1897 - 1904

Dubliners: The Photographs of JJ Clarke

National Library of Ireland

A glimpse of James Joyce's Dublin

“Dubliners” is a unique record of life in Dublin, Ireland, at the turn of the last century.

JJ Clarke, from Castleblaney, Co Monaghan, took the photographs between 1897 and 1904, when he was a medical student in Dublin.  Dr Clarke’s photojournalistic approach to his subjects allowed him to capture vivid scenes from the daily lives of Dublin's men, women and children. 

 Compelling  in themselves, the images also show us how the city  looked to writer James Joyce. His best known works - the short story collection Dubliners, and the novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses - are all set around this time, when Joyce too was a young student fascinated by the world around him.

Walking through Joyce's City


Many of JJ Clarke's photographs show Dubliners making their way along the city streets, or taking a moment's rest.

These figures could easily have appeared in any of Joyce's works, and been passed by Stephen Dedalus or Leopold Bloom as they wander through the fictional Dublin of Ulysses on 16 June 1904. 

Young man walking and smoking a pipe on Merrion Square. 
Young woman at the gate of Leinster House. The National Library of Ireland is visible behind her.

The river Liffey runs through the centre of Dublin city, and features throughout the work of James Joyce.  This view shows Ormond Quay, where Leopold Bloom, a central character in Ulysses, spends some time in the Ormond Hotel.

Two well-dressed gentlemen outside a tobacconist's shop
Woman walking past stationery shop on O'Connell (Sackville) Street
Motor car driving on St Stephen's Green

The driver of this Lanchester motor car appears to be  the famous British racing driver, Charles Jarrott. Jarrott  competed in the 1903 Gordon Bennett Race, the first international motor race to take place in Ireland. 

Joyce's short story “After the Race”, which was first published in 1904, uses this race for its background. 

Gentleman in top hat on Earlsfort Terrace
Woman sitting on a wall, possibly at one of the Kingstown line stations 
Pedestrians on Grafton Street, the fashionable shopping street.

Beside the Seaside 

Several chapters of Ulysses are set beside the sea - the novel opens in the Martello Tower on the coast at Sandycove. In the “Proteus” chapter Stephen Dedalus walks along Sandymount Strand, and later in the day we find Leopold Bloom in the same location.

Trips to the seaside were popular outings for Dubliners. 

Sailors (possibly Russian) at Kingstown
Two young people sitting on a bathing machine

The building in the distance may be one of Ireland’s few seaside piers, the Merrion Pier and Baths on Sandymount Strand - the beach which features twice in Ulysses.

Matters of Life and Death 

In 1902, Joyce left Dublin for Paris, intending to study medicine. His plans did not work out, and he came back to Dublin in 1903, where his mother was dying of cancer. 

The first character we meet in Ulysses is Buck Mulligan, a medical student, and the “Oxen of the Sun” chapter in that novel is set in the maternity hospital at Holles Street. 

Young man with skeleton, possibly JJ Clarke himself

A funeral procession moving along Berkeley Street, seen from Blessington Street. In Ulysses, Leopold Bloom travels to a funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery, which actually travels along Blessington Street and turns into Berkeley Street. 

Nurse walking on Merrion Square, close to the maternity hospital on Holles Street
Doctor with Gladstone bag

Joyce & Clarke's Library

The National Library of Ireland on Kildare Street was a bustling place full of young people, at the time when Clarke and Joyce were students. 

Joyce knew the librarians well, and set one of the chapters of Ulysses, “Scylla and Charybdis”, in the domed Reading Room

Woman carrying book on her way into the National Library
Library assistant and boy attendant in the Reading Room of the National Library
Readers entering the National Library from Kildare Street
Man with a cane outside the National Library. 
Credits: Story

Curator of original exhibition at the National Photographic Archive — Gráinne MacLochlainn, Assistant Keeper, National Library of Ireland

Credits: All media
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