Thursday, June 16, 2016

Bloomsday 2016: In celebration of the Dublin of James Joyce

In St. Stephen's Green is a bust honouring Joyce.
The quotation, "Crossing Stephen's, that is, my green", is from Joyce's
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Happy Bloomsday!

Unfortunately, today I am not in my beloved Dublin to celebrate Bloomsday; however, the city centre is no doubt full of Joyce fans, turned out in their best Edwardian togs, primed to revel in all things Joycean on this day.

Bloomsday is the day on which the life of Irish writer James Joyce is celebrated. It is annually observed on 16 June, the date on which the events of his masterwork Ulysses take place. It is said Joyce chose 16 June for the novel because on that day in 1904 he enjoyed his first outing with Nora Barnacle, the woman who would eventually become his wife. (They had two children: Giorgio [b.1905] and Lucia [b.1907], but did not marry until 1931.) On that very first excursion of 16 June, the couple apparently enjoyed a pleasant walk to Ringsend, Dublin.

The name of this day of celebration, coined in 1954, is derived from the surname of the principal figure in the novel, Leopold Bloom. The 'action' of the novel takes place over the course of one day in the life of Leopold Bloom.

In addition to pub crawls and other gatherings of celebration, one of the principal activities of the day is the tracing of events which are depicted in Joyce's Ulysses. All over Dublin, as well as in other places around the world, groups of people gather together to read aloud from Ulysses, with many dressed in full Edwardian garb, carrying parasols, and delighting in everything Joycean. A little madness is good for the soul, but I wonder what James Joyce would have made of it all.

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (1882-1941)
Although Ulysses is a work of fiction, within its pages Joyce makes reference to numerous historical figures, as well as sites from all around Dublin City, and places further afield. Some of these persons and sites are connected to my family members.

When I first began to research my Irish family history, I learned that my family is connected to James Joyce, not by blood mind you, but by friendship. Thomas Michael Kettle, my maternal great-grandfather's first cousin, about whom I have previously written, attended university with James Joyce at the Royal University of Ireland (now called University College Dublin, UCD). Joyce was part of Kettle's group of intimates, which included Kettle's future brother-in-law Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, the writer Padraic Colum, and the poet and memoirist Oliver St. John Gogarty. How I would love to have been a fly on the wall at one of their gatherings.

Joyce is said to have been in love with Mary Sheehy, whom Tom Kettle married in 1909. During their university years Kettle and Joyce were among those visitors most frequently invited to enjoy the 'at home' parties on the 2nd Saturday of every month in the Sheehy home on Belvedere Place in Dublin. The family of Mary Sheehy is mentioned in Ulysses, when Rev. John Conmee greets Mary's mother, Mrs. Sheehy, in the street and asks about Mary's father, M.P. David Sheehy:

"He walked by the treeshade of sunnywinking leaves and towards him came the wife of Mr. David Sheehy M. P.
— Very well, indeed, father. And you father?...
Father Conmee was very glad to see the wife of Mr. David Sheehy M. P. looking so well and he begged to be remembered to Mr. David Sheehy M. P. Yes, he would certainly call. 
— Good afternoon, Mrs Sheehy." (p.180*)

Reverend Father Conmee — a rather unfortunate surname — was a real person. He was the rector of Clongowes Wood College, a private boarding school for boys founded in 1814 by the Jesuits, near Clane in County Kildare. As well, Father Conmee was an educator, and was said to have been Joyce's favourite instructor — clearly the case, given that the good reverend is mentioned in Ulysses more than 60 times. Both James Joyce and Tom Kettle were educated at Clongowes prior to attending The Royal University. Tom's brother Laurence Joseph Kettle, called 'Larrie', was also educated at Clongowes.

In addition, on page 241 of the novel, mention is made of Michael Geraghty, Esquire, of 29 Arbour Hill, Stoneybatter. My father, Michael Geraghty, was born in the Arbour Hill area of Stoneybatter, mind you, long after the publication of Ulysses. However, if ever I felt inclined to fudge the numbers, as some do, I could always claim a fictional family connection to a fictional character.

As I mentioned, on the pages of the novel Joyce makes reference to numerous places in and around Dublin City. In celebration of Bloomsday, and James Joyce, here are photographs of a few of my favourites, along with some of the lines in the novel in which these places are mentioned. Click on the images to view larger versions.


One of those 'further afield' places: Clongowes Wood College, near Clane, County Kildare, established 1814.
Pictured here are two of the principal buildings; the one on the left is the very first college building.
"Father Conmee walked through Clongowes fields, his thinsocked ankles tickled by stubble." (p.186)


The National Maternity Hospital, Dublin. It is generally known as Holles Street Hospital.
(see quote below)

The National Library of Ireland.
"... To inaugurate a series of static, semistatic, and peripatetic intellectual dialogues, places the residence of both speakers (if both speakers were resident in the same place)... the National Kibrary of Ireland, 10 Kildare street, the National Maternity Hospital, 29, 30 and 31 Holles street..." (p.571)
Hodges Figgis Bookstore, established 1763.
"What she? The virgin at Hodges Figgis' window on Monday looking in for
one of the alphabet books you were going to write. Keen glance you gave her." (p.40)
Left: Sweny's Chemist; Right: The Hughenot Cemetery.
“Where is this? Ah yes, the last time. Sweny's in Lincoln place. Chemists rarely move.
Their green and gold beaconjars too heavy to stir. Hamilton Long's, founded in the year
of the flood. Huguenot churchyard near there. Visit some day.” (p.68)
Daniel O'Connell: 'The Great Liberator'
“They passed under the hugecloaked Liberator's form.” (p.77)
Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold's Cross, Dublin.
"Do they know what they cart out here every day? Must be twenty or thirty funerals
every day. Then Mount Jerome for the protestants. Funerals all over the world
everywhere every minute." (p.83)
"As he set foot on O'Connell bridge a puffball of smoke plumed up from the parapet.
Brewery barge with export stout." (p.125)
Trinity College.
“Two carfuls of tourists passed slowly, their women sitting fore, gripping the handrests.
Palefaces. Men's arms frankly round their stunted forms. They looked from Trinity to the
blind columned porch of the bank of Ireland where pigeons roocoocooed.” (p.188)
The Bank of Ireland building. (see quote above)
Merchant's Arch.
“They went up the steps and under Merchants' arch.
A dark-backed figure scanned books on the hawker's cart.” (p.192)
“Let me see. Is he buried in saint Michan's?
Or no, there was a midnight burial in Glasnevin.” (p.197)
Prospect Cemetery at Glasnevin, popularly known as Glasnevin.
(see quotation above)
Finn's Hotel, in which James Joyce's wife Nora Barnacle once worked as a chambermaid.
“Striding past Finn's hotel, Cashel Boyle O'Connor Fitzmaurice Tisdall Farrell
stared through a fierce eyeglass...” (p.209)


*Note: the pagination made mention of for each of the quotes from the novel is from Ulysses by James Joyce, The Gabler edition, First Vintage Books, Random House, New York, 1986. Also, the quotations appear exactly as they do in the text, some with little or no punctuation.

Click on photographs to view larger versions.
Copyright©irisheyesjg2016. All Rights Reserved.
(Parts of this post originally appeared in 2013)

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Joy in the miserable Irish Catholic childhood

"When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."
                               
                                                                                                        ― Frank McCourt, Angela's Ashes

Magee, Geraghty, Dunne and Maher family members on holiday at Rush.
Standing: left to right: Mary 'Mollie' Magee Halpin, a Magee child, Francis 'Frank' Magee;
Seated: left to right: Anne Maher Magee with two of her children, Mary Dunne Magee, my father's maternal grandmother;
Seated on ground: left to right: Patrick Geraghty, Rita Magee, Michael Geraghty (my father).
Dad's grandfather Patrick Magee took the photograph.
***********************************

When I recollect the reception Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes received in my family, when we read it shortly after its publication, I recall my father and mother had distinctly different responses to McCourt's memoir. My mother Mary found the story incredibly sad, while my father Michael laughed out loud at times, when he read parts of the memoir to which he could relate. One of my father's sisters hated the book because of the reaction it elicited in her work place. Kathleen had emigrated away from Ireland, settling in the UK, and was working in a prestigious position in the British Home Office in London at the time of the memoir's release. She felt as though she was held up as the archetype of the miserable Irish Catholic childhood, with her colleagues apparently assuming her early life had been exactly like that of the McCourt children. Kathleen recounted with disdain the number of times she was asked if her family had picked up bits of coal in the street.

Frank McCourt characterises the Irish Catholic childhood as a miserable one, the worst kind of childhood, but I would argue there is joy to be found in it. It might be said my father and his siblings endured a 'miserable Irish Catholic childhood', growing up in a home of strife and violence, with an alcoholic father who was possibly mentally ill, and whose working life was less than ideal. Despite the difficulties in their family life, my father found joy. This speaks to the remarkable resilience of children who often find happiness in the most simple pleasures.

My father held precious memories of holiday times beginning in the mid 1930s, when he was about six years of age. Dad and his elder brother Patrick travelled with their maternal grandparents, Patrick and Mary Magee, their aunts and uncles — Mary 'Mollie' Magee Halpin, William 'Willie' Halpin, Anne Maher Magee, Francis 'Frank' Magee — and Magee cousins away from the troubled Geraghty home to holiday at Rush, a lovely sea-side town in Fingal, North County Dublin. At Rush, with his extended family, there were delightful memories created, some to last a lifetime.

There was a lightness to these sojourns. The simplicity of the tin 'cottages', with their single windows and tiny doors was all they needed. The soft talc-like sand pushed a path through the fescue grasses on its way to the sea, and the salt air brushed across them in an embrace. The buoyancy of his Uncle Willie's mood, so different from that of his father John, together with joyous shouts of laughter at being tossed into the ice cold sea, was a hitch knot in memory, never to be loosened. Uncle Frank, poised on the crescent beach, a child balanced on one hip and a cigarette on his lips, knew little what it meant for a small lad to hear praise, or have his hair gently tousled, for skimming flat stones just right across the waves. These vestiges of happiness left an imprint on the mind of a tiny boy who grew up and away from Ireland, but never forgot these times.

This post is dedicated with love to the descendants of those in the photographs, to my Irish, English, Australian and American cousins.






©irisheyesjgg2016.

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