Bloomsday for Cab Drivers / 21: Jarvies / 1
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Click on the picture to see a larger version.
An Irish Jaunting Car, County Kerry. Photograph by J. Valentine & Co., registered 31 August 1950.

This postwar photo was taken at Bray Head, a resort on the opposite side of Ireland from Dublin, about 325 kilometres to the southwest. As automobiles took over the cab trade, jaunting cars took on a new life as tourist attractions and despite their spartan and even precarious seating arrangements they remain popular with tourists today.

University of St. Andrews Library Photographic Archive. Record number JV-R2085. Click here to view source.

Bloomsday for Cab Drivers / 21

Jarvies / 1

Jaunting car drivers were sometimes called "carmen" (Joyce refers once to a "carman" in Ulysses) but a more common name for them was "jarvey".

This word dates back to the 17th or 18th century, when jarvey was the usual term for a London hackney coachman. The origin of the term is obscure and the explanations not very convincing.

One derivation links jarvey to St. Gervais on the grounds that the good saint's symbol was a whip.

Another one, equally dubious but quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary, derives jarvey "from a coachman named Jarvis who was hanged".

By the 1880's "jarvey" had passed out of fashion in England and was replaced by the more familiar "cabby", but the older term remained popular in Ireland. Joyce uses "jarvey" twenty times or more in Ulysses; for example:

Mr Kernan turned and walked down the slope of Watling street by the corner of Guinness's visitors' waitingroom. Outside the Dublin Distillers Company's stores an outside car without fare or jarvey stood, the reins knotted to the wheel. Damn dangerous thing. Some Tipperary bosthoon endangering the lives of the citizens. Runaway horse. [10 773 / 11555]

In calling the absent jarvey a "Tipperary bosthoon", Mr. Kernan assumes he is an untutored immigrant from County Tipperary, about 50 miles southwest of Dublin. From this it would seem that driving a jaunting car was the first rung on the employment ladder for many newcomers to the big city, much as driving a taxi is in all big cities today.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "bosthoon" (meaning an awkward, tactless or senseless person) is derived from the Gaelic "bastun", a flexible whip made of green rods.

The whip was both a tool and a symbol of the horse-cab trade (London cab drivers were sometimes jokingly referred to as "Knights of the Whip").

Did Joyce deliberately choose "bosthoon" because of this connection? Maybe yes, or maybe he just liked the sound of the word. We'll never know for sure, but you can see how easy it is to get sucked into speculations about Joyce's use of symbolism.

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