September 11th, 1987


FROM THE ARCHIVES:James Joyce left Ireland for the last time a hundred years ago today. The 75th anniversary of his departure was marked by this piece by Charles Hunter.

ANYONE WITH a one-way ticket on the boat for Holyhead this evening is marking the 75th anniversary of another such departure. On September 11th, 1912, an angry writer and his family steamed over to Britain en route to Trieste. The writer never came back. James Joyce actually left Ireland first in 1904, but had returned several times since, to set up his cinema and then to set up the contract for “Dubliners”.

It was this contract which occasioned this final trip and the disaster which surrounded it which made him leave, convinced again of the Joycean view of ungrateful, sanctimonious Ireland.

His publisher, George Roberts, had had the manuscript since 1909, but in 1912 suddenly decided that references to a dirty old man in the story “Encounter” were obscene and that references to railway companies and public houses that actually existed could be libellous. In vain Joyce pointed out that these were only geographical markers, and that all that happened in the public houses was that “people drank”.

He took the battle to Roberts in person by coming to Ireland but found even his own legal advisers less than supportive. His second lawyer said “Encounter” was “disgusting and told me that I could write another story about Ringsend, which has many historical associations.”

“For a long time today,” he wrote to his wife Nora, “I thought of spending the last money I have on a revolver and using it on the scoundrels who have tortured my mind with false hopes for so many years.”

After several months of this “torture”, he agreed to buy the sheets from Roberts, who had already printed up 1,000 copies of “Dubliners”. But the printer, a Scotsman called Falconer, had by now also decided the book was objectionable and refused to hand them over, announcing instead that he would burn them and break up the plates.

Joyce left the same day, managing to obtain one set of sheets to present to other possible publishers. On his way through London, two, one of them Mills and Boon, turned him down. Grant Richards finally published it in 1914. Joyce also paused in Flushing to write a broadside against his Irish persecutors and the whole conscienceless race of Irishmen, including lines such as: “Oh lovely land where the shamrock grows (Allow me, ladies, to blow my nose).”

He maintained his public antipathy to Ireland till his death in 1941, turning down a very cordial and complimentary invitation from W. B. Yeats to join the Irish Academy of Letters as well as a suggestion from the Minister of State, Mr Desmond Fitzgerald, for a Nobel Prize nomination. . .

If the Joyce ghost were to dock at Dún Laoghaire today it could see . . . the first of his books to be published in Ireland. The latter happened only this year under the auspices of the late Liam Miller and his late Dolmen Press. The book? “Dubliners,” no less.