What did the Normans do for Ireland?

StrongbowThis is the question that Conor Kostick aims to answer in his new book Strongbow – The Norman Invasion of Ireland. Here he talks about the book’s journey to publication.

 

In a way, this book on Strongbow has been a lifetime in the making. I grew up in Chester, a town in the UK that in medieval times had a very strong connection to Dublin. My dad was a tour guide in Chester and being from Dublin, really explored that connection in depth. Our house had three or four shelves of academic books about the medieval period. And as kids, my brother Gavin and I would love to play in the ruins of the castles we were taken to on outings.

My raw enthusiasm for the subject was channeled in a more scholarly direction by my attending Trinity College Dublin as an undergraduate and a postgraduate in Medieval history. TCD had – and despite suffering from the impact of austerity policies, to a large extent still has – a real concentration of expertise in the period (Strongbow came to Ireland in 1170).  I’m thinking of Katharine Simms, Terry Barry and Sean Duffy in particular, but also I.S. Robinson, who helped me considerably with my reading of Gerald of Wales, our main source for these events.

The book took solid form thanks to a remarkable stroke of luck. In the summer of 2010 I was writer-in-residence at Farmleigh, for my fiction writing. But there Julia Cummins, the librarian, knowing my interest in medieval history, showed me a Latin manuscript, a copy of the Topographia Hibernica by Gerald of Wales. Feeling like a character in a Dan Brown novel, I examined the document with growing excitement. It turned out that this was a version of the Topographia unknown to modern scholarship, due to the fact it ‘disappeared’ from view in 1969, into the private collection of Benjamin Guinness.

Marsh’s Library, which assumed responsibility for the Farmleigh Library in 2009, awarded me a fellowship in 2011 to work on the manuscript and this was really useful for getting to grips with Gerald of Wales.

Having said all this, I don’t want to give the impression that Strongbow is a book written for academics. It isn’t. Here, I’m writing for everyone interested in the story of Strongbow’s involvement in Irish affairs and while my narrative relates to the information we have from historical and archaeological sources, I didn’t want to fill the text with endless qualifications and justifications. For those who want that extra depth, I make suggestions for further reading in an afterword.

With Strongbow, I was trying to write the kind of history I love to read when I’m not seeking a specialist piece of research. I’ve tried to do justice to the passions and violence of the era and the qualities of the main personalities. In particular, I read Diarmait Mac Murchada’s feud with Tigernán Ua Ruairc of Bréifne as being so bitter that Mac Murchada is a kind of Captain Ahab figure, willing to set aside all the usual norms of the Irish aristocracy in pursuit of vengeance.

One last point worth stating is that the book does not take the usual view that the arrival of Strongbow’s army represented a clash of two rival ethnicities, the Saxon and the Celt, not least because Strongbow’s knights saw themselves as ‘Franks’ and spoke a variant of Norman French. Rather, Strongbow deals with what lay beneath the personal dramas, the clash of two differing social systems.

 

Strongbow – The Norman Invasion of Ireland by Conor Kostick is out now

Learning to Love ‘Ulysses’ – An Editor’s View

UlyssesJamie O’Connell, a member of the editorial team that worked on the Dublin Illustrated Edition of Ulysses, gives his view on the famous text and Bloomsday festivities.

 

As Bloomsday approaches, I await the parade of boater hats, striped jackets and lace dresses, as Joycean fans flock to Dublin to celebrate a book that has been said to have ‘changed the face of literature’. The first festival of its kind was in 1954 on the 50th anniversary of the events in the novel; the 2013 pilgrimage through Dublin along the route taken in Ulysses is said to be the largest annual event yet.

I’ve often heard Ulysses described as the most acclaimed and yet unread book in the English language. Though I read Dubliners and The Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man a number of years ago, I skirted around Ulysses, primarily out of intimidation but also a certain amount of laziness. During my time at university I did read extracts, notably Episode 4. Joyce’s description of Leopold Bloom cooking and eating the kidneys had stayed with me, as with most people who’ve read it:

‘Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.’

I did start other episodes but they appeared indecipherable to me. After making various attempts, attacking the text from varying angles, I put the book aside with the thought that I’d likely finish it ‘some day’, though if I was honest, I probably felt I’d go through life without having quite got around to finishing it.

However, this year Ulysses and Bloomsday will have a very different significance to me. Last summer I began working for O’Brien Press and I’ve been part of the editorial team preparing the Dublin Illustrated Edition of Ulysses in conjunction with The James Joyce Centre.

It was not a usual editorial job. After all, Ulysses isn’t a manuscript that needs to be edited in any literary sense. Rather I’ve felt like a tenth century monk in one of those beehive huts, reading the prose letter by letter, word by word in various currently available versions, attempting to create an edition that is as close as possible to the original 1922 text. Wayward commas and colons were returned to their rightful place. Mixed up vowels, apparently ‘corrected’ in newer editions, were replaced with the original. And what has been created is something loyal to Joyce’s creative vision. After all, there have been many warning examples of ‘corrected’ Ulysses texts; a 1984 edition was eviscerated in the New York Review of Books for taking what it felt were liberties in its edits.

As luck would have it, I was given responsibility for Episode 14 ‘Oxen of the Sun’, described as the most difficult episode in Ulysses. On my first general read, I felt my stomach clench as I thought about the logistical nightmare of correcting a text that was written in a largely phonetic way with a near incomprehensible narrative. In the end, it involved reading each syllable out loud, comparing texts, checking each letter, all ninety-seven thousand of them.

But what did emerge as I read, was the expert skill Joyce had with voice. Like an actor that can shift from role to role seamlessly, so Joyce moves from one dialect to another with ease, from Shakespearian to Victorian to slang. The language is sometimes bawdy, with a mix of alliteration and plenty of innuendo – there’s no denying the richness and texture of the prose.

This new edition of Ulysses will launch this June to coincide with the 59th Bloomsday celebrations. That is why with a measure of pride of I think of my contribution to the 2013 festival and to the general Ulysses legacy, however tiny. Perhaps it’s time to don a boater hat and join the likes of David Norris and President Higgins as they pay homage to one of Ireland’s greatest writers.

For more information on the Dublin Illustrated Edition of Ulysses click here.