Last year I spent the best part of ten months reading and translating the memoirs of Ernest Blythe: one time Minister for Finance, one time Managing Director of the Abbey Theatre, but full time lover of the Irish language and patriot. I didn’t succeed in getting permission to go any further with my translation, the copyright holder had promised them to someone else.
But I didn’t mind. I was disappointed not to be able to show my work to potential publishers, but on the other hand I had started the work out of a feeling of duty to a man who did me a favour when I was a young actor, and consequently changed my life. Because his memoirs were written in Irish they would never have been read by more than a couple of hundred people, and the fact that Blythe was unpopular after his stint as Minister for Finance for taking a shilling off the old-age pensioners would have lessened his readership even more. But I did the work, I went as far as I could; I was happy with that, so what next?
One night last autumn I watched a programme on BBC4 presented by A.N.Wilson on the subject of T.S.Eliot. Apart from some of his famous one liners, ‘I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled’, from his wonderful Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock, I knew little or nothing about Eliot. Wilson’s programme explained that Eliot had in fact studied Philosophy in Harvard, and while engaged in that wrote poetry as a sort of hobby.
I bought a biography of Eliot, Young Eliot, by Robert Crawford and learnt a lot more about these formative influences on the young genius. Around this time I also came to realise that Iris Murdoch, the novelist, had also spent many years studying and teaching Philosophy before she became a writer. The penny dropped that I knew nothing about Philosophy, so to rectify this deficiency I had a look at the website of the Philosophy Dept. of TCD, and discovered that they had an extra-mural course for people such as me, to introduce us to the ‘Big Questions in Philosophy’. I enrolled before Christmas for the course which was due to start in January. I am also attending another course in the same college on the subject of Paleography, which I started last October.
When I arrived outside the Thomas Davis lecture hall in the Arts Block of TCD last Tuesday for my first lecture, who did I see sitting there but one of my oldest and dearest friends, Paddy Murtagh. He was also waiting for the lecture on Philosophy, a subject he has been studying on and off for years.
Paddy and I met in 1961. We both joined an amateur drama group, The Young Dublin Players, on the same night; I was working as a fitter in the Air Corps, Paddy doing the same job on the diesel engines for C.I.E. Another recruit that night was John McColgan, who later went on to fame and fortune with Riverdance.
Paddy and I stayed in touch over the years, we’ve played golf together on occasions, and both our sons are PhD graduates in engineering from TCD. So although we haven’t met for the last five years or so the old links have been re-established and no doubt will produce a lot of interesting chat and discussion over coffee, on philosophy and hopefully, less demanding subjects.