In a Word. . . Bloom

Patsy McGarry: Bloomsday should be a national holiday

It would appear the first European was also Irish.

It would appear the first European was also Irish.

 

I’ve long believed Bloomsday should be a national holiday. Or that the June Bank Holiday should be transferred to the 16th of this month. The weather is usually better and what a unique thing it would be, a national holiday to mark a great fictional character (Leopold Bloom)!

How the tourists would love it. How we would too. Only in Ireland.

Ulysses, after all, was voted greatest novel of the 20th century. Or Useless, as Brendan Behan called it.

But what of its author, that quintessential Dubliner (son of a culchie!) James Joyce? Is it not time serious moves were made to bring his remains back to Ireland?

It has happened where another of our literary greats is concerned. WB Yeats’s remains were repatriated to Drumcliffe, Co Sligo, from France in 1948.

Well, maybe.

It has been claimed those bones are in fact the remains of Alfred Hollis, an Englishman who died around the same time as Yeats (74) in 1939, and who was initially buried next to him. Apparently they only met in death.

In January 1941, Joyce (58) underwent surgery in Zurich for a perforated ulcer, fell into a coma and died. He was then buried at the Fluntern cemetery there.

At the time Ireland had two senior diplomats in Switzerland. Neither attended the funeral. On hearing of Joyce’s death Joseph Walshe, then secretary at the Department of External Affairs (now Foreign Affairs) in Dublin, advised both those Irish officials in the Swiss capital Berne: “Please wire details of Joyce’s death. If possible find out did he die a Catholic? Express sympathy with Mrs Joyce and explain inability to attend funeral.” As you do.

Indeed, the only diplomat to attend Joyce’s funeral was George Harcourt Vanden-Bampde-Johnstone, Third Baron Derwent, known as Lord Derwent (for short!), then British minister in Berne.

To add insult to all that Irish injury, the Dublin government then declined a later offer by Joyce’s wife Nora to have his remains repatriated to Ireland.

In 1966 Joyce was moved to a more prominent grave in the Zurich cemetery, with the now famous seated statue by American artist Milton Hebald nearby. Nora, who survived him by 10 years, is buried beside him.

Their grave was visited last June by President Michael D Higgins.

Bloom “blossom/flower”, from Old Norse blomi, German blume, Old Saxon blomo, Old Irish bláth. inaword@irishtimes.com

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