And here’s another story about walking and alcohol, extracted from a footnote in Ellmann’s biography of James Joyce. It concerns his father, John Stanislaus Joyce. In 1902 Joyce pere decided to change the terms of the pension he was receiving from the customs house where he’d worked. He agreed to receive half of what he was getting, and take the rest as a lump sum to buy a house at 7 St Peter’s Terrace (sometimes said to be in Phibsborough, sometimes in Cabra). “He celebrated the purchase by getting drunk,” says Ellmann.
What happens next was told to Ellmann by Alfred Bergan and it certainly has the air of a much told tale, and bergan either had a perfect memory for the spoken word, or he put words into John Joyce’s mouth.
Bergan was standing by Nelson’s Pillar one night, waiting for the last tram home, when John Joyce lurched into view. Thinking the man was in no condition to take care of himself they put him on the tram to Dollymount where they thought he lived, and told the tram conductor to keep an eye on him and make sure he stayed on till the end of the line. But, of course, the Joyces had moved out of Dollymount just a few days earlier.
Bergan encountered John Joyce a few days later, saw he was limping, and asked him what was the matter. John Joyce replied. “A night or two ago some blackguards put me on the wrong tram and sent me off to Dollymount. I had taken a drop too much and did not realize where I was until the tram was approaching Dollymount.”
It was the last tram of the night, so he was stuck there
“When I realized my position I could do nothing but go over and sit on the sea wall and cry. I thought of my wife and family and how anxious they would be at my non-arrival home. After resting on the wall for some time, there was nothing for it but to walk …. The walk from Dollymount to Fairview appeared to me seven miles long, and when I arrived at Clonliffe Road and looked up it appeared to be five miles long. However, after resting two or three times, I got as far as Whitworth Road, and it appeared to be at least four miles in length. After struggling along for hours I eventually arrived at St Peter’s Terrace about 5 o’clock in the morning. I was so exhausted I barely had enough energy to reach up and use the knocker. The door was opened by my wife and I fell into her arms and believe I fainted. I was in bed all next day and could not walk as I had a blister on heel as big as a pigeon’s egg.”
Well, another story from history that would have been ruined if the cell phone had been available at the time. Also a little map work suggests the walk wasn’t quite as long and arduous as it had become in the telling, and retelling, less than five miles, although that’s no doubt plenty when you’ve had a skinful.