Friday 2 December 2016

1916 celebrations thrive while our heritage starves

We must act fast to get a happy ending to the National Library tale

Emer O'Kelly

Published 08/11/2015 | 02:30

The Irish Government declined to send a diplomatic representative to the funeral of James Joyce
The Irish Government declined to send a diplomatic representative to the funeral of James Joyce

The manuscript of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake is in the British Museum, not in the National Library of Ireland. It is there at the express wish of Nora Barnacle Joyce, her vengeance on behalf of her Jim just before she died in Zurich in 1951. Joyce had died there 10 years earlier, and the Irish Government had refused permission to repatriate his body. The Government had also declined to send a diplomatic representative to the funeral of their Nobel prize-winning son.

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A collection that is in the National Library is the correspondence between Joyce and his agent Paul Leon. Leon was Jewish, and was picked up in Paris by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz where he was executed, because he remained in the city after Joyce had fled, trying to save the writer's papers. The Joyce-Leon papers are stored in the National Photographic Archive in Temple Bar in Dublin, not the National Library itself. They may well be safer there, because the National Library building in Kildare Street is close to being a national disgrace. And the Government knows it.

There was much fanfare from Government when another Nobel Laureate died here in Dublin, which admittedly was a bit of an advance on spitting on Joyce's memory. There was a stampede of politicians to attend Seamus Heaney's obsequies, all eager to bask in reflected literary glory, and paying tribute to the power of literature.

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