Sheila Chapman writes:
I was at Flux gallery again last night (Thursday) as part of my, not all onerous, LitFest duties. As I entered the room, (is it a hall, a Tardis or a wedge of cake?) the stage was being set for a great evening. The usual Flux Gallery hospitality was on display and we were ready to be treated to a night on the theme of A Literary Dublin, which is appropriate as Dan Lyons is a Dubliner who brings the literary life to Leeds.
First of all there was music from Des Hurley, Chris O’Malley, Jim Doody and friends and songs from Jim too - unaccompanied of course.
Jim Doody introduced the theme of the film, the literary life of Flann O’Brien, Patrick Kavanagh, and Brendan Behan in the Dublin of the 1950s/1960s. Dan Lyons then stood up and apologised for the poor quality of the film – picture and sound – and its tendency to stop at random intervals. But he thought it was worth watching. Of course he was right because what it lacked in packaging it more than made up for in content.
The film, in the form of a documentary, was narrated by Anthony Cronin and he guided us through a feast of song, humour and history where the main characters spoke for themselves and were amply supported by contributions from friends and family and by the Dubliners and Dublin of yesteryear.
I had meant to take copious notes about the film but, as the lights were turned out, I realised that this was a bad plan and so I am relying solely on my impressions and memories for this blog.
The first thing I remember is that Bloomsday, that annual Joycean pilgrimage around Dublin, was instituted by the characters in this film, although it seems that Brendan Beehan never actually got started as there were shots of him sound asleep (head flung back, mouth open) in a car. I think the others just dumped him. They then went on to follow the route of the funeral procession, succumbing in the end to some mysterious ailment which caused them to urinate copiously (against the nearest wall), laugh uproariously and generally fall about.
This set the tone for the rest of the film showing, as it did, the way in which the lives of these three literary greats were defined by their surroundings, their passion for the written word and their increasing involvement with alcohol. In one scene a very courteous Irish civil servant, when talking about Flann O’Brien referred to this as ‘his little problem’.
Flann O’Brien, real name Brian O’Nolan, wrote under many pseudonyms including that of Miles na gCopaleen, (Miles of the small horse as a member of the audience helpfully translated) who was a columnist for the Irish Times famed for his satirical wit. O’Brien though, struggled to be accepted as a serious writer during his lifetime although he did eventually leave the civil service to write full time. It was suggested that he was negatively influenced by the fact that his novel, The Third Policeman, was not accepted for publication although it is now an aclaimed piece of work.
Brendan Behan was a Dubliner who came from a family with a strong republican tradition, his uncle wrote the Irish National anthem and his mother said that ‘she didn’t like the English’ - several times. She also sang during her interview and much was made in the film of Behan’s fine singing voice. Beehan also spent time in Mountjoy gaol and there were sequences from the Quare Fellow which was based on his time in the gaol. There were also extracts from interviews with Eamon Andrews who tackled him about his drunkeness on television with suitable unapologetic ripostes from Behan.
In contrast to Behan, Patrick Kavanagh was a country boy who was born in Monaghan and came to Dublin only later in life. His early poems were based on his country experiences and in one sequence he was shown walking through a field and picking up a small bird, which was so comfortable with his touch it just nestled in the palm of his hand. Kavanagh lived in one of the old Dublin Georgian terraces and he had rigged up a large wing mirror on an outside wall angled to show who was calling so he could decide whether or not to answer the door! After a major operation Kavanagh experienced a renaissance in his writing when he was resting by the side of the Grand Canal in Dublin – the same place which inspired Lines written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin.
These three greats swept aside the heavy shadow cast by Yeats and brought about a renaissance in Irish writing. Their lives reflected the creative brilliance of their minds and their enduring love for ‘a pint of plain’.
Des Hurley, of the Irish Arts Foundation made an inspired choice with this film.
A Literary Dublin was a partnership between Irish Arts Foundation and Headingley LitFest.
Eamonn Hamilton brought a display of Irish Literary books to the event