Phoenix Park literary

A history

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"Author Brendan Nolan provides a fascinating read."
Irish Independent.

pen holderAs with so many of Ireland’s other landmarks, Phoenix Park has its fair share of literary links, from Sheridan Le Fanu and Oliver St John Gogarty right up to Seamus Heaney in the twenty-first century.

In the nineteenth century a young Sheridan Le Fanu lived in the Hibernian Academy, where St Mary’s Hospital now stands.

Le Fanu’s pioneering work in gothic horror has been eclipsed somewhat by his better-known contemporary, Dublin writer Bram Stoker, whose 1897 novel Dracula has never been out of print, and which has spawned many imitators.

garlic However, a reading of Le Fanu’s 1872 vampire novella Carmilla which predates Stoker’s blood-drenched Dracula by a quarter of a century, will show that great minds sometimes think alike, even in literary endeavour, and that perhaps Stoker owed more than is acknowledged to Le Fanu.

Le Fanu is sometimes said to be the father of the Victorian Irish ghost story. His Ghost Stories of Chapelizod were published in the Dublin University Magazine in 1851.

Le Fanu’s short story “The Village Bully” had its principal action near to where the Chapelizod turnstile where a commemorative plantation of trees now stand, (left) and at the top of Knockmary Hill in the background.

As he did with much of Dublin, James Joyce made ample use of Phoenix Park as a setting in a number of his short stories, and also in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. In Joyce’s short story “A Painful Case”, the character James Duffy read in the Evening Mail (a real-life newspaper that Le Fanu founded) of the death of Duffy’s female friend Emily Sinico.

Percy French and Queen Vic
Percy French relayed a supposed after-dinner speech given by Queen Victoria when she complained about the revolutionary activist Maud Gonne dressing in black to welcome her majesty to Ireland.

The Queen’s speech was notable for being overheard and cut into lengths of poetry by Jamesy Murphy, Deputy-Assistant-Waiter at the Vice-Regal Lodge, according to French. The nonsense poem finds every line concluding with the words “sez she”.

Patrick Kavanagh
Another Irish poet who did not know his place was Patrick Kavanagh who earned himself the distinction of being barred from Áras an Uachtaráin, for conduct unbecoming.

At a Red Cross reception on 24 July 1943 Kavanagh was invited with other journalists to the President’s reception.The journalists were issued with access-all-areas passes to allow them pursue their calling. However, Kavanagh stayed with the invited guests in the President’s drawing room and accompanied them out to the garden for the presentation of a trophy.

An official report said Kavanagh generally behaved as if he was an invited guest, rather than a professional observer and representative of the press. The memo said Kavanagh tended to be truculent with ministers, as well.

Seamus Heaney
seamus Heaney However, poets seemed to have mellowed by the time Seamus Heaney became Ireland’s fourth Nobel Laureate for Literature in 1995.

A poem, “Beacons at Bealtaine” specially written by Heaney was read by him in Farmleigh House to the twenty-five Heads of State of the enlarged EU gathered there on Mayday 2004 under Ireland’s six-month presidency of the EU.

Beacons at Bealtaine
Phoenix Park, May Day, 2004
Uisce: water. And fionn: the water’s clear.
But dip and find this Gaelic water Greek:
A phoenix flames upon fionn uisce here.
Strangers were barbaroi to the Greek ear.
Now let the heirs of all who could not speak
The language, whose ba-babbling was unclear,
Come with their gift of tongues past each frontier
And find the answering voices that they seek
As fionn and uisce answer phoenix here.
The May Day hills were burning, far and near,
When our land’s first footers beached boats in the creek
In uisce, fionn, strange words that soon grew clear;
So on a day when newcomers appear
Let it be a homecoming and let us speak
The unstrange word, as it behoves us here,
Move lips, move minds and make new meanings flare
Like ancient beacons signalling, peak to peak,
From middle sea to north sea, shining clear
As phoenix flame upon fionn uisce here.


book jacket For more detail read

The comprehensive book on Dublin's own national park.

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ISBN 1-904148-78-6
or order online here

Copies of Phoenix Park a history and guidebook are a welcome addition to your corporate or conference goodybags.

Brendan Nolan has reported on Phoenix Park as a freelance journalist for several decades and was a professional observer at many of the events of the late 20th century related herein.

He was born in Chapelizod in a house beside the churchyard of Le Fanu and counted Phoenix Park as his personal rambling ground through his growing years and beyond.


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