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Miriam Lord: Norris honours two 100-year-olds in Seanad comeback

Longest-serving Senator makes warmly received speech celebrating Ulysses centenary

The Cathaoirleach announced he was going to break with precedent and would not be calling on the group leaders to make the opening contributions.

“I will now call the father of the House, Senator David Norris.”

Norris was there by special appointment, and his colleagues were delighted to see him back in the chamber.

Mark Daly said he was making this exception (they set great store by precedent in Leinster House) because it was not only a very important day for Norris but also a special day "for all Joycean scholars, of whom he is the greatest by any measure".


The longest-serving member of the Upper House modestly batted away the compliment, thereby setting another precedent on this special occasion, as some wags mischievously suggested afterwards.

“Thank you very much,” he said. “I wouldn’t claim to be the greatest Joyce scholar. I would award that to my great friend Fritz Senn in Zürich, who is 90 years old and still keeping his students happy,” he declared, those familiar Norris tones sounding much weaker than usual.

This was shaping up to be a lengthy contribution. Senators settled in for the long haul

David isn’t in the best of health at the moment, but he wanted to have his say in the Seanad on the 100th anniversary of the publication of Ulysses.

“It is a very important and happy day,” he informed the House. “In the early 1920s James Joyce was in Sylvia Beach’s bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, bemoaning the fact that he couldn’t find a publisher for Ulysses. Sylvia Beach, who I remember very well – she was a tiny bird-like little American woman, but a woman of great fortitude and steel ... ”

This was shaping up to be a lengthy contribution. Senators settled in for the long haul.

Anyway, good old Sylvia – she offered to publish it, and Joyce took up her offer. And so it was, 100 years ago to the very day, that Ulysses was published.

“What a remarkable book,” marvelled Norris.

“Virginia Woolf had outlined the design for stream of consciousness in, I think, The Common Reader. But she never did it herself. She wrote the prescription; Joyce fulfilled the medicine.”

Very superstitious

Joyce had his masterwork published on his birthday because he was very superstitious.

Norris pressed on with the story, still in February 1922: "Sylvia Beach went to the railway station and collected the first two copies, one for the window of her shop and one for James Joyce. When he opened it, he discovered that the printer in Dijon, Darantière, had decided to correct Joyce's manuscript. For example, there was a list of characters, famous Irish characters ranging over the centuries, including Michael Angelo Hayes. And Darantière thought 'Hmmm, Michelangelo?' and so he put in a comma ["Michelangelo, Hayes"] not realising that Michael Angelo Hayes was a real person known to Joyce who had founded the Dublin Photographic Society. So that partly explains the 5,000 errors that were claimed to be in Ulysses."

Were the Senators now going to get a brief run-through of the best of them?


“Whatever about the errors, it is a wonderful, life-enhancing book and we should give thanks to James Joyce for having written it and having given us so much pleasure.”

Fine Gael's Regina Doherty, the Seanad Leader, was cheered by this happy convergence of monumental events. "It was a good year"

And with that, not much more than a couple of minutes after he started, David Norris, renowned Joycean scholar and Senator of note, resumed his seat.

Centenary remarks now on the record.

Cathaoireach Daly thanked him for marking the anniversary of “a great work of humanity and imagination, which many view as one of the greatest works of art of the 20th century”.

And Norris piped up: "Oh, I forgot to say 100 years, like the Senate. "

Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty, the Seanad Leader, was cheered by this happy convergence of monumental events.

“It was a good year.”

Minority causes

Mark Daly agreed. “And during the 100 years since this House was established, senators have often been to the fore in championing minority causes, and fewer people have been a greater champion of minority causes than you, Senator Norris. We thank you for all your work and for bringing to a wider audience the work of James Joyce. We take great pride in you and in the work you have championed – including that great work of art – which is one of the greatest artistic achievements of any Irish person.”

Norris may appear quite frail at the moment but he wouldn't be beyond telling people that while he is currently unwell, he is not an invalid

“Thank you very much,” replied the father of the House. Then he left the chamber with fellow Independent Senator Victor Boyhan beetling along beside him. Not that Victor was fussing. Norris may appear quite frail at the moment but he wouldn’t be beyond telling people, in no uncertain terms, that while he is currently unwell, he is not an invalid.

Daly reverted to the normal Order of Business.

Doherty said: “It is such a pleasure to listen to Senator Norris, who nearly goes into a different zone or world when he talks about Ulysses, because it’s in his genes. It is so lovely to hear him and to have him here this morning, and I acknowledge the other Senators’ great welcome for him today.”

Fianna Fáil’s Ned O’Sullivan congratulated the Independent Group and the Cathaoirleach for arranging to have David come in and address senators “on a subject about which he has been so erudite and entertaining all his life - Ulysses and James Joyce. It is a privilege to listen to him. In fact, it has been a privilege to have been his colleague for the past 15 years.”

And his party colleague, Fiona O’Loughlin remarked “I think that senator Norris is very humble when he says that he is not the world’s most expert Joycean scholar. No matter what, he is our Joycean scholar and we are all incredibly proud of him.”

Not least for the passionate speeches and risqué remarks.