Dublin is a place that I am lucky to call my home. It is a city that is steeped in literary history and is beloved of many of its inhabitants. Writers have captured Dublin in many forms, but none greater in my opinion than James Joyce in his short story collection “Dubliners”.
This collection is evocative of my city during a particular time, and his stories capture life and society in such a way that I can imagine, smell and feel. Loving a particular author and the way that they write is always subjective, but the way that Joyce captures Dublin is the definitive account of that period for me.
‘The Dead’ is the last story in the collection and recounts the events of an annual party that takes place during the first week in January 1904 in the Morkan sisters house on Ushers Quay in Dublin.
The story provides insights into the guests who come to the house that night to join the annual party, and the central characters are Gabriel Conroy, his wife, and his Aunt’s (the Morkan sisters).
While the story is beautiful, the setting is equally so, as Joyce describes in detail the house and its environs in relation to the city centre.
I have a cousin who lives in a Gothic type Georgian house in County Wicklow. I am fortunate to be a confident and friend of this cousin who is a composer and musician and who, like the Morkan sisters hosts an annual party every Christmas.
Similarities to Joyce’s literary accounts are accidental, but the setting for this yearly party is resonant of the Morkan sister’s in a grand Georgian house with sash windows, high ceilings and candle lit rooms.
Last year I was again at his Christmas party along with the other annual visitors. I feel like a very special guest at this gathering, and I always clear my diary to make myself available. We only ever meet the other guests at this annual bash, but we have all become familiar with each other over the years, and conversations can vary from the easy, to the radical political, and the shouting each other down kind. We know each other well enough now not to take offence.
There are lots of different personalities at that annual table, but music is the common factor that binds us all.
When the cigars were lit after dinner last year, another cousin’s husband (who is a world class concert pianist) took to the piano while we were all still sitting around the candle lit table and began to play……
In a moment that will be forever etched in my memory, he played Clair De Lune by Debussy.
Listening to that beautiful music, whilst sitting in a Georgian room lit by candlelight, surrounded by friends and loved ones, I was transported to Joyce’s Dubliners. I was moved to tears in that moment by the beauty of the music and company that I was in. I pictured myself in the Morkan sister’s house, and realised that while 107 years had passed since Joyce had written about that particular incident, I was having my own pivotal literary experience right there in that moment.
I have revisited this night so often in my mind in the past year, and find solace, peace and tranquillity in the memory, and in the beautiful music that was played and shared amongst the other attending guests.
Life is made up of so many moments, minutes, hours and days. Some are memorable for a variety of reasons, and some are best forgotten. When things happen that bring me pleasure I usually remember them with clarity in the short term, and resolve to record and write about them so that I can reread the details of the event and somehow try to recapture that feeling, that joy that made the particular moment special. I rarely do what I set out to do in this regard, and many moments of pleasure have been lost in the murky clouds of my past. I wish that I could dredge them up like treasure from an ocean bed, to view them once again, but sadly most are lost having never been recorded.
Lessons learned late in life:
1) Record as many events that have occurred in your own lifetime that have made you happy in a diary that is written in your own handwriting.
2) Start a blog in an attempt to recapture those special moments so that they are not lost forever.
Option 2 is the only one available to me at this stage.
The memory of that beautiful night is etched in my mind, and I hope that I will never forget it. I have now faithfully recorded it here so that I can reread it again in the future in case the memory of this wonderful night fades.
Destiny can be about thoughts, feelings and experiences, that without a deliberate attempt to record them can become lost in the moments that slip away….