I wish to inform you of a manuscript letter I have found written and signed on headed notepaper on 2 April 1868 by James Whiteside (1804–1876), during his tenure as Chief Justice of the Queen’s Bench in Ireland (between 1866 and 1876). In this letter, Whiteside mentions “dear dirty Dublin,” a phrase often associated with James Joyce. As is well known, Joyce used it in the set of short stories that comprise Dubliners and in the presentation of Dublin in Ulysses (D 75, U.7.921). While Joyce, in his literary experimentation, coined a myriad of new words, he did not create the term “dear dirty Dublin.” The origin of this popular, pithy utterance is something I have been curious about for many years because, like Joyce, I was born and bred in Dublin and also educated by the Jesuits. Therefore, in my current role as librarian and legal bibliographer, I am keen to share this discovery with your readers.
A few commentators suggest that the expression was part of contemporary oral culture; others mistakenly claim that the Irish novelist, Lady Sydney Morgan, was its originator. I propose that some credit for this alliterative epithet should be given to Whiteside, one of Ireland’s most eminent lawyers in the Victorian era, whom Joyce himself had recognized in Ulysses as “a master of forensic eloquence” (U 7.735–36). In the source I have located, Whiteside expresses interest in a House of Commons winding-up speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli on the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. The final comment in the letter prepared by Whiteside, in which he discusses family and travel arrangements, reads: “I return to my wife and my duties in dear dirty Dublin.” I believe that Whiteside’s use of this phrase is among the earliest so far identified. [End Page 795]