Tag Archives: jonathan swift

On the radio

A few days ago I was delighted to be a guest on The History Show on Limerick City Community Radio, hosted by John O’Carroll. The two topics I talked about were:

  • The publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922 (95th anniversary) and the growth in popularity of Bloomsday; and
  • The premiere of GF Handel’s Messiah in 1742 (275th anniversary) and his time in Dublin.

 

Link (click to listen): The History Show

James Joyce

James Joyce

GF Handel

GF Handel

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin, History, Ireland, James Joyce

Dublin Writers’ Museum – It’s about words!

Dublin Writers' Museum

Dublin Writers’ Museum

For a city that has given the world so much fine literature the Dublin Writers’ Museum tells a story through its collection of letters, books and personal possessions of many great writers. It was setup in 1991 and with an interesting, chronological layout it is easy to follow the development of Irish writing from the late 17th to Samuel Beckett who died in 1989.

The building, at 18 Parnell Square, dates back to 1780 when Lord Farnham was its first occupant. It changed hands a few times until George Jameson (of the Jameson distilling family) bought the house in 1891. Over the years he made major refurbishments, including the creation of the wonderful Gallery of Writers on the first floor.

Dracula - First Edition

Dracula – First Edition

In the first room you can find out about the beginnings of Irish poetry and storytelling with the emergence of Swift, Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Brinsley Sheridan whose play The Rivals gave the world the word malapropism. There is a unique document with Jonathan Swift’s signature and a first edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. And you can find out about Oscar Wilde, Sheridan Le Fanu  and the songs of Thomas Moore.

The second room concentrates of the works from the Irish Literary Revival at the end of the 19th century. The opening of the Abbey Theatre in 1904 was a pivotal moment with its productions of plays by playwrights WB Yeats, JM Synge and Sean O’Casey and there are many original programmes from the time. The signed copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses is worth the visit for any Joycean fan. There is plenty of interesting stuff to enjoy on Frank O’Connor and Sean O’Faolain, writers whose short stories elevated the art form. An original Cruiskeen Lawn column (from the Irish Times) by Brian O’Nolan (Myles na gCopaleen) was a delight.

Upstairs in the Gallery there are some fine portraits and glass cabinets with letters, papers and other personal items. The telephone that Samuel Beckett had in his Paris apartment that allowed him chose whether to speak to a caller or not is quirky. There is the piano that Joyce played regularly and the chair that GF Handel sat on when conducting Messiah at the Great Music Hall in Fishamble Street in 1642!

James Joyce's piano

James Joyce’s piano

The museum is a popular visitor attraction and it’s easy to see why. It’s a wordy place.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin, James Joyce

Handel’s Messiah – Dublin’s Lucky Break

GF Handel

GF Handel

It is often said that ‘timing is everything’ and it certainly was the case when George Frideric Handel arrived in Dublin in November 1741. For he was carrying with him the work that was premiered five months later, and which forever ties the German composer and the city together.

The Duke of Devonshire, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, invited Handel, who was at the height of his power and popularity, to play a series of concerts. Matthew Dubourg, the Irish violinist and concertmaster, arranged and selected the musicians. Handel’s concerts between December 1741 and February 1742 were a great success, and he decided to perform a free concert (no fee charged) to raise money for three charities when he would perform Messiah. Handel’s collaborator and librettist Charles Jennens had written the oratorio in the July 1741. The composer completed the music, all 259 pages, in just 24 days between August and September. And, luckily for Dublin, did not perform it.

Neal's Music Hall

Neal’s Music Hall

Dubourg arranged for singers from both Christ Church Cathedral and St Patrick’s Cathedral to take part and sing what would become the famous Hallelujah Chorus.  Jonathan Swift, Dean of St Patrick’s, did not approve of their participation on the grounds that he disliked Messiah and preferred ‘A Sacred Oratorio’. He relented and, as they say ‘the rest is history’.

St Michan's Church

St Michan’s Church

While in Dublin, Handel stayed in Lower Abbey Street and rehearsed much of the oratorio in St Michan’s Church. (The organ that he used is still in use.)   After the success of his earlier concerts there was a great demand for tickets, and over 700 patrons showed up at Neal’s Musick Hall, Fishamble Street on 13th April 1742. (Sadly, like so much ‘development’ carried out in the city over the centuries, the hall was badly treated and only the front arch of the original building remains.) Due to the expected crowding men were asked to ‘leave their swords at home, and women to refrain from wearing hoop skirts.’ It was a lively affair and in the words of one enthusiastic critic: ‘The sublime, the grand and the tender, adapted to the most elevated and moving words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished heart and ear.’  Handel was at the ‘top of his game’.

Messiah, written in stone

Messiah, written in stone

Handel led the performance and played the harpsichord, while Dubourg played violin and conducted the orchestra.And history was made. The oratorio was an immediate success, and Handel performed it again in July (for his own financial benefit) before returning to London. But what a leaving present he gave us. Hallelujah!

Hallelujah Chorus in Fishamble Street

Hallelujah Chorus in Fishamble Street

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin

The Long Room – with a great view!

The Old Library

The Old Library

As libraries go the Long Room in Trinity College is a ‘must see’ and one of Dublin’s great attractions. It is the main chamber of the Old Library (which houses the Book of Kells, the Book of Durrow and many other ancient manuscripts) and was built between 1712-1732. It measures an impressive 65 metres and is lined with more than forty busts of great writers, philosophers, scientists and famous former students like Jonathan Swift, William Rowan Hamilton and Edmund Burke.

Touching history

Touching history

From 1801 the library was given the right to receive a copy of every book published in Britain and Ireland, and the Long Room now holds over 200,000 books. Due to the amount books being received it was decided to extend the Long Room and the roof was raised. The construction of the distinctive, barrel-vaulted  ceiling and upper bookcases was completed in 1860. Walking among the bookcases, with their tall ladders reaching the highest shelves, is a real treat and a step back in time. With many of the books being very old conservators are kept busy caring for these priceless works.

Along the main floor glass display cabinets house exhibitions from the library’s vast collection. Exhibitions alternate every six months (April & October) with works from either Manuscripts & Archives (ancient books) or the Early Printed Books (modern books) – there is always something interesting on show. You can also see one of the last remaining copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic that was read outside the GPO on Monday 24 April by Padraig Pearse at the start of the Easter Rising. And there is the oldest harp in Ireland that dates from the 15th century and is now the symbol of Ireland.

In the movie Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones the Jedi archives bear an uncanny resemblance to The Long Room. This led to a certain amount of controversy but no legal action was taken the college. Well, would you want to argue with the Jedi?

(Long) Room with a view!

(Long) Room with a view!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin, Science

Marsh’s Library – The Oldest Public Library

First Gallery

First Gallery

Although I had passed by it many, many times over the years I had yet to open the door and step inside. Marsh’s Library  (beside St Patrick’s Cathedral) is one of those places that is little known, but has a lot to offer.

It was commissioned by the wonderfully named Narcissus Marsh and opened its doors in 1707. It is one of the  few  early  18thcentury (Enlightenment) buildings in the city still being used for its original purpose. Considering the changes that have occurred in the last three centuries, it is a testament to the building and to what it offers that have helped it survive.

Open the door and you step back in time. The stillness and quiet rule here, and the tall dark oak shelves are crammed with books that were old when Marsh got permission to build Ireland’s first public library.

It is laid out in two galleries (First & Second) joined by a reading room in an ‘L’ shape. It is interesting to think that most of the books are resting the same places that Marsh chose. At the end of the Second Gallery are the ‘Cages’. These were to prevent theft of the smaller books which would have been expensive, and difficult, to acquire. And here you can test your Quill Power by writing in the old style – very interesting.

Centuries of learning

Centuries of learning

Some of Dublin’s greatest writers spent time here, researching and enjoying books that were unavailable elsewhere in the city. It is thought very likely that Jonathan Swift’s most famous work Gulliver’s Travels owes a lot to books on Formosa and Japan – published in the early 1700s. James Joyce and Bram Stoker also visited, and the place features in Joyce’s Ulysses.

Of a more contemporary note there are bullet marks in the shelves and books, leftovers from the Easter Rising. They, thankfully, are the only scars it bears after all this time. Long may it continue.

Marsh's Library on St Patrick's Close

Marsh’s Library on St Patrick’s Close

2 Comments

Filed under Dublin, James Joyce