Posted by TheYank at 10/6/2009 5:41 PM EDT
I'm about a third of the way through a short biography of the mostly forgotten Irish Nationalist Tom Kettle. I was interested to read about him after I learned that he was a Nationalist MP, who died in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. I found his name on the monument at Thiepval.
No, not more WWI I hear you say. Well, not today. I'm not even going to try to summarize Kettle's life here. Not much anyway.
No, what I want to talk about is Dublin in the early 1900s. At that time Dublin was the center of a budding national revival. The Irish language revival movement was flourishing in Dublin. The Gaelic Athletic Association was flourishing in Dublin. Of course, there was a literary revival led by Yeats, Synge, Lady Gregory, George Russell (AE) and others.
And there was a political revival going on as well, with the Irish Home Rule Party bouncing back after the battering it took following the fall of Charles Stewart Parnell in 1890. In addition, Sinn Féin was born at this time and its found Arthur Griffith was also making a name for himself and his movement. Eamon De Valera has just appeared in the story and even ex-Tammany Hall head Richard Boss Croker turns up to help a Nationalist candidate in a January 1906 election.
What amazes me is how exciting Dublin in the 1900s seems. Kettle was in the mix of all of them. He was younger than Yeats and Lady Gregory, but he knew them - even if only at something of a distance and they knew him. Kettle knew better those who were his own age, friends of his from college. Oliver St. John Gogarty, Padraic Colum, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington and others who made names for themselves in 20th century Ireland.
Kettle also knew James Joyce and Joyce's younger brother Stanislaus. Joyce flits in and out of
the Kettle biography, but I can see why he chose Dublin in 1904 for his masterpiece. The place a bubbling cauldron of political intrigue and artistic - mostly literary - experiment and endeavor.
In fact, reading Kettle's biography is making me want to read Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man and Ulysses again (read both in college - sort of) and maybe one or two others. All the people Joyce wrote about in his novels - including Kettle's wife Mary Sheehy, who Joyce had a crush on before Kettle and she were a couple - seem so alive and interesting in the Kettle biography.
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