Wednesday, October 05, 2016


Felix awaits his moment
under the watchful eye of Stanislaus Joyce
Click any image for a larger version

The full title of the talk was Harped History: Joyce, 1916 & Revisionism
and it was given by Felix Larkin at the James Joyce Centre on North Great George's Street on Monday evening (3/10/2016). It was a ticket affair and delivered to a packed and highly attentive audience.

Mark Traynor

The introducer of the speaker was introduced by Mark Traynor, director of the James Joyce Centre.

Just a word first on the Centre: Number 35 was saved from demolition by Senator David Norris who lives on the street. With the help of many others and with funding from a variety of sources the building was renovated and the Centre opened in June 1996. For over ten years the Centre was run by members of the Joyce and Monaghan families, descendants of Joyce’s brother Charles Joyce and sister May Monaghan. It is now run as a limited company, with charity status, and the support of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

It is, not only in title but in fact, the centre of Joycean activity in Dublin and a visit is a must for Joycean tourists.

Anne Fogarty

But to more important matters. Felix was introduced by Anne Fogarty, Professor of James Joyce Studies in UCD. Apart from mentioning his accomplishments in the field of history, Anne revealed that Felix was a former civil servant. Now that is really something to have to live up to. I should know.

Felix Larkin

Didn't take a feather out of Felix, though, and he launched into a well crafted and controversial talk. Just for the avoidance of doubt, he first made it clear he was not a Joycean scholar. You can't be too careful when you're not sure who may be in the audience.

Felix started with Joyce, and painted him as a constitutional nationalist. And he did return to Joyce towards the end of the talk. But in between he dealt with a controversial issue that has been pre-occupying him during this year of commemoration: the morality, or otherwise, of the 1916 rising.

He ranged from quoting Eoin MacNeill, in the lead up to the Rising itself, to that great mendicant friar, historian and activist, F X Martin, at the time of the 50th anniversary of the Rising, to show that, whatever about the motives of those who organised it, the Rising itself was not morally justified. And lest anyone in the audience still harboured any doubts about it, he press ganged St. Thomas Aquinas into service in the cause.

He stressed the difference between collective memory, which is what we choose to remember and how we celebrate it, and history, which is an attempt to get at evidence based truth. Transitioning from the former to the latter, as we have hopefully been doing in the course of this year, is not revisionism as there was no real history to be revised, only discovered.

So that's the Joyce, the 1916 and the revisionism bits dealt with, but what of the harp in the title. Well, that has been invoked as a symbol of Ireland from way back and, with a bit of re-tuning, provides the required continuity through the centuries.

Felix graciously acknowledged an input of some photos from myself, which along with other visual material, including a fairly vicious and prophetic cartoon from Gordon Brewster, discreetly underscored the subject matter.

If you weren't there, you won't get to read the script just yet, as it will hopefully appear later in a hardcopy publication and take its place among the significant body of research and scholarship emanating from this year of commemoration.

The talk was followed by a lively question and answer session in which Felix held his own against some expert literary criticism.

He confessed afterwards that he had been apprehensive during the talk about how it was going down with this inscrutable audience, but the enthusiasm and volume of the applause when he finished will surely have reassured him on that score.

I had arrived a wee bit early as is my wont. I had in mind to discuss a few things with Felix but he was completely taken up with preparations for the talk. So I wandered into the room next door only to find a fascinating exhibition of Emma Byrne's illustrations of Ulysses.

Each illustration was accompanied by a relevant text but I have omitted the texts here, the better to illustrate the pictures in the small space available on screen.

Three of the illustrations especially caught my fancy. These were of locations in which I had a particular interest.

Joyce Martello Tower, Sandycove

I have an interest in the Martello Towers around Dublin Bay, and those along Killiney Bay in particular. The network of Towers was built in 1804/5 as a defence against an expected French invasion. Some of them became private residences, as did the Joyce Tower though it is now a museum. Some were simply left derelict and a few have been restored in varying degrees.

Nelson's Pillar

I have an interest in the Pillar since I photographed its post-explosion demise in 1966 and had some of my photos published in a recent book on the subject.

St. George's Church, Hardwicke Place

My interest in this former church arises from my efforts to trace the memorials around the city to Richard Brewster, brother of Gordon the cartoonist. The city is fortunate to have found a purchaser for this former church in the person of Eugene O'Connor who has done an absolutely brilliant, albeit costly and lengthy, restoration.

Viewing these evocative sketches in advance heightened the atmospherics of Felix's talk and it's a big thanks to Emma Byrne for letting me reproduce them here.

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