The 'Aeolus' episode of Ulysses opens with a description of the Dublin City Council's tramway terminus by O'Connell Bridge, the hub of what was in 1906 the most modern and complex system in Europe. Here it is, with all its wonderful urban bustle:
IN THE HEART OF THE HIBERNIAN METROPOLIS
Before Nelson's pillar trams slowed, shunted, changed trolley, started for Blackrock, Kingstown and Dalkey, Clonskea, Rathgar and Terenure, Palmerston Park and upper Rathmines, Sandymount Green, Rathmines, Ringsend and Sandymount Tower, Harold's Cross. The hoarse Dublin United Tramway Company's timekeeper bawled them off:
—Rathgar and Terenure!
—Come on, Sandymount Green!
Right and left parallel clanging ringing a doubledecker and a singledeck moved from their railheads, swerved to the down line, glided parallel.
—Start, Palmerston Park!
Between 1938 and 1940 the trams - all 330 of them - were decommissioned and replaced with 220 double-decker buses built by the Leyland Company in England whose promotional slogan could have come from the pages of Finnegans Wake: ‘When you bury a tram, mark the spot with a Titan’.
Of the countless books inspired by Ulysses the most engagingly eccentric is surely The Bloomsday Trams: Dublin's Tramway Fleet of James Joyce's Ulysses, by David Foley. M. A.. The author modestly admits in his introduction that he 'was unprepared for how difficult this task was to become' although he is is undaunted by any slight reputation Joyce may have established as a tramway expert. The first chapter lists 'those tramway references that need explanation and in some cases correction from Joyce'.
The most startling fact (and there are many) is that Dublin trams carried symbols instead of numbers from 1903 to 1922 - presumably to cater for the illiterate. Here they are in all their baffling glory - and I wonder if there's any connection to the cryptic sigla of Finnegans Wake?