On 4 June 1902 Cranly took Stephen Dedalus to the races at Leopardstown.
In the ‘Nestor’ episode of Ulysses, Stephen’s thoughts turn to 4 June 1902, the day Cranly took him to Leopardstown Racecourse. On that day the horse Fair Rebel, by Circassian out of Liberty, owned by WP Cullen, was the even-money favourite, and won the Curragh Plate race with a purse of fifty sovereigns. Apparently the bookies were also offering odds of ten to one that no other horse would beat him.
Stephen’s thoughts at this point are following a fairly logical progression from Mr Deasy’s talk of his rebel ancestor riding to Dublin to vote for the dissolution of the Irish parliament, to the framed pictures of racehorses on the walls, and Stephen’s main concern in his interview with Mr Deasy: the money that is owed to him and that he owes to others.
It seems that Cranly had brought Stephen to the races that day on the promise of a ‘get rich quick’ scheme, though it seems likely they did not enrich themselves as a result. Stephen’s recollections shift quickly from the horse and the odds to details of the race meeting, like the cheats and swindlers, and a meat-faced butcher’s wife eating an orange.
The date of the race meeting is not mentioned in Ulysses. Robert Martin Adams traces it back to the races at Leopardstown on 4 June 1902 based on the fact that the bookies never offered such favourable odds on Fair Rebel again after this particular meeting. Adams uses it as an example of how accurate and literal Joyce can be (when he wants to be!) in getting certain details absolutely correct.
The character Cranly was based on Joyce’s friend from university, John Francis Byrne, who was living at no. 7 Eccles Street when Joyce revisited Dublin in 1909.
Sources & Further Reading:
Adams, Robert Martin: Surface and Symbol – The Consistency of James Joyce’s Ulysses, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967.