Uachtarán na hÉireann, President Michael D. Higgins unveiled a plaque in Rahoon Cemetery, Galway, to mark the connection of the grave of Michael ‘Sonny’ Bodkin with James Joyce, Nora Barnacle and the ‘The Dead’, which the President has said is one of the greatest short stories of all time.
The ‘lonely churchyard where Michael Furey lay buried’, which forms the climax of ‘The Dead’, is the final resting place of the character Gretta Conroy’s late young lover Michael Furey.
Joyce partly based the fictional character of Michael Furey on the real Michael ‘Sonny’ Bodkin, who had an earlier relationship with Nora Barnacle and died at the age of 20 from tuberculosis. Michael Bodkin’s grave is in the Bodkin Family Vault in Rahoon Cemetery.
This year is the 110th anniversary of the publication of ‘The Dead’ within James Joyce’s acclaimed collection ‘Dubliners’, with today’s event taking place on the 83rd anniversary of Joyce’s death, on 13 January 1941 in Zurich.
The plaque has been commissioned by Galway City Council and was unveiled by the President at the Bodkin Family Vault in a ceremony attended by Michael Bodkin’s grandniece Mrs Mary O’Connor and her family. Singer Noel O’Grady sang ‘The Lass of Aughrim’, which plays a central role in events in ‘The Dead’, as part of the ceremony.
Speaking at the event, President Higgins said:
"What is perhaps most notable is how each person who reads ‘The Dead’ finds their own reason for admiration, their own resonance with the melancholic story, the richly drawn characters and the lyrical language used by Joyce.
In its poetic, romantic, plaintive acceptance of all that life and death offer, ‘The Dead’ is a linchpin in Joyce’s work, a novella of tenderness and passion, but also of disappointed love and frustrated personal and career expectations.
The story is more than merely a critique of the personal, offering too a critique of a society that has been gripped by a deadening paralysis of the spirit, while also offering a juxtaposed memento mori vision of the enlivening effect that may be found when the living contemplate the lives of those who have died.
When read against the backdrop of the other stories contained in Dubliners, ‘The Dead’ takes on an extra richness, an extra dimension. When read in this context, the story’s ambiguous ending is a source of much debate.
In every corner of the country, snow touches both the dead and the living, uniting them in frozen paralysis. However, Gabriel’s thoughts in the final lines of Dubliners suggest perhaps that the living may be able to free themselves and live unfettered by the weight of deadening routines and the past that continues to haunt. Even in January, snow is unusual in Ireland and cannot last forever.”
The plaque unveiled by the President today includes an inscription of the following extract from ‘The Dead’: “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
Today’s event is one of a number of events which President Higgins has undertaken over the course of his Presidency to mark the life and work of James Joyce. Each year, the President and Sabina host a Garden Party at Áras an Uachtaráin to mark Bloomsday.
At last June’s event, the President announced that a plaque was to be unveiled that month at the Joyce Family Grave in Fluntern, Zurich, in honour of Joyce’s daughter Lucia. The plaque in Fluntern was commissioned in keeping with a commitment made by the President to Joyce’s late son, Stephen, in the final years of his life."