The Times We Lived In: Combining the daft with the unreservedly serious

Published: June 15th, 1977. Photograph by Eddie Kelly

 

There are times when a daft Edwardian hat comes in handy. I mean, you might look at this picture and imagine it to be a story about pushing reluctant pensioners into the great outdoors – for their own good, of course. Exercise. Fresh air That sort of thing.

But then you see that straw boater, and you realise that it’s David Norris underneath it, and all is well with the world. It’s not cruelty-to-the-elderly week. It’s just Bloomsday.

To quote our 1977 caption: “At a pre-Bloomsday ceremony at St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin yesterday; the playwright Denis Johnston (right) dedicates a park bench to the memory of James Joyce and his father, John. At left is Madame Maria Jolas, widow of the novelist Eugene Jolas, both of whom befriended Joyce in Trieste, and in the centre is Mr David Norris, chairman of the Joyce Symposium Committee.”

The tall figure of Denis Johnston – author of The Old Lady Says No! and father of the novelist Jennifer Johnston – dominates the image. His upright posture and pensive expression suggest he’s thinking sombre literary thoughts, whether to do with Joyce or his good friends Yeats, Shaw and Sean O’Casey.

David Norris and Madame Jolas are in more celebratory mode. Between her jaunty stripes and his boater, and the way they’re both leaning slightly to their left, they just might break into a Bloomsday song-and-dance routine any minute. Daftness is infiltrating the picture as surely as the summer sunshine filtering through the trees.

Thank heavens for David Norris, one of the few public figures in Ireland who can combine the daft with the unreservedly serious. And despite a serious health challenge over the past 12 months, Senator Norris will be in his Bloomsday element on Monday week when he talks all things Joyce with Stephen Fry at the O’Reilly Theatre, Belvedere College at 8pm.

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