Coming home – An Irishman’s Diary on Lafcadio Hearn and Dublin

Celebrating an extraordinary international man of letters

Lafcadio Hearn, ground-breaking journalist, translator and writer, in 1895

Lafcadio Hearn, ground-breaking journalist, translator and writer, in 1895

 

Almost 150 years after he left these shores on an odyssey that would take him around the world, Irish writer Patrick Lafcadio Hearn is about to be formally recognised in Dublin, the city in which he was raised.

Hearn was born in 1850 on the Greek island of Lefkada to Charles Hearn, an Irish staff surgeon in the British army, and an Ionian Islands woman, Rosa Cassimati. The family moved to Dublin when he was two years old. He grew up in the city and spent summer holidays in Tramore, Co Waterford, and Cong, on the Co Mayo-Co Galway border.

He first made a name for himself as Lafcadio Hearn, a ground-breaking journalist, translator and writer in the US cities of Cincinnati and New Orleans, the latter of which he is said to have “invented” because the subjects he chose to write about in the 1870s and 1880s – black music and dance, Creole culture and cooking, not to mention voodoo – are to this day signature subjects for reminding us of the Big Easy.

Lafcadio Hearn was an iconoclast who challenged norms and conventions; in Cincinnati he married an African-American woman when to do so was against the law of miscegenation. Morally, it was the only option for the particularly single-minded Hearn.

When I say he was an “Irish” writer, I should make some qualifications – as mentioned, he was born in Greece on the island of Lefkada (hence his middle name); he wrote for the American public for most of his life; he went to boarding school and lived in England for five years at a time when we were all British subjects; he was a confirmed Francophile who translated the great French writers of the 19th century such as De Maupassant and Flaubert; and he took a Japanese name, Yakumo Koizumi, when he became a Japanese citizen to marry the daughter of a samurai, and have four children. He was buried in Japan as the first westerner to be given full Buddhist funeral rites there.

So this unique Irish emigrant, this man of the world, is at last being honoured in his home town with a three-month long exhibition, “Coming Home – the Open Mind of Lafcadio Hearn” in The Little Museum of Dublin on St Stephen’s Green, from tomorrow until January 2016.

Apart from the Irish homecoming of Hearn, the Japanese connection is particularly significant at this time. Representatives of Lafcadio Hearn societies from around Japan will be joining Hearn’s grandson Prof Bon Koizumi, and his wife, Shoko, who are organising the many Japanese visitors arriving in Ireland for the “Coming Home” exhibition and the various cultural events under the umbrella title of “The Lafcadio Hearn Gathering in Ireland”. Similar Open Mind symposiums have been held over many years in the United States, Japan and Greece. Also added to the places Hearn’s exhibitions have taken place was an event which has just taken place in Durham, in England, where he spent his college years.

For the opening of the exhibition in the Little Museum tomorrow, Hearn’s great-grandson, Prof Bon Koizumi, will be among the dignitaries present. “The Gathering” will also encompass satellite cultural events in Dublin, Waterford, Galway and Mayo, places with significance to Hearn’s youth in Ireland.

A series of lectures will take place in the Little Museum on Thursday featuring Prof Bon Koizumi, the leading Irish biographer Paul Murray, US research professor Rodger Williamson, and today’s diarist. The main event outside the exhibition will be the Lafcadio Hearn Reading Performance, which is held annually in Matsue city, Japan.

Well-known Japanese actor Shiro Sano and guitarist Kyoji Yamamoto are the regular performers for these events in Japan and also abroad. This year’s tenth annual performance is titled “Maraudo – Visitors from the World Beyond”, and will be held on Friday afternoon in St Anne’s Church, Dawson Street; on Sunday at the Garter Lane Arts Centre in Waterford; and on Tuesday at the Nun’s Island Theatre in Co Galway.

Last year in Lefkada, Greece, an audience of almost 1,000 watched a similar performance that introduces the literary and spiritual nature of Hearn’s work and encompasses a rich oral tradition of storytelling, folklore and music, common to both Japan and Ireland.

The three-month long “Coming Home – the Open Mind of Lafcadio Hearn” exhibition and series of concerts will round off an excellent year in Ireland following on from the opening of the Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Gardens in Tramore, Co Waterford, in July.

Much has been done this year to bring back to public consciousness in Ireland the life and work of an extraordinary and largely forgotten international man of letters.

Copies of The Green Book, No 6, edited by Brian J Showers and featuring a long piece on Hearn’s early years, will be available at the Little Museum exhibition (littlemuseum.ie).