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Sunday 20 August 2017

Joyceans celebrate Anthony Cronin's legacy

Anthony Cronin’s wife Anne Haverty and daughter Sarah Cronin at ‘Anthony Cronin: A Celebration’ in City Hall, Dame Street Picture: Fergal Phillips
Anthony Cronin’s wife Anne Haverty and daughter Sarah Cronin at ‘Anthony Cronin: A Celebration’ in City Hall, Dame Street Picture: Fergal Phillips
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Last Friday night was a fitting occasion to commemorate the literary and life work of the poet and writer Anthony Cronin, who died two days after last Christmas.

It was he, along with John Ryan, Brian O'Nolan, Patrick Kavanagh and Tom Joyce, who invented what has now become Bloomsday, when they drove out from Davy Byrne's pub to the Tower in Sandycove by hackney cab on that day in June, 1954 following in the footsteps of James Joyce's characters.

But, as David Norris told those who assembled under the grand Rotunda of City Hall in Dublin last Friday night, many in Edwardian attire to commemorate the day, Cronin later became wary of the occasion, describing it as "five men pissing on each other on Sandymount Strand".

The writer Dermot Bolger, who published much of Cronin's poetry, described him as "a lone dissenting voice when I was growing up" and spoke of his "sense of wonder" on first meeting him in 1975.

"Anthony Cronin: A Celebration" was organised by the James Joyce Centre and saw a succession of writers and friends share their memories and read from his work. This was interspersed with recordings of Cronin himself and music from Donal Lunny with singers Allison Sleator and Daoiri Farrell performing poems from his collection RMS Titanic.

His daughter Sarah said he used to say: "We only have one life, one beginning." But over a lifetime he fitted much into that life, poetry, memoirs, his comic novel The Life of Riley, journalism, horse racing and his column for the Sunday Independent, The Sunday Poem.

"I backed Ulysses in the 5.25 at Sandown today, it was trained by Beckett, Ralph, not Sam," said the writer Christine Dwyer Hickey, "it came last... Tony wouldn't have been impressed, he didn't believe in sentimental bets".

Under the gaze of the Daniel O'Connell and Thomas Drummond statues ('property has its duties as well as its rights') the poet Theo Dorgan spoke of Tony Cronin's republicanism and sense of fair play. This led him to persuade his friend and Taoiseach Charlie Haughey to found Aosdana, "out of a profound sense of pity for artists at the end of their lives, living on nothing".

The writer Pat McCabe said Cronin "got right to the heart of things with a scalpel" and said he would have liked to have read the poem The Ringsend Wedding, but couldn't find it anywhere.

Tony O'Grady spoke of his wonderful biography of Samuel Beckett and said he had once remarked to Cronin that the playwright, although dead "was lucky to have him" as a biographer, to which Cronin replied: "I thought that too!"

Anne Enright read from No Laughing Matter, in which a character "chooses between drink and boredom", a choice the bohemian Cronin made himself, giving up drink to pursue his art.

"To his very last moments Tony was a writer," said his wife Anne Haverty, "in his last hours he asked me 'have I done enough to justify..?' it was an awareness of the great gift that all writers have." She spoke of his unique vitality, his wonderful sense of comedy and his luminous presence and concluded: "He hasn't really left, so I want to thank Tony for being here tonight and just for being Tony."

Sunday Independent

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