year and last in the splendour of the newly restored Mansion House Round Room, previously the Shelbourne Hotel ballroom and Trinity College. Here we arrive to a rapturous welcome of some three hundred colourful lunchers who are entering into the spirit of Bloomsday, listening to the brilliance of the writings of James Joyce, enjoying Dublin coddle and contributing to the betterment of the young of the country and true to the motto of the Irish Youth Foundation: ‘Achievement starts with opportunity’.

Notes and references

  1. Gay Byrne The Time of My Life Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1989 p 62
  2. James Joyce Ulysses Harmsworth: Penguin 1968 p 87-8
  3. Trevor West The Bold Collegians—the development of sport in Trinity College DublinDublin: Lilliput Press p 60
  4. James Joyce Ulysses Harmsworth: Penguin 1968 p 347
  5. Ibid. p 165
  6. Michèle Guinness The Guinness Spirit London: Hodder & Stoughton 1999 p 204
  7. James Joyce Finnegans Wake London: Faber 1950 p 58
  8. Old Dublin Society Dublin Historical Record Spring 1996
  9. Trevor West The Bold Collegians–the development of sport in Trinity College Dublin Dublin: Lilliput Press p 47 and Ulick O’Connor The Times I’ve Seen—Oliver St John Gogarty New York; Ivan Obolensky 1963 pp 16, 17
  10. W. T. Meyler St Catherine’s Bells Dublin: McGee 1868 preamble to the second edition
  11. Brian Inglis West Briton London: Faber 1962 p 116
  12. Saturday Review 20 November 1897
  13. James Joyce Ulysses Harmsworth: Penguin 1968 p 171
  14. Ibid. p 173
  15. Ibid. p 60
  16. James Joyce Finnegans Wake London: Faber 1950 p 619
  17. Ibid.. p 533
  18. Ibid. p 214
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