Iris Murdoch: A celebration of her life

The prolific Irish author Iris Murdoch who wrote over 25 novels in her lifetime is to have her first posthumous celebration of her work in the north inner city of Dublin where she was born. The residents association behind the project, the BLEND residents association (Blessington, Eccles, and Nelson Dorset St) are holding free events this weekend to celebrate her centennial birthday.

Last year the residents of these areas in the north inner city were delighted to have their Blessington basin recognised for playing its part in setting the scene in James Joyce’s Ulysses

“As they turned onto Berkeley St, a street organ near the basin sent over after them a rollicking rattling song of the halls, Has anyone here seen Kelly?”

Ulysses 1918-1920

At this time, 1919, as Joyce’s epic novel was been published in part in literature journals in the states, Iris Murdoch was born at this particular junction of Berkeley St. and Blessington St. to parents Irene Alice and Willis John Hughes Murdoch. Her father served in the First World War for the British army and married Irene, Iris’s mother, a trained singer, when he was on leave.

This Presbyterian family moved out 59 Blessington St., some say due to sectarian differences in the area. At the time of their leaving for London, the war of independence was intensifying in the area with three Royal Irish Constabulary high ranking officials killed by the IRA in three separate attacks in Drumcondra nearby.   This address lays derelict now and even up until recently had East Belfast I.R.A graffiti sprayed on the building next door. But this shouldn’t surprise anyone seeing as though the flat complexes nearby are used as venues for Provos to hold recruitment days attempting to foster young minds for their cause.

Iris herself was outspoken on the Northern Ireland troubles in her life and became quite the controversial figure corresponding with archbishops here from her home in England.

Iris was a philosopher by trade and spent alot of her time giving lectures on challenging topics, sometimes coming across back to ireland to give talks.

Iris was also remembered in film at the beginning of the century, when Iris  was released starring Kate Winslet, who played young Iris, and Judi Dench as Iris in later life. Both actresses were nominated for academy awards for supporting and lead, respectively, but it was old Iris’s partner Bayley played by Jim Broadbent ( Slater from Only Fools and Horses) who won an Oscar for ‘Best actor in a supporting role’ as the character looks after Iris as she was diagnosed with Alzheimers disease.

For those who aren’t familiar with Iris Murdoch, I would recommend starting with Under the Net, her first novel, where her main character is a young male. This is not the only book her main character is male, The Secret Prince is also another classic by Iris, where her main character, a male is in love with two women. Iris is also the recipient to a booker prize for her novel The Sea, The Sea.

Here is the schedule:

1. July will see an exhibition of her letters in Phibsborough Library.

2. An Post are launching a commemorative Stamp – July.

4. DCC will put a plaque on her house – Date TBA

5. An ‘Iris Breakfast’ at Clements and Pekoe on Blessington St, opposite her house from 9-11am Saturday 13th July.

6. Launch of a publication, the main feature of which will be Iris Murdoch, but also encompassing many writers who were born, lived and/or worked in the area including Frances Sheridan (novelist, Philosopher & playwright), her son Richard Brinsley Sheridan (playwright, orator, politician), Austin Clarke (poet), Countess of Blessington (autobiographer), Arthur Griffith (literary critic & political writer), George Berkeley (philosopher), the Four Masters (chroniclers of Irish history) and many more.

7. Philosophical by postcard, launched at La Pausa Cafe Blessington St 15th July along with a celebration of her birthday.

BLEND have invited everyone and anyone to come along to their free events to celebrate Iris’s life.  The events are supported by the DCC.

So come along and get to know the great Iris and meet the people behind this project. To quote Iris..”One must get out into the open”

By Paul Carton

Online Editor