Blazes Boylan, Skin-the-Goat and Frederick Sweny: the real people of ‘Ulysses’

James Joyce populated his chronicle of a day in Dublin with hundreds of people, famous and ordinary, Irish and foreign, contemporary and historical. Knowing who they were throws light on many passages of Joyce’s masterpiece

"They all belong to a vanished world, and most of them seem to have been very curious types" - James Joyce in a letter to Mrs William Murray, December 21st, 1922

When Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare & Company, the Paris bookshop, first published Ulysses in 1922, it was joked that many people checked to see whether they were in it. The book contains hundreds of names, which include historical, legendary and contemporary people from both Ireland and abroad. Many of the individuals it portrayed were well known here at the turn of the 20th century; some of the minor characters also had impressive stories. Knowing who this eclectic mixture of people were creates a vivid picture of Dublin at the time and throws light on many passages in Ulysses. Here are a few of them.

Hugh ‘Blazes’ Boylan

Impresario and advertising man. Partly based on Augustus Boylan, tenor

“Blazes Boylan, Mr Power said. There he is airing his quiff”

Hugh “Blazes” Boylan, Molly Bloom’s lover, is a composite character. Partly, he is based on a horse dealer named James Daly from Islandbridge, and on another horse dealer named Ted Keogh. But Blazes Boylan for the most part is based on Augustus Boylan the tenor.

Boylan was born at 10 Pim Street, Dublin, in December 1872. He started his apprenticeship as a cooper in Guinness’s Brewery aged 15. The Boylan family had been in this trade for generations and his father and grandfather had both worked as coopers with Guinness. After seven years’ training, he officially became an employee and his 42 years service in the cooperage began.

Boylan won first prize at several competitions of the Oireachtas and Leinster Feis and in 1904, he sang in the Feis Ceoil – in which Joyce participated – as part of a quartet which won the prize-winning anthem. A member of the Palestrina Choir for 37 years, Boylan sang on the same platform as John McCormack at a concert held at the Rotunda, to raise funds for McCormack to travel to the US. The success of that American tour established McCormack’s international reputation.

Mrs ‘Dante’ Riordan

Widow living with the Dedaluses, based on Mrs Elizabeth Conway, governess to the Joyce children

“Mrs Riordan (Dante), a widow of independent means, had resided in the house of Stephen’s parents”

Elizabeth Conway, born in 1827, was supposedly a distant relation of John Stanislaus Joyce on his mother’s side. She entered a convent in the US but before taking her final vows she quit – when her brother died in 1862, leaving her the large sum of £30,000. She returned to Ireland and settled in Dublin where she married Patrick Henry Conway, a clerk in the Bank of Ireland. After a couple years of marriage, he absconded to Buenos Aires with most of his wife’s fortune. She became an abandoned wife and was embittered as a result.

Mrs Conway joined the Joyce family as a governess to the children in the autumn of 1888 while they were living at 1 Martello Terrace in Bray. She remained with the family when they moved to "Leoville", 23 Carysfort Avenue in Blackrock, but left after a disagreement about Parnell with Joyce's father. Stanislaus Joyce recounts in My Brother's Keeper that she was the most bigoted person that he ever had the misfortune to encounter. She died in 1896.

James ‘Skin-the-Goat’ FitzHarris

Cab driver

“F to P is the route Skin-the-Goat drove the car for an alibi, Inchicore, Roundtown, Windy Arbour, Palmerston Park, Ranelagh. F. A. B. P. Got that? X is Davy’s publichouse in upper Leeson street”

James FitzHarris, known as Skin-the-Goat, was born on October 4th, 1833 at Clonee, Co Wexford. From a family of evicted farmers, he was forced to seek employment in Dublin. He became a well-known Dublin jarvey or cab driver, and was described as coarsely cheerful and robust. He got the nickname from a goat he found plucking at the straw that filled a horse’s collar. He killed the goat, skinned it and used its hide to cover his knees while driving. Another story is that he sold the hide of his pet animal to pay for his drinking debts.

It was FitzHarris who drove the Invincibles to the Phoenix Park on May 6th, 1882 when Lord Frederick Cavendish, the chief secretary for Ireland, and Thomas Henry Burke, the under-secretary, were assassinated. It is not known whether FitzHarris was a member of the Invincibles but he was among a number of men arrested and put on trial. Five were sentenced and executed at Kilmainham Gaol.

FitzHarris was offered £10,000 by the British government, and transport to any foreign place of his choice, to inform on the men. He declined and – although not guilty of murder – was sentenced to penal servitude for his part in the affair. He later declared: “I came from Sliabh Buidhe where a crow never flew over the head of an informer.” He died in 1910 in the South Dublin Union Workhouse on James’s Street. A memorial plaque was unveiled by the National Graves Association on his grave in Glasnevin Cemetery on July 14th, 1968.

Michael Cusack

Co-founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association

“Come around to Barney Kiernan’s, says Joe. I want to see the citizen”

Michael Cusack, on whom the Citizen is based, was born in 1847 in Carron on the eastern edge of the Burren in north Clare, the son of Matthew Cusack and Bridget Flannery. He became a teacher and taught at various schools including the District Model School in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford; St Colman’s College, Newry; Blackrock College, Dublin; and Clongowes Wood College, Co Kildare.

He opened the successful Civil Service Academy in Gardiner Street, Dublin. Here students trained for entrance examinations to Trinity College Dublin, to law and medical schools, the constabulary, the army and the navy.

Cusack was a co-founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Hayes' Commercial Hotel in Thurles, Co. Tipperary in November 1884. He became involved in the Irish language movement, and was founder of a weekly newspaper, The Celtic Times, which was devoted to Irish culture, "native games" and athletics. Michael Cusack, also known as "Citizen Cusack", died on November 28th, 1906, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

Elizabeth Aldworth

(Née St Leger) First woman Freemason

“There was one woman . . . hid herself in a clock to find out what they do be doing . . . That was one of the saint Legers of Doneraile”

Elizabeth Aldworth, born in 1865, was the only daughter of Viscount Doneraile, and Elizabeth Hayes, daughter and heiress of John Hayes of Winchilsea. She is credited as being the first woman Freemason. The exact date of her initiation into Masonry is not known but it is believed that it took place some time between 1710 and 1713 at Doneraile Court, Co Cork, where she lived with her father Arthur St Leger, First Baron Kilmayden.

The story goes that Elizabeth was reading in the library and fell asleep and awoke to the sound of voices in the adjoining room. Her only way out of the library was through the Lodge Room, which was used for Masonic purposes. Part of the wall dividing the two rooms was in the process of being removed to make an arch. From behind the loosely placed bricks of the dividing wall, Elizabeth observed the proceedings of the lodge. There was only one course of action to be taken in the circumstances and she consented to “pass through the impressive ceremonials she had already in part witnessed”.

The Honourable Mrs Aldworth died in 1775 and was buried in the Davis vault beneath the old cathedral of St Finbarr in Cork. When the present 19-century cathedral was built, her remains were moved and placed in the floor of the small chamber situated in the Great Tower.

James Billington

English hangman

“Billington executed the awful murderer Toad Smith”

James Billington came from Farnworth, near Bolton in Lancashire, and had a lifelong fascination with hanging. He was originally a barber and continued for a time to shave men between hangings. Billington carried out his first execution, aged 37, on August 26th, 1884, at Armley Jail in Leeds.

According to the Weekly Freeman, January 14th, 1899, he had carried out work in Ireland during his vacation: "On Saturday he hanged a man named Patrick Holmes at Kilkenny. On Tuesday he killed another murderer in Armagh Jail, while still another victim awaited his hands in the same building on Friday. Many years have passed since so many executions took place within a few days in this country. We trust that when he leaves our shores, Billington will not be summoned back again for the rest of his life."

Billington contracted a cold at the scaffold on December 3rd, 1901 and died from pneumonia on December 20th. He had carried out 151 executions during his career as a hangman. He was succeeded by one of his sons, who had gained ample experience as his assistant.

Kitty Ricketts

Employed at Bella Cohen’s establishment, possibly based on Becky Cooper, a Dublin prostitute

“Kitty Ricketts bends her head. Her boa uncoils, slides, glides over her shoulder, back, arm, chair to the ground”

The description of Kitty Ricketts, who worked in Bella Cohen’s brothel at 82 Tyrone Street Lower in Monto, suggests that she may be based on Becky Cooper. Cooper was probably the best-known Dublin prostitute from 1900 until the 1920s. An attractive, well-dressed woman of strong character, Cooper was one of the last madams in Monto. She ran a kip house in Tyrone Street, which faced the Leinster Arms in Railway Street. When the tenements in Railway Street were demolished and replaced with flats, Cooper moved to live in Liberty House Flats. She gave money to various charities and was generous to the poor. When she took a fancy to a young man, she would sometimes embarrass him by buying him new clothes or giving him money.

Rev John Conmee

SJ Superior, St Francis Xavier’s Community

“The superior, the very reverend John Conmee S. J. reset his smooth watch in his interior pocket as he came down the presbytery steps”

John Conmee, one of several Jesuit priests mentioned in Ulysses, was born into a wealthy farming family on December 25th, 1847, near Athlone. He first went to Castleknock College but changed to the Jesuits at Clongowes Wood College, Co Kildare, when he was 16. In 1869, he joined the Society of Jesus at Milltown Park in Dublin and continued his studies at the Jesuit houses of Roehampton and Stonyhurst in England. He studied theology in Innsbruck and was ordained priest by Archbishop Croke in 1881.

Fr Conmee moved to Clongowes as prefect of studies. In 1885 he was appointed rector, a position he held until 1891 – during the time that James Joyce was a pupil at the school. Conmee was appointed the superior at St Francis Xavier's Community in Gardiner Street in 1898. He was elected provincial of the Irish Jesuits in 1905. When his term ended, he became rector of Milltown Park. The Catholic Truth Society published his book Old Times in the Barony in 1910 – the year that he died.

Cashel Boyle O’Connor Fitzmaurice Tisdall Farrell

aka Endymion

“Cashel Boyle O’Connor Fitzmaurice Tisdall Farrell, murmuring, glassyeyed, strode past the Kildare street club”

Endymion was the nickname of James Farrell, a Dublin eccentric who was born in 1851. He worked for a time as an excise officer but was injured when he tried to rescue a colleague who had fallen into a brewery vessel. He became eccentric and suffered from delusions. He lived in rented accommodation at various addresses in Dublin, which included boarding houses in Pleasants Street, off Camden Street, 7 Charlemont Road, Clontarf and Baggot Street.

Gogarty describes the flamboyantly dressed Farrell in the opening chapter of his book, As I Was Going down Sackville Street: "He wore a tailcoat over white cricket trousers, which were caught in at the ankles by a pair of cuffs. A cuff-like collar sloped upwards to keep erect a little sandy head, crowned by a black bowler some sizes too small."

Farrell read in the National Library. When he left for home he would cross into the street, then produce a large compass from his pocket and set his course for home. At the Ballast Office clock, by which all watches were set, Farrell would salute it with drawn sword, much to the delight of the crowd of bystanders who gathered to watch. He would then take a large alarm clock from his pocket, set it and carefully replace it in his pocket, from which it would ring loudly as he left.

Elizabeth Twigg


“No time to do her hair drinking sloppy tea with a book of poetry”

Elizabeth Ann Twigg, better known as Lizzie Twigg, was born in India in a garrison town, now known as Jabalpur. She was the daughter of William Twigg, a sergeant major in the 2nd Battalion of the Scottish Rifles and Eliza Hayes. Lizzie’s mother died in 1890 and she and her father returned to Limerick. He married a second time to Frances McCarthy from Cork in 1892.

Twigg was educated at the Presentation Convent in Sexton Street and later moved to Dublin, where she did a course at St Kevin's House for Business Girls, located at 40 to 42 Rutland Square West (now Parnell Square). A number of her poems were published in the United Irishman in 1903 under the name Lizzie Twigg. She also contributed to the Irish Rosary almost every week, producing up to 50 poems a year. A protegee of Æ (George Russell), she also published under her Gaelic name, Éilís Ní Chraoibhín. Twigg spent her final years in Limerick engaged in social work and in efforts to improve housing conditions. She died in 1933, aged 51.

Frederick Sweny


“Sweny’s in Lincoln place. Chemists rarely move”

Frederick William Sweny, one of nine children, was born in 1856 at 1 Lincoln Place, Dublin. He was the son of Mark Sweny, a medical doctor and pharmacist, the proprietor of Sweny’s chemist shop at 1 Lincoln Place. Sweny was only 13 when his father died. After school, he studied pharmacy and took over the shop. He married Sarah Jane Owens in 1884 and they had seven children, only three of whom survived.

Sweny died on March 11th, 1924, and was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold's Cross, Dublin. The shop is still there and readings from Ulysses are held daily.

Mary Anderson


“Quite so, Martin Cunningham said. Mary Anderson is up there now”

Mary Anderson was one of the most prominent actors of the era in the US. During the height of her acting career, she came to London in September 1883 and played to full houses. She remained for five years before returning to the States in 1888. Suffering from exhaustion, Anderson returned to Europe in 1889 to recuperate and more or less gave up the professional stage except for rare occasions where she made an appearance for charity.

In the Freeman's Journal, on June 16th, 1904, the Ulster Hall in Belfast advertised the visit of the world-renowned actress Mary Anderson (Madame de Navarro) in the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. The concert was in aid of the Holy Cross Church in Ardoyne. Mary Anderson died, aged 81, on May 29th, 1940, in Broadway, Worcestershire, where she had strong connections to the monastery of the Passsionist Fathers.

Dr Hy Franks

Quack doctor

“That quack doctor for the clap used to be stuck up in all the greenhouses . . . Dr Hy Franks”

Dr Hy Franks, born in 1852, was one of the pseudonyms of John Farlow. His father Samuel Farlow died in January 1877 leaving property, which was sold.

From his share of the proceeds John opened a chemist shop at 14 Berkeley Road. He advertised in newspapers, such as appeared on August 27th, 1890, in The Irish Times, offering remedies for various disorders: "Nervousness, Physical and Functional Weakness, Blood and Skin Diseases cured by Dr Henry Franks. Thousands cured annually." He also advertised using posters pasted up on Dublin urinals, offering treatment for venereal diseases.

In November 1893, at the Southern Police Court in Dublin, he was prosecuted in the name of Adam J Farlow, alias Dr Henry Franks, alias J Wilsome. The charge was of endeavouring to procure a lady for immoral purposes. Farlow was found guilty and sentenced to one year in prison. He was expelled from the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland and lost his business. The court proceedings in the case are of interest as other characters mentioned in Ulysses were involved, such as Mr Tobias, solicitor, Mr Carlyle, manager of The Irish Times, and Mr Mallon, assistant commissioner of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

Joseph Patrick Nannetti

Foreman printer and politician

“Through a lane of clanking drums he made his way towards Nannetti’s reading closet”

Joseph Patrick Nannetti’s father – also Joseph – was a sculptor and modeller with a business at Church Street before moving in 1843 to Great Brunswick Street. The Nannetti family, originally from Naples, was resident in Dublin from the 1830s.

Nannetti, born in 1851, was apprenticed to the printing trade and employed for a time in Liverpool, where he was a founder member of the Home Rule organisation in that city. On his return to Dublin, he became a foreman printer on the Freeman's Journal.

In 1898, Nannetti was elected to Dublin City Council as councillor for the Rotunda Ward and in 1900 he was elected as MP for the College Green Division of Dublin, representing the Irish Parliamentary Party. He served as lord mayor of Dublin for two terms of office, 1906-7 and 1907-8. Nanetti continued to serve as MP and councillor until his death in 1915.

Miss Dubedat

Soprano and music teacher

“May I tempt you to a little more filleted lemon sole, miss Dubedat? Yes, do bedad. And she did bedad. Huguenot name I expect that. A miss Dubedat lived in Killiney, I remember”

Marie (Martha J) Dubedat was born in Dublin on January 25th, 1860, at Compton House, South Circular Road. She was a soprano and known in musical circles in Dublin in the late 1800s. Marie Dubedat seems to have been a stage name – her real name was Martha J Dubedat and she was a teacher of singing and performed in concerts in Dublin during the 1880s and the 1890s. From November 13th, 1893, for a few nights The Fisherman's Daughter was performed at the Queen's Royal Theatre, Hawkins Street, in which Miss Dubedat played the part of Kitty. In 1894, she sang in the Queen's Royal Theatre and the Leinster Hall, Hawkins Street.

Dubedat seems to have spent a lot of time in England, as evidenced by the social columns in The Irish Times: "Miss Dubedat has returned to her residence, 18 Charleville Road, Rathmines, from England".

Ignatius Gallaher

Based on Fred Gallaher, a journalist

“Gallaher, that was a pressman for you. That was a pen”

Ignatius Gallaher, born in 1854, was modelled on Fred Gallaher, born one of the best-known journalists of his time. Originally from Cork, the family moved to Dublin. His father was appointed chief sub-editor of the Freeman's Journal, a position he held for many years. Ignatius Gallaher joined the Freeman's Journal aged 15 and his brother Joe also worked there. He married Sarah Martin in 1874 and they lived at 37 Blessington Street, before moving to Rathmines. According to Myles Crawford in Ulysses, Gallaher was first to convey by telegraph the news of the Phoenix Park murders of 1882 to the New York World, supplying a map of the murderers' escape route. In 1890, Gallaher was formally appointed to a prominent position on the Sportsman, and was based permanently in London. He died on May 2nd, 1899, in London and he was buried at St Mary's Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green.

Lady Dudley


“Lady Dudley was walking home through the park to see all the trees that were blown down by that cyclone last year and thought she’d buy a view of Dublin”

Rachel Gurney, daughter of Charles Henry Gurney, a Quaker banker from Norfolk, was born in England. Described as being “beautiful as a marble statue . . . a carved lily”, she married William Ward, 2nd earl of Dudley, at Chelsea on September 14th, 1891. Subsequently he served as lord lieutenant of Ireland from 1902 to 1905. The couple had seven children and separated in 1912.

During the first World War, Lady Dudley set up a hospital for Australians in northern France and was awarded the Royal Red Cross and appointed CBE.

The Earl of Dudley and Lady Dudley often stayed at Screebe Lodge in Connemara, Co Galway, when he was Lord Lieutenant. She loved the area and returned in June 1920. She drowned, aged 44, while swimming in Screebe Lake, adjoining the lodge in Connemara, on June 26th, 1920.

Denis Maginni

Professor of dancing

“Mr Denis J Maginni, professor of dancing & c, in silk hat, slate frockcoat with silk facings, white kerchief tie, tight lavender trousers, canary gloves and pointed patent boots . . .”

Denis J Maginni, whose birth name was actually Maginn, was born in Dublin in September 1846. He started his career as a law clerk and was living at 37 Lower Gloucester Street, Dublin, when he married Mary Healy in 1872. Two years later he left his position as a law clerk and took up tailoring, joining his wife’s family business.

He moved with his family to 13 Eden Quay and then to 112 Lower Gardiner Street. It was at this address that the first advertisements for his dancing classes appeared. He changed his name to Signor Maginni as it sounded Italian and more appropriate for a teacher of dancing. Maginni moved to 32 North Great George’s Street, where he lived with his wife, four surviving children and a relative named Michael Healy. In 1901, Maginni is listed at this address with the title “Professor of Dancing”. He rented an extra room at 35 North Great George’s Street, and it was here that he ran his most successful dance academy.

Maginni was described as a dark, middle-aged, dapper little man. He would outlive his wife and children and died on April 12th, 1915. He is buried in Glasnevin in the same grave as his wife, Mary, and daughter, Elizabeth.

Sir Andrew Horne

Master of the National Maternity Hospital

“She’s in the lying-in hospital in Holles street. Dr Horne got her in”

Andrew Horne was born in 1856 in Ballinasloe, Co Galway. His father was a wealthy merchant and the family lived over his shop. He obtained the licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1877. Horne was assistant master at the Rotunda Hospital after which time he did postgraduate work in Vienna, returning home in December 1883. He married Margaret Norman in 1884 and they had five children, four of whom survived infancy.

The family lived for 10 years at 28 Harcourt Street where Horne had a private practice. It was an irregular lifestyle with many night calls. Colman Saunders, a distinguished paediatrician, gives a description of Dr Horne going to Glenageary. He was “dressed in the uniform of the Consultant of those days – a top hat, frock coat and a long black overcoat with an astrakhan collar and carrying a massive black bag”.

In March 1894 when the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, Dublin, was founded, Dr Horne became joint master and subsequently master. He remained there for 30 years and helped set up the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and many other public organisations. He died in 1924.


Winner of the Ascot Gold Cup, June 16th, 1904

“And that Goddamned outsider Throwaway at twenty to one”

Throwaway, one of 14 racehorses referenced in Ulysses, was born in 1899 and was by Rightaway out of Theale. Between the years of 1901 and 1905, Throwaway ran in races at Chester, Bath, Liverpool, Newcastle, Gosforth Park, Newmarket, Ascot and Doncaster.

A rank outsider, Throwaway won the Gold Cup race held at 3pm at Ascot on June 16th, 1904.

These are edited extracts from The Real People of Joyce's Ulysses: A Biographical Guide, by Dr Vivien Igoe, published by UCD Press

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