Friday, February 14, 2014

A Galway Love Story

If this particular time of year makes one appreciate a good love story all the more, then the story of James Joyce, Nora Barnacle, the death of a young man and a mix of poetry and the greatest short-story ever written surely makes this a suitable and timely tale.

Moving from Galway city and areas such as Rahoon to Dublin City on the feast of the Epiphany, the story of love and loss is retold through a blurring of reality and fiction. Manuscripts here at the Hardiman Library add much to the telling of the story.

Among the Special Collections is a limited edition manuscript copy of Pomes Penyeach, a book of poems hand-written by James Joyce, printed on Japanese silk paper and hand illustrated by Joyce's daughter, Lucia Joyce. Published by Obelisk Press and sent to the Hardiman Library directly by James Joyce in 1935. Obelisk press was run by Run by Jack Kahane, an admirer of Joyce’s work, and Desmond Harmsworth.

Editions were signed by Joyce and offered for sale at £12. Joyce sent copies to other authors and connections in the publishing world. His letter to the Librarian at University College Galway notes that copies were also deposited in the British Museum Library and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, France.

Inscription by James Joyce

Joyce’s letter to Prof. John Howley, University Librarian of U.C.G., was written in August 1935 and in it he indicates that his uncle-in-law, Michael Healy, had requested him to send a copy of the special edition of Pomes Penyeach to the Library. Joyce states that he was doing so not only because the illustrator was a “grand-daughter of Galway” and the bearer of one of the ancient tribal names but also as a token of appreciation of the support he had received over the years from Michael Healy himself.

Letter from Joyce to UCG Librarian, 1935

The story takes a twist when one looks at the poem, 'She Weeps Over Rahoon'. The wall of the graveyard in Rahoon now bears a plaque bearing an inscription of the poem. The graveyard also holds the family vault of the Bodkin Family of Galway and in it lies the remains of 17 year-old Michael Bodkin, who prior to his early and untimely death was the boyfriend of the young Nora Barnacle. Nora, of course would later be the love of James Joyce.

Example of illustration in 'Pomes Peanyeach'
'She Weeps Over Rahoon' - Rahoon Graveyard

In 'The Dead', Joyce's masterpiece finale to his volume of short-stories, Dubliners, the character of Gretta Conroy mourns still the death of her young lover, also named Michael, and who died many years previously in Galway. In a powerful climactic scene of the film version of 'The Dead', directed by John Huston, Gretta (played by Anjelica Huston) tells for the first time to Gabriel (Donal McCann) of her past love for Michael Furey:

"O, I am thinking about that song, 'The Lass of Aughrim'. . . I am thinking about a person who used to sing that song . . . I think he died for me."

'The Dead' - from the Huston Archive
Script cover page - 'The Dead' - from Huston Archive

Scene of revealing of past love for Michael Furey - 'The Dead'
From the Huston Archive

Scholars have debated that this Michael Furey is indeed the same Michael Bodkin who was in love with and loved by Nora Barnacle and whom Joyce had written into the story "The Dead". What is for certain is that this is truly a gripping and masterful story, a love story of reality and fiction.

The Huston archive online exhibition is available here

For more on the Archive and Special Collections of the Hardiman Library please click here.

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