Plaque unveiled honouring connection between James Joyce’s The Dead and a Galway graveyard

Plaque unveiled honouring connection between James Joyce’s The Dead and a Galway graveyard

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has unveiled a plaque honouring the link between the iconic Irish author James Joyce and a graveyard in Co. Galway.

The tribute was officially revealed in Rahoon Cemetery to mark the connection of the grave of Michael ‘Sonny’ Bodkin with Joyce, his wife Nora Barnacle and his short story The Dead.

Published in 1914 the tale was released within Joyce’s Dubliners collection. President Higgins has described it as “one of the greatest short stories of all time”.

He was on hand on January 13 - the 83rd anniversary of Joyce’s death – to unveil the tribute, commissioned by Galway City Council, marking the significance of the cemetery to his work.

Pictured from l-r at the event in Rahoon Cemetery, Gary McMahon, Senior Executive Officer at Galway City Council, with interim Chief Executive Patricia Philbin, Sabina Higgins, President Michael D. Higgins, Mayor of Galway City, Cllr Eddie Hoare and Pamela Richardson Hoare

In The Dead, the ‘lonely churchyard where Michael Furey lay buried’, is the final resting place of 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 before he died at the age of 20 from tuberculosis.

Michael Bodkin’s grave is in the Bodkin Family Vault in Rahoon Cemetery, where the Joyce plaque now stands following the ceremony, which was attended by Michael Bodkin’s grandniece Mary O’Connor and her family.

Singer Noel O’Grady was also in attendance, and sang The Lass of Aughrim, which plays a central role in events in The Dead, as part of the ceremony.

“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,” President Higgins said.

Mayor of Galway City, Cllr Eddie Hoare with President Higgins at the unveiling event (Pics: Galway City Council)

“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,’ he added.

“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.”

2024 marks the 110th anniversary of the publication of The Dead.

The plaque unveiling took place on the 83rd anniversary of Joyce’s death in Zurich on January 13, 1941.

It features an inscription from The Dead which reads: “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.”

Pamela Richardson Hoare and husband Galway City Mayor Eddie Hoare with President Higgins and wife Sabina Higgins

Joyce’s connection with Galway can be traced back to June 10, 1904 when he first met local woman Nora Barnacle, who was born and raised in the heart of the city.

“While Joyce only visited Galway twice, briefly in 1909 and for a longer period in 1912 it remains a place that has had a deep impact on his work and on the world of Irish literature,” a spokesperson for Galway City Council said.

“It was Nora who inspired so much of his work and several of his most memorable characters, including Gretta Conroy in The Dead and Molly Bloom in Ulysses,” they add.