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Sun 12-Jun-2011 10:19
More from this writer..
Specially for Bloomsday:
Cusack, Joyce and the GAA
The writer James Joyce – he of
fame - is probably the last writer you would associate with matters GAA, speculates An Fear Rua...
OK, John McGahern, maybe, punting a rain-sodden football around a boggy field in the bowels of Leitrim or ducking out from Saint Pat's teacher training college in Drumcondra to a match in nearby Croke Park, hoping to spot a good looking girl on the terraces. Patrick Kavanagh, certainly. Didn’t he reminisce about playing in goal for his native Inniskeen in some Monaghan junior championship or other and allowing his opponents to score the winning goal in the final minute in controversial circumstances? Ah, but not Mr Jemmy Joyce, the darlin’ of the American academic circuit.
Young Joyce was, by all accounts, a pale, sickly youth. His early schooling was with the Jesuits in Belvedere College, at that time more renowned for cricket than any other sport. Later, while attending Clongowes, surrounded by ‘Lilywhite’ country, his eyesight was deemed too poor to even try out for one of the rugby teams. His father, the Cork-born John Joyce, may well have been familiar with Gaelic games, but he determined that his son would not be exposed to these sports by attending a Christian Brothers’ School, like, say, the nearby O’Connell’s Schools, ‘with Micky Mud and Paddy Stink...’
Yet, in his celebrated evocation of the city of Dublin - the novel
- the main character in one of the book’s central and most extended sequences is none other than Michael Cusack, a prominent founder of the GAA.
In what is called ‘The Cyclops Sequence’, the scene is set in Barney Kiernan’s pub in Little Britain Street. (Not to be confused with the more recently celebrated Barney Conway’s pub in Parnell Square, where the disgraced planning and property lobbyist, Frank Dunlop, dispensed free pints of Guinness and bulging brown envelopes to thirsty members of Dublin County Council!). Holding court in a corner of the bar, accompanied by his ‘mangy mongrel’, Garryowen, is ‘The Citizen’. This character is, in fact, a representation of Michael Cusack.
Round after round of drink ensues – whiskey and Allsop’s Ale. One of the drinking company, a man called Joe, tells ‘The Citizen’ of a number of Irish Nationalist MPs heading that night to the Westminster Parliament for a debate. ‘Nannan’s going too’, says Joe, ‘The league told him to ask a question tomorrow about the commissioner of police forbidding Irish games in the park. What do you think of that, citizen? The
Sluagh na h-Eireann’
. Joe then gives us the clue to ‘the citizen’s’ identity: ‘There’s the man’, says Joe, ‘that made the Gaelic sports revival. There he is sitting there. The man that got James Stephens away. The champion of all Ireland at putting the sixteen pound shot...’ And as Joyce then puts it: ‘So off they started about Irish sport and shoneen games the like of the lawn tennis and about hurley and putting the stone and racy of the soil and building up a nation once again and all of that.... A most interesting discussion took place in the ancient hall of Brian O’Ciarnain’s in
Sraid na Breataine Bheag
, under the auspices of
Sluagh na h-Éireann
, on the revival of the ancient Gaelic sports... ‘
Joining in this discussion is the book’s central character, the cuckolded, wandering Jew, Leopold Bloom. Sparked by Bloom’s temerity in offering a view on anything, as he is portrayed by Joyce, Cusack is shown to be narrow-minded, racist, opinionated, argumentative, bombastic and xenophobic (Some might argue, An Fear Rua ruefully notes, perfect credentials for a founder of the GAA!) Soon, ‘the citizen’s’ comments become derogatory of Bloom’s Jewish origins, degenerating finally into a physical assault where he throws an empty Jacob’s biscuit tin at the unfortunate man.
Bloom, however, stands his ground and cites the names of many famous Jews in his defence, including that of Jesus. Now, in all fairness, AFR recognises that neither the Old nor New Testaments are works that many GAA followers would be overly familiar with. Certainly, none of the bright boys of the Gowlnacalley-John Redmonds would take about them much in the back ‘shnug’ of Ma Molloy’s famous drinking emporium of a night. All of us, of course, have become familiar with the decent Limerick man who stands behind the goals with the black-on-yellow placard ‘John 3:7’, but that’s probably as far as it goes. This level of familiarity is more likely to be found, perhaps, among the followers of soccer clubs like Linfield and Glentoran among our separated brethren in ‘The Wee North’.
Michael 'The Citizen' Cusack ... Hardly the kind of fella you'd want to pick a fight with in a pub ...
Yet, if you look carefully enough, you can see passages of the testaments that are metaphors for aspects of the modern day GAA. Many a manager has had to stretch the resources available to him on a county panel in a way that would put to shame the miracle of feeding five thousand people with only five barley loaves and three fishes. And Seán Boylan’s transformation of many’s the mediocre player into an All Ireland winner is reminiscent of the good Lord’s conveniently turning of water into wine in Cana of Galilee.
But who would we cast as Moses leading his people out of the captivity of Egypt into the Promised Land? Or the modern day David who slew Goliath? Who would be the candidates for such exalted positions? Would it be a Mick O’Dwyer leading Laois to their first Leinster title in fifty-seven years? Does Westmeath’s forensic toppling of Dublin this year qualify them into the David class? In hurling, the names of Ger Loughnane and Justin McCarthy would have to be considered and if Waterford go all the way this year, McCarthy may even find himself as a candidate for early canonisation.
Whatever county you support in this year’s championships let’s hope the appropriate scripture for them turns out to be not just John 3:7 (‘Do not be surprised because I tell you, ‘You must all be born again’...) but maybe the one about the resurrection of Lazarus... (John 11:1- 44 inclusive)...
‘We talk just like lions, but we sacrifice like lambs…’.
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Mass, the Mater, ‘The Dergvale’ and Mullingar…
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