Maurice Harmon: A Tribute

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MAURICE HARMON A Tribute


HEARING MUSIC Hearing music farther up the hill he laid aside the blank page and traced the sound to a tree-house. Inside in dark outline a figure breathing plaintive notes, a thin strain issuing through the skin of green. The shape self-absorbed playing directly into the tree as though the wood exhaled sound tree and girl in such accord the spirit lived within the bone.

MAURICE HARMON, scholar, teacher, editor and poet, has played a vital role in shaping the study of Irish literature, both in Ireland and abroad, for more than fifty years. As a lecturer – later a professor – at University College Dublin, Maurice inspired and supported generations of students and researchers, and encouraged many of his peers to engage with Irish texts. His bibliographical work on Irish writing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries emphasizes the richness of this heritage, and the importance of the dual language tradition to contemporary culture. As founding editor of the Irish University Review, he built a critical journal of international renown that still thrives today. Graduating from UCD in 1951, Maurice took a Masters degree in Comparative Literature from Harvard University in 1957 and, three years later, a PhD from the National University of Ireland. This particular academic pathway accounts for the breadth of his literary reference and his commitment to education in both Ireland and America. He has extensive experience of US institutions, from an early position as a research assistant at Harvard University to visiting professorships in Ohio State University and Marshall University. During his time at Marshall, Maurice’s exceptional status as both scholar and teacher were noted; he ‘embodied the spirit of a university’ in his power to communicate his love of learning. These periods in the US, together with the many opportunities for teaching and research trips around the world, contributed to the status of Irish literature internationally, and to the significance of this global perspective in shaping the field we know today. Maurice was elected to the Royal Irish Academy while still in his forties – an indication of the esteem in which he had been held for many years. All acknowledge that Maurice has brought welcome attention to Irish literature and enhanced its cultural profile throughout the world. In UCD too, Maurice pioneered the teaching of Irish writing in English at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, working with the first Professor of Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama, his friend Roger McHugh. As the co-founder of the MA in Anglo-Irish Literature, and later of the MPhil in Irish Studies, Maurice demonstrated the value of interdisciplinary study. His appreciation of the intersecting fields of

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literature, folklore, archaeology and history is evident in the rich collection of books he has generously made available to readers at UCD Library, ably listed by Barbara Brown in Preserving the Word (1996). His own publications opened up the field of Irish literature to new researchers: books such as Modern Irish Literature 1800-1967 (1967), and the seminal Select Bibliography for the Study of Anglo-Irish Literature and its Backgrounds (1977), gave new impetus to teaching and research on Irish topics. Anthony Roche remembers: ‘when I was a graduate student in the 1970s studying AngloIrish Literature, Maurice Harmon was a key and vital figure. All the critics I consulted on the subject seemed to be American. Maurice stood out for me as an Irish scholar writing on Irish literature’. Of particular significance during these early years was Maurice’s book on Sean Ó Faoláin, first published in 1967, which marked the importance of mid-twentieth century Ireland as a field of intellectual interest. Maurice would return to Ó Faoláin much later, completing a biography of him in 1994. This capacity to revisit key figures – Kinsella is another example – reveals a willingness both to rethink his own earlier research, and to devote a lifetime to reading and re-reading the work of particular writers. Yet this sustained focus is never a limitation: Maurice’s versatility as a writer and teacher demonstrates his alertness to the networks of connection between texts, and to the small but sigificant links between major literary figures and less appreciated writers. Maurice revived, revitalized and re-created the Irish University Review in 1970, and his role as editor between 1970 and 1986 marked a formative period in the development of the discipline of Irish Studies, laying the foundations for the teaching and study of Irish texts both as a significant dimension of Irish identity, but also as an important influence on literature and arts internationally. A close relationship was forged with the International Association for the Study of Anglo-Irish Literature (later IASIL), ensuring both a world-wide distribution and access to the latest literary scholarship. Christopher Murray, who became a member of the executive board in 1977, remembers Maurice’s leadership: ‘[he] was very clear on the purpose and format of the IUR. It was to be scholarly and at the same time accessible and interesting to the general reader. The highest standards of copy editing and proofreading were quietly insisted on’. Maurice’s commitment to the process of commissioning and publishing

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a variety of creative and critical submissions in the Irish University Review yielded a journal of unusual range yet continuing relevance to Irish cultural life. In his talent for devising special issues on individual authors (Austin Clarke and Mary Lavin were early, insightful, choices) and institutions such as the National Library of Ireland, Maurice demonstrated a keen eye for topics of current interest yet of lasting importance. The early volumes of the journal are a testament not only to his determination to forge a consistent engagement both with key writers and topics in the field, but his capacity to attract contributions from contemporary authors, including Brian Coffey, Eilis Dillon, Pearse Hutchinson and Thomas Kinsella; the journal also published essays from key critics of the period such as Terence Brown, Seamus Deane, Terence Dolan and J.C.C. Mays. Yet Maurice looked to the future too: Chris Murray recalls being invited to guest edit a Special Issue of the IUR on Sean O’Casey as evidence of Maurice’s ‘generous and trusting’ nature – ‘he has always encouraged young students and scholars’. Those who have known Maurice over the years will recognise the vital influence of Maura in his life. She has been a loyal presence at Irish literary events thoughout the world and a much-loved member of the IASIL community. This convergence of the personal and the professional can be traced too in Maurice’s poetry, which has been central to his writing life since the late 1980s. A visit to Palestine during the first Intifada initiated a phase of politically engaged composition and a lasting interest in world events. The mischief and inventiveness that Paul Perry traces in the more recent poetry combines an eye for social detail and the influence of a lifetime’s immersion in literature. Maurice is a perceptive commentator on the slow and inexorable effects of time, as well as being a fearless advocate for justice. Maurice’s long commitment to Irish literature is amply expressed in his papers, now held in UCD Special Collections. These contain not only the detailed notes assembled over years of close critical work, but the correspondence with writers and other critics that mark Maurice’s commitment to careful scholarship and his willingness to discuss his critical projects as they developed. In the words of Christopher Murray, these records ‘will prove immensely important as a resource to future generations of students from home and abroad. They will prove a monument more lasting than bronze.’

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MAURICE HARMON: Key Writings Critical Works Sean O’Faolain: A Critical Introduction. Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1967. Modern Irish Literature 1800-1967: A Reader’s Guide. Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1967. The Poetry of Thomas Kinsella: With Darkness for a Nest. Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1974. Select Bibliography for the Study of Anglo-Irish Literature and its Backgrounds. Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1977. A Literary Map of Ireland. Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1977. Irish Poetry after Yeats: Seven Poets. Edited and introduced by Maurice Harmon. Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1978. Richard Murphy: Poet of Two Traditions. Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1978. Austin Clarke, A Critical Introduction. Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1989. Seán O’Faolain, A Life. London: Constable, 1994. No Author Better Served. The Correspondence between Samuel Beckett and Alan Schneider. Edited and introduced by Maurice Harmon. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998. The Dolmen Press, A Celebration. Edited and introduced by Maurice Harmon. Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2001. Thomas Kinsella: Designing for the Exact Needs. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2008. The Dialogue of the Ancients of Ireland: A New Translation of Acallam na Senórach. Translated and edited by Maurice Harmon. Dublin: Carysfort Press, 2009.

‘A great teacher, an inspiring scholar, a brilliant editor, a fine poet and a generous friend’ Professor Andrew Carpenter, Professor Emeritus, University College Dublin ‘Under Maurice Harmon’s stewardship the IUR became the leading journal in its field. It has made a major contribution to the intellectual life of the community, and today, in 2017, it is still going strong’. Professor Christopher Murray, editor of the Irish University Review, 1987-1997 ‘I look to him in all kinds of ways, as a living example and an inspiration who is still going strong almost three decades after his “retirement”.’ Professor Anthony Roche, editor of Irish University Review, 1997-2002

Poetry Collections The Book of Precedence. Cork: Three Spires Press, 1994. The Last Regatta and Other Poems. Cliffs of Moher: Salmon Poetry, 2000. The Doll with Two Backs and Other Poems. Cliffs of Moher: Salmon Poetry, 2004. The Mischievous Boy. Cliffs of Moher: Salmon Poetry, 2008. When Love is Not Enough. Cliffs of Moher: Salmon Poetry, 2010. Loose Connections. Cliffs of Moher: Salmon Poetry, 2013. Hoops of Holiness. Cliffs of Moher: Salmon Poetry, 2016. I would like to acknowledge the help and support of the following in the James Joyce Library, University College Dublin: Evelyn Flanagan, Eugene Roche and Eugene Conneally in Special Collections; Ursula Byrne and University Librarian Dr John Howard. I’m grateful to colleagues, past and present, from the UCD School of English, Drama and Film for advice and comments, especially Emeritus Professors Andrew Carpenter, Christopher Murray and Anthony Roche. Thanks to Ger Garland who designed this booklet, and to Professor Danielle Clarke, Head of the School of English, Drama and Film, for supporting its production.

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