Tuesday, November 8, 2016


A short appreciation of "ST. PATRICK’S DAY another day in Dublin"
   By Dermot McMahon, Late Auditor of the Classical Society at University College, Dublin

This book has particular resonance for former students of UCD and TCD who attended these colleges in the sixties and seventies.  Much of the action, if that it can be called, takes place in or near the pubs they might have frequented in their leisure moments, though for some the bar stool replaced their seat in lecture hall or library.

I am in a particularly privileged position in writing about this book as I had got to know the author in November '64 when still studying at UCD. We met one dark evening having fallen into conversation outside Newman House in St Stephen's Green and have been in touch off and on ever since. Tom was invited by me to give a talk to The Classical Society at which he caused a sensation by reciting sections of "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg to the great amusement and consternation of some of the members, who might have been expecting something about the latest excavations at Pompeii or Cnossos.

We had some of the same lecturers two of whom are mentioned in the book. Mr J was a formidable lecturer on Shakespeare and Spenser, well known for eccentricity and an affected upper class accent and known for his bibulous tendencies. Later he was to become a distinguished writer whose own poetry rivals that of Spenser in its complexity. Denis D. was the fountain of all knowledge in the English Department, a giant among pygmies and much revered by students for his information crammed lectures delivered with polish and effortless aplomb; much feared though in tutorials lest he should ask for a comment! Denis receives one memorable mention in the book, when he is described as walking down Dame Street with the narrator to retrieve his car. Lo, he has become a real person outside of the rarefied atmosphere of academia!

The book opens in the Russell Hotel where the narrator, Mr McGonigle's imaginary self has installed himself. He has, it appears come to Dublin with a view to spending his late father's life insurance, which he has inherited. There is an irony in his installing himself here in what was then one of Dublin's poshest hotels, renowned for its fine cuisine and as a meeting place for prosperous businessmen. Is he paying homage to his father? Is he emphasizing the value of a comfortable bed with sheets smelling of lavender? Is he giving himself a genteel image to mock the existences (often squalid of the kinds of people he consorts with in the streets and pubs. Is he giving himself in a small way the airs of a Gatsby?

The novel does not stick closely to one time period. Now the narrator is describing the sixties scene in Dublin's Bohemia; now it is the seventies or even the eighties. This period shifting corresponds to various visits McGonigle made to Dublin between 64 and 84 or later. Characters operate here as in a dream  {or nightmare}.
Various women come and go here too. One broken love affair is repeatedly drawn to the attention of the reader. Real love and affection are not to be found in this dead and decaying city.
The pub scene of these times is well captured in this novel. McGonigle gives graphic accounts, extremely well observed and well remembered of visits to Dwyer's of Leeson Street once the  most popular bar for UCD students
and Grogans of South William Street. In the former the narrator finds himself unfortunate and alone and an outsider and is even taunted for being an American. Grogan's, with its genial owner, Mr T, is the place where litterateurs and their hangers on meet. Conversation is cynical and negativity is the order of the day. Mr. J, the retired lecturer already mentioned skulks in a corner reduced to few words and frantic gestures.

McGonigle makes his way through this and other well known Dublin pubs much as Aeneas negotiates Hades. But instead of a Golden Bough our narrator wields a pint glass or a Carlsberg bottle. The mythical hero eventually reached the Elysian fields but for our narrator there is no such hint of optimism and all is doom and gloom
Bohemian Dublin is portrayed as a kind of hell upon earth as perhaps already said. There is no joy in it. There is a pervasive cloacal atmosphere. Toilets and roadways are littered with vomit and other bodily excretions. The area west of Grafton St is the heart of darkness the lack of illumination being mainly in certain pubs. In these taverns feeble minded intellectuals fuelled with alcohol score cheap points off each other ad nauseam. Claustrophobia rules. Kavanagh is commemorated by the motley crew but no one shows any appreciation of his poetry, Beauty is absent. The sharpest tongue rules the day but it should be noted that on the last page Lilia from Bulgaria receives a check for 500,000 pounds from the poet Derek Mahon to help her on her way to America…