Poets honoured on Bloomsday


UCD celebrated one of its most famous sons on Bloomsday by unveiling a new portrait of James Joyce by artist Robert Ballagh and honouring some of Ireland's greatest poets.

Joyce's first published book was his collection of early poems, Chamber Music, and therefore it seemed somewhat fitting that his alma mater should choose to recognise some of the country's leading lights.

The college's highest award, the Ulysses medal, was bestowed on Seamus Heaney, who was described in his citation as someone "who had made the work of other great Irish poets even more audible in the ears of the wider world".

In one of his last official appointments before heading for a new post at the University of Notre Dame, Declan Kiberd, professor of Anglo-Irish literature and drama at UCD, said that like Homer and Joyce, Seamus Heaney "is now celebrated as a writer of global significance because he has so faithfully rendered the odysseys of ordinary people".

"If poetry really is news that stays news, then the events of our lives, both great and small, seem incomplete without Seamus Heaney's exploration of them," said Prof Kiberd.

Heaney said it was a great honour to receive the medal and one that was made even greater by the fact he had been conferred along with so many other poets. "It's a kind of bold ritual to do something like this - a terrific gratification of the art in Ireland," he said.

The university also conferred honorary doctorates on five holders of the Ireland chair of poetry - Harry Clifton, Michael Longley, Paul Durcan, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and John Montague - as well as Ciaran Carson, poet and founder of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen's University Belfast.

Ní Dhomhnaill said that were James Joyce alive he would no doubt write something sardonic and mocking about the conferings. However, she felt it was wonderful that poets should be honoured on Bloomsday.

"I'm very happy for myself and my fellow poets, but it's the great compliment paid to poetry that makes me happiest of all."

Such sentiment was shared by Durcan who said when one thought of the difficult existence that people such as Patrick Kavanagh had faced, it was good to see that poets were now held in high regard.

Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonist and creator of Doonesbury, Garry Trudeau was also honoured at today's ceremony.

Mr Trudeau confessed to having never read Ulysses to the end. However, he admitted to being overjoyed to have been conferred on Bloomsday..

"To be in such company on such an important day in Ireland has tremendous cache, but it's also touching to see that my work has meaning in another country," he said.

Separately, a new portrait of Joyce by artist Robert Ballagh was put on view for the first time at the university today.

Ballagh said that a rare photograph of the writer, which featured in the Irish Times last year, served in part as inspiration for the painting.