Trams in Dubliners
"The street was busy with unusual traffic, loud with the horns of motorists and the gongs of impatient tram-drivers".
When James Joyce wrote Dubliners and captured part of the essence of Dublin at the turn of the twentieth century it is no surprise that Dublin's trams feature again and again in the stories. The new "electric trams" had become hugely popular in a few short years. This was indeed the heyday of the tram although neither Joyce nor the characters who reach out to us from Dubliners were aware that the electric tram's period of dominance would be short and sweet and that in a few short decades it would be replaced by the motor bus. Indeed, Dublin was well ahead of most comparable cities in embracing the electric tram. Thankfully, the start of the 21st century saw the return of trams to Dublin, as light rail in the shape of the modern Luas returned to some of the routes which the old network or spider's web of trams had served so well, albeit for a short period.
Image Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland. Reference: L_ROY_03458 (click image to see larger version).
It is very clear from the references to trams in Dubliners that trams and tram travel were a quintessential part of the Dublin which Joyce observed and preserved for posterity:
"His head was full of the noises of tram-gongs and swishing trolleys and his nose already sniffed the curling fumes punch".
The entire horse-drawn tram network had just been electrified and Dublin was well ahead of almost all other UK cities in the way that it embraced the new technology. Indeed, the revolution in transport which came with the electric tram was delivered in a couple of years. The network was extensive and trams are identified by their destination in the text as numbers had not yet been introduced:
"A very sullen-faced man stood at the corner of O’Connell Bridge waiting for the little Sandymount tram to take him home".
And again, "His tram let him down at Shelbourne Road and he steered his great body along in the shadow of the wall of the barracks".
There was a very significant tram depot at Shelbourne Road where Ballsbridge Motors is now located. Other locations which feature are places like Chapelizod and this reference to Drumcondra: "She thought she would have to stand in the Drumcondra tram because none of the young men seemed to notice her but an elderly gentleman made room for her". What chance of that today on the Luas?
There are over twenty individual references to trams in Dubliners and there is no doubt that in Dubliners one gets a sense of how central the tram was to Dublin at the turn of the twentieth century. By all accounts Dublin's tram system was reliable, efficient and very popular with Dubliners of the early twentieth century and it is a source of pride to those who are linked to Luas that this traditional Dublin tram has been restored to its rightful position at the heart of the modern city and that "now and again a tram was heard swishing along the lonely road outside" is as relevant in 2012 as it was in 1912.