Friends of Joyce
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Sunday Miscellany Sunday 13 January 2019. Repatriating Joyce, by Anthony J Jordan. Music: ... Sunday Miscellany Podcast, 13th January 2019.
TEXT OF TALK
James Joyce died on 13 January 1941
When James Joyce and his family, minus his daughter Lucia was ill in a sanatorium, left Vichy France on 17th December 1940 for Switzerland, little could he have thought that he had less than one month to live. In Geneva he was met by Sean Lester who was then Secretary of the League of Nations. Lester remembered that Joyce was practically blind as his wife acted as his eyes. The Joyces then continued on to Zurich. There shortly after Xmas he was operated on for a duodenal ulcer and died at 2.15 am on Monday 13 January, aged 58. Lester was unable to attend the funeral and wrote to Frank Cremin, charge d’affaires at Berne, that he might like to attend so that some official Irish person would be there. As was usual the Joyces had little money and as usual his patron, the English woman Harriet Weaver, wired money to Nora for the funeral costs.
When the Secretary of the Department of External Affairs heard the news, he immediately wired Frank Cremin to find out ‘Did he die a Catholic?’ and instructed him not to attend the funeral. The grave chosen in Fluntern Cemetery could only accommodate one coffin as Nora intended to have her husband’s body repatriated to Dublin in due course. James’ friend Paul Ruggerio tried to persuade Nora to have a priest say the final blessing at the graveside, but she demurred saying ‘Oh I couldn’t do that to Jim’.
At the graveside Lord Derwent, the British Minister, was the first speaker. He said ‘George Moore is gone; Yeats is gone, and now James Joyce. But of one thing I am sure – whatever the rights and wrongs of the relations between Ireland and England, I know Ireland
will continue to take the finest and most ironical revenge on us; she
will go on giving us great men of letters’. The Swiss tenor Max Meili sang the aria ‘Tu se’ morta from Monteverdia’s opera Orfeo.
When Nora Joyce took soundings on the possibility of repatriation, the message came back that Joyce had offended too many politicians and priests for such a consideration.
The repatriation of WB Yeats in 1948 facilitated by the Minister for External Affairs Sean MacBride on behalf of his mother Maud Gonne, made Nora hope that the same might be done for her husband. An American named John Jermain Slocum wrote a very perceptive letter to President Sean T O’Kelly on the subject. He wrote,I do not think that I or anyone else could ask for a definite answer, but if you were to express to me even a belief that such a return of his body to Ireland was possible, I think that I could start his friends in Zurich, in Paris, in London, in New York and even in Dublin, working on it wholeheartedly. Slocum received no reply. Eventually the matter came before Government and Minister MacBride did not support such a repatriation.
There the matter has rested officially until June 2018 when President Higgins made an intervention. He became the first President to visit the grave at Fluntern Cemetery in Zurich. A week later at a function at Aras an Uachtarain on Bloomsday. The President said;
We must never forget on Bloomsday the person, the family, and the sacrifices that gave us the ground-breaking literary inheritance that is celebrated all over the world. Ireland owes a debt to James Joyce. Earlier this month I had the opportunity to lay flowers at the grave in Fluntern, where Joyce has rested since 1941, later joined by his wife Nora Barnacle and other members of his family. I thanked the Zurich authorities and the gardener who have cared with such sensitivity for his resting place.
Whether the Joyces will ever be repatriated home, remains a moot point. An ex-Ambassador to Switzerland has suggested that the Irish State should investigate the matter, aiming for 22 February2022, the centenary date of the publication of Ulysses, and Joyce’s birthday. We shall see.
Full story told in “MAUD GONNE’S MEN”