On this day…14 May

On 14 May 1894 the Araby bazaar opened in Dublin.

The bazaar opened on Monday 14 May (though the official opening by the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Houghton, only took place on Tuesday 15 May) and ran until Saturday 19 May 1894. It was held in aid of Jervis Street Hospital, an institution run by the Catholic Sisters of Mercy. Joyce used the name ‘Araby’ for one of the stories in Dubliners, the action of which centres on a boy’s visit to the Araby bazaar.

The bazaar was held in the Royal Dublin Society’s grounds in Ballsbridge. Though a proper platform was not built there until 1902, the RDS had paid for a siding to be constructed to allow easy access by train for visitors and the delivery of goods to the show grounds.

The programme for the Araby bazaar promised a ‘Grand Oriental Fete’ and was illustrated with images of an Arab mounted on a camel and oriental-looking buildings with onion domes and minarets. Admission to the bazaar was one shilling. The bazaar had its own theme song, with words by WG Wills and music by Frederick Clay, the first verse of which went

I’ll sing to thee of Araby,
And tales of fair Cashmere,
Wild tales to cheat thee of a sigh,
Or charm thee to a tear.

To add to the oriental atmosphere the catalogue promised a ‘magnificent representation of an oriental city,’ complete with Cairo donkeys and donkey boys, and an Arab encampment. Entertainment would include an international tug-of-war, dances by 250 trained children, eastern magic from the Egyptian Hall in London, ‘skirt dancing up to date,’ a grand theatre of varieties, tableaux, theatricals, and Christy Minstrels.

Other diversions included switchback railways and roundabouts, ‘Menotti, the King of the air,’ the great Stockholm wonder, bicycle polo, rifle and clay pigeon shooting, and magnificent displays of fireworks by Brock, of the Crystal Palace, London.

Further musical entertainment would include ‘The Alhambra,’ an orchestra of 50 performers, the Euterpean Ladies’ Orchestra, and eight military bands, as well as a Café Chantant ‘with all the latest Parisian successes,’ under the management of Mr Houston. The Café promised French, German, Italian, Spanish, English and Irish songs, as well as piano and violin solos and ‘Orpheus Glees.’

Apparently there were numerous bazaars held in Dublin around this time, though often in aid of Protestant or Masonic charities. In 1893, the Archbishop of Dublin William Walsh warned that any Catholic who attended a Masonic bazaar would be liable for excommunication, such was the Catholic fear of the influence of the Masons. Perhaps it is with this in mind that the boy’s aunt in ‘Araby’ expresses her hope that the Araby bazaar is not some Freemason affair.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Gifford, Don: Joyce Annotated – Notes for Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, second edition, Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982.

Joyce, James: Dubliners – An Illustrated Edition, with annotations, eds. John Wyse Jackson & Bernard McGinley, London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1993.