At the Horse Racing Ireland awards in the Mansion House in Dublin on Monday night, a noisy Round Room was silenced by a man who can only speak in whispers.
His name was Wesley Joyce and he’s a jockey: a profession that – especially in Ireland – seems to come with a talent for talking. In a generally garrulous sport, no doubt, jockeys have to be better-than-average storytellers, given that they spend much of their lives explaining to owners and trainers why the horse didn’t win.
But ever since a terrible fall in July last year, Joyce has had to explain himself without a fully functioning voice-box. And he’s lucky that this and a 20 per cent reduction in lung capacity are the main lingering effects of the incident. Because in the immediate aftermath, many people thought the then 19-year-old was as good as dead.
During a race on Ladies Day at the 2022 Galway Festival, Joyce was aboard the early leader, Red Heel, with 13 fast-galloping horses immediately behind. It was a flat race – no jumps.
But at a point where a road crosses the track, his horse became spooked and threw the 7-stone (44.5 kg) jockey down, hard, under the hooves of the pursuers.
His injuries included a punctured lung, broken ribs and shoulder, and a fractured larynx. And after days on the critical list, he spent another three months in hospital.
Even when he got out, still miraculously in one piece and determined to return to the saddle, there remained the question of invisible trauma. As the former jockey, now his trainer, Johnny Murtagh – one of many in the sport who could talk for Ireland – said on Monday: “After an incident like that, the one thing you’re wondering is: have they got the bottle for it anymore? Because when you hit the ground that hard, you know . . . "
But the jockey is at least as tough as the neighbourhood he grew up in: Limerick’s Moyross, which has also produced Keith Earls, now one of his mentors Joyce’s bottle, it turned out, was unbroken.
Three weeks into his competitive comeback, he won a race at Mallow last August, amid great emotion, the first of 11 victories since his career resumed.
Now a veteran aged 20, he also seems to have retained a permanent smile and impish sense of humour. More than one person at the awards ceremony, including Murtagh, referred to him as a “likeable rogue”.
When Joyce was asked what this meant, he was comically deadpan. “I don’t know – it’s the first I’ve heard of it”, he whispered, with an air of injured (but not seriously injured) innocence.
Speaking of storytellers named Joyce, today (December 6th) is the 90th anniversary of the famous US court ruling in which Ulysses was cleared of obscenity charges, allowing it to be published without threat of prosecution.
The judge, John M Woolsey, had gone to the trouble of reading James Joyce’s masterpiece in its entirety, which may have been beyond the call of duty. And he must have been inspired by it too, because his ruling was itself high in literary value and has been much quoted ever since.
Among its more memorable lines, he wrote that while the effect of the book was in parts “somewhat emetic” [ie it might make you want to vomit], “nowhere does it tend to be an aphrodisiac”.
Elsewhere, praising Joyce’s stream of consciousness technique as a sincere attempt to represent the way people really think, he noted the author’s use of “old Saxon words” with which most readers would be familiar.
But as if to reassure nervous members of America’s WASP community, the judge added that “in respect of the recurrent emergence of the theme of sex in the minds of [Joyce’s] characters, it must always be remembered that his locale was Celtic and his season Spring.”
The ruling was subject to appeal, of course. And the appeal hearing had entertainment too, not least because the three-judge panel included two cousins of the surname “Hand”, with the splendid Christian names of “Augustus” and “Learned”.
This might have given rise to a classic example of “on the one Hand and on the other”, or indeed of the right Hand not knowing what the left was doing.
In the event, both Hands were right: agreeing in a 2-1 majority verdict against the dissent of the third judge.
Learned Hand’s legal opinions were also noted for literary flair. So much so that in this case, worried the book was getting too much publicity, the cousins decided their thoughts should be written up by Augustus, who could be relied on to produce “not a single quotable line”.
In the event, even he failed to achieve the supreme dullness so prized by law. At the end of a sober but eminently quotable ruling, he summed up: “We think that Ulysses is a book of originality and sincerity of treatment and that it has not the effect of promoting lust. Accordingly it does not fall within the statute, even though it justly may offend many.”