Re-Joyce, at last the gag is lifted from our genius
One of the greatest writers in the English language is coming your way. Finally, 70 years after his death, the majority of restrictions on public performance of James Joyce's works have been lifted.
For the people of Dublin it means they will get a chance to publicly hear the works of a man whose writings were so influenced by the city. As Joyce himself said: "For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal.''
We are used to the likes of Roddy Doyle or Paul Howard reading their works in public. It brings them to life and introduces a new generation to words.
However it has been very difficult to get Joyce's work performed in public. When Joyce died of a perforated ulcer on January 13, in Zurich, in 1941, the rights to his work transferred to his estate. Stephen Joyce his grandson and executor carefully guarded the family heirloom. The James Joyce Centre in North Great George's Street was the only place allowed to have public readings of Ulysses on Bloomsday.
My late father, Eamon, did manage to read Joyce for the public. He was part of an epic marathon RTE broadcast of Ulysses and he received a special commemorative medal which I still have today. Now we can look forward to many readings. The lifting of the restrictions is also a chance for this country to make up for its shameful neglect of a genius. Sam Beckett, Joyce and Sean O'Casey all left Ireland. A combination of Church puritanism and establishment jealousy of their talents meant we effectively banished our best.
This news will also mean a lot to people such as barrister Brendan Kilty, who lovingly restored 15 Ushers Island, the house where Joyce's aunts lived and hosted many parties.
Joyce's masterful short story, The Dead, is set there. The story is a magical alchemy of word and emotion. Performances of Joyce's works will now reach a worldwide audience. I interviewed Leinster Rugby coach Joe Schmidt for the Dubliner magazine last year and he rated Joyce's Dubliners collection of short stories as one of his favourite books.
So what can you expect? Most of Joyce's work will now be adapted for stage, radio, TV and, of course, the internet. As you read this, actor/director Pat Fitzgerald is performing Gibraltar, his adaption of Ulysses at The New Theatre in Temple Bar.
Bloomsday which falls on a Saturday will be extra special this year because of the lifting of the restrictions. The National Library will be hosting a series of events as will the Joyce Centre. Last year, on Bloomsday, I was fortunate enough to be invited to play at an open-air concert in Stephen's Green.
I improvised a piano piece based on Joyce's daughter Lucia, who was a ballet dancer. However, it would have been lovely to write music using his original texts. That will now be possible.
Joyce's words are writ through with music. Until yesterday, it wasn't possible to contextualise this music because publicly quoting his works was not allowed. Now that this is history, we can look forward to hearing those songs within his works. Think of the beautifully haunting song The Lass Of Aughrim, which froze Greta Conroy on the stairwell in The Dead.
On January 25, the man they call the voice of Joyce, Noel O'Grady, is one of the headline acts in the Dublin Trad Festival. I will be playing with O'Grady at Dublin City Hall, where he will treat Dubliners and tourists alike to a journey through the musical world of Joyce. This lifting of performance restrictions will take away the stuffiness and exclusivity associated with Joyce. Because the work was inaccessible, Joyce was turned into a museum piece. Now, through his works, the exile will be returned as a living breathing genius to the people of Dublin.
Eamon Keane's CD Hang The Moon is available in HMV and Celtic Note