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Two schools, two writers, one award

Samuel Beckett and James JoyceA Jesuit connection between Joyce and Beckett has been the premise for a literary award given out each year to a pupil from either Clongowes or Portora, explains Bruce Bradley.


On Monday, April 3rd, the 19th annual Beckett-Joyce Literary Award was given out in Clongowes. The award was inaugurated in 1988 by the past pupil unions of Clongowes and Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, and has been competed for by pupils from the two schools ever since. The link between these schools is based on the their common ‘ownership’ of Fr John Sullivan SJ, a pupil at Portora in the 1870s and later, having become a Catholic, a member of the Clongowes staff for eighteen years in the early decades of the 20th century. Ever since this link was established, during Fr Philip Fogarty’s headmastership in 1977, a variety of pupil activities and mutual visits has been arranged and warm relationships have developed between members of the two staffs.

The name and nature of the award for original creative writing reflects other links between the two writers. Not only was Joyce a pupil in Clongowes and Beckett a pupil in Portora, but Beckett knew Joyce in Paris. Like others, Beckett worked for a time as a kind of informal, unpaid secretary to Joyce, helping to promote the still unpublished – and even unnamed – Finnegans Wake and working on the French translation of one section. Joyce’s influence on Beckett’s work, especially through the style of some of the later episodes of Ulysses, is well-known.

Distinguished adjudicators have decided the award over the years. The names of Seamus Heaney, Brendan Kennelly, Brian Keenan and Jennifer Johnston come to mind. This year’s adjudicator was Theo Dorgan. Impervious to the sentiment which suggested that, for Beckett’s centenary, the winner should be from his old school, Theo awarded the prize to a Clongownian. His powerfully eloquent address on the power of the word and the vocation of writers to serve the integrity of language made a big impression on everyone who heard it. Beckett, who was increasingly spare in his own use of words and whose writings were a far cry from the self-indulgent luxuriance of Joyce’s late work, would no doubt have agreed.