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The Full Shilling: A Memoir / James Liddy

The Full Shilling: A Memoir

By: James Liddy

James Liddy's memoir The Full Shilling follows The Doctor's House (Salmon, 2004), but takes a different perspective, exploring the world of Liddy's parents and their friends in mid-twentieth century Ireland. He presents an extensive gallery of portraits of those he knew in Ireland and the U.S. including his peers at U.C.D. Patrick Kavanagh, Flann O'Brien, Francis Stuart, Thomas MacGreevey, Michael Hartnett, Noel Browne appea...
ISBN 978-1-903392-91-1
Pub Date Sunday, February 01, 2009
Cover Image Photo of the author's mother
Page Count 152
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James Liddy's memoir The Full Shilling follows The Doctor's House (Salmon, 2004), but takes a different perspective, exploring the world of Liddy's parents and their friends in mid-twentieth century Ireland. He presents an extensive gallery of portraits of those he knew in Ireland and the U.S. including his peers at U.C.D. Patrick Kavanagh, Flann O'Brien, Francis Stuart, Thomas MacGreevey, Michael Hartnett, Noel Browne appear on these pages together with many senior American writers and literary figures.  The memoir, unusually (in keeping with Liddy's eccentric style), includes short stories set in the years of his growing up in Ireland. The effect is personal, exhilarating and definitely more than nostalgic.

James Liddy

James Liddy was born in Lr. Pembroke St., Dublin, in 1934. His parents hailed from the cities of Limerick and New York. He lived in Coolgreany, County Wexford, intermittently from 1941 to 2000. His books include Blue Mountain (Dolmen), A Munster Song of Love and War (White Rabbit), Corca Bascinn (Dolmen), Baudelaire's Bar Flowers (Capra/White Rabbit), Collected Poems (Creighton University), Gold Set Dancing (Salmon, 2000), I Only Know that I Love Strength in My Friends and Greatness (Arlen House). For over 20 years, he lived in Milwaukee where he was a Professor in the English Department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and taught creative writing, and Irish and Beat literature. James Liddy: A Critical Study, by Brian Arkins, was published by Arlen House in 2001. James Liddy died at his home in the United States on Tuesday 4th November 2008 after a short illness.

Obituaries for James Liddy

from the Milwaukee- Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, 11th November 2008

Irish poet Liddy was 'classic Bohemian'
By Alan J. Borsuk of the Journal Sentinel

"Hey, ho, Liddy don't go" - that was a line in the chorus of a song by McTavish, a Milwaukee Irish music band, that paid tribute to James Liddy.
The song, from the 1990s, called Liddy "the king of the rovers." Mark Shurilla, the band's leader, said the line about not going was referring to the many nights Liddy, an internationally known poet, would hold court at local pubs, telling stories, giving erudite discourses on history, literature, politics or just about any other subject. When he got up to leave, people pleaded with him to stay. Often, he would.
But now he is gone, and it is a great loss to the cultural scene in Milwaukee, in the eyes of many local poets and others. Liddy, 74, died Wednesday, two months after being diagnosed with renal cancer.

"He was like your ultimate Irish convivial spirit who would just love to hang around with everybody," Shurilla said.
Jim Hazard, a Milwaukee poet and writer, called Liddy "a classic Bohemian." Hazard said Liddy loved to be in a university classroom, working with students, which he had done at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee since 1976. But he loved more to be in a saloon or restaurant where he could hold forth and often get many others involved in the conversation.

Susan Firer, Hazard's wife and Milwaukee's official poet laureate, said: "He knew more than anyone I've had a chance to spend a long time with. . . . He was one of the great conversationalists in the city." She added, "You never wasted your time when you were with James."

Asked for key words to describe him, her list included: Irish, Catholic, gay, beat. He was influenced by many great poets, from Walt Whitman to Allen Ginsberg, and he knew more poets, both personally and professionally, than anyone else she knew, Firer said.

Liddy was born and raised in Ireland and was steeped in its literature and culture. He moved to San Francisco and later Milwaukee to teach, write and enjoy life.
"He was sort of ecstatic about daily life," Hazard said. "Ordinary people, ordinary places were wonderful."

Liddy found Milwaukee to be very similar to Dublin, similar in size, climate and a culture built around pubs, said Shurilla.

Liddy traveled back and forth between Milwaukee and Ireland often and was well known in both: A major piece on his death appeared last week in the Irish Times, a Dublin newspaper. The newspaper called Liddy "one of Ireland's leading poets."

Liddy had his quirks - he didn't own a television or a car - and he definitely had his prickly side, friends said. While he loved almost everybody, he could also be demanding.

Hazard said: "For all his sweetness or his idealism, he really could be angry. It was righteous anger. . . . Mostly it was at crassness or stupidity and also at any unprofessional waiter or waitress. Never was a man more outraged, walking in fury across a restaurant with napkin under his chin, to demand the right service."
Jim Chapson, Liddy's partner for more than 40 years, said Liddy greatly valued the role he could play as a mentor to students.

Numerous books of Liddy's work have been published, and he helped many other poets and writers get their work into print, friends said.

Drew Blanchard, a graduate student in creative writing and Irish culture at UWM, said that as soon as he came to Milwaukee in 2006, Liddy began helping him - taking him to lunch, giving him books to read, helping him get his own work published.

Liddy taught courses that included poetry, creative writing, beat literature and Irish literature at UWM.

David Brannan, who said he had been close to Liddy since 1984, said, "This is going to leave a real hole for people in their lives. He just had so much influence."
Chapson said Liddy will be buried Saturday in Ireland. A memorial service in Milwaukee is being planned.

As much as he lived a Bohemian lifestyle, he remained deeply involved in and knowledgeable about the Roman Catholic Church, friends said.

Hazard said in recent weeks, Liddy felt "this great peacefulness at the end of his life." His attitude, Hazard said, was, "I'm ready for the next thing, and it's going to be good."

from The Irish Times, Saturday 8th November 2008

One of the most independent poets of his time

James Liddy: With his friend and mentor Patrick Kavanagh, he shared an unwavering hostility to bourgeois valuesJames Liddy: With his friend and mentor Patrick Kavanagh, he shared an unwavering hostility to bourgeois values

JAMES LIDDY: James Liddy who has died aged 74, was one of Ireland's leading poets and the creator of a body of work unique in both contemporary Irish and American literature. A professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he had worked in the United States for more than 40 years.

Mary Cloake, director of the Arts Council, said: "James Liddy was one of the most independent, engaging and original poets of his time, [whose] poetry revealed a consistent intellectual and emotional curiosity."

The poet Gerard Dawe described him as a cosmopolitan man who provided a valuable link between the "Patrick Kavanagh generation" and a group of younger poets who came to prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s. "Those who were close to him were extremely fond of him. There was an emotional engagement. People in his circle felt strongly about him. That's rare enough today," he said.

His publications include Esau, My Kingdom for a Drink (1962), In a Blue Smoke (1964), Blue Mountain (1968), A Life of Stephen Dedalus (1969), Baudelaire's Bar Room Flowers (1975), Corca Bascinn (1977), Comyn's Lay (1978), Chamber Pot Music (1982), At the Grave of Father Sweetman (1984), A White Thought in a White Shade/New Selected Poems (1987), Art is Not for Grown-Ups (1990), In the Slovak Bowling Alley (1990), Collected Poems (1994), Epitaphery (1998), Gold Set Dancing (2000) and I Only Know That I Love Strength in My Friends and Greatness (2003). The Doctor's House: An Autobiography was published in 2005.

Interviewed for Studies in 1996, he said: "I will have to say straight away that being queer, like being Irish and being Catholic, has charted my imagination."
His gay sensibility began to emerge in the poetry collection A Munster Song of Love and War (1971), while his novel Young Men Go Walking (1986) is notable for its open celebration of homosexuality.

Born in Dublin in 1934 to a New York-born mother and a father from Limerick, he grew up in Coolgreany, Co Wexford, where his father was the dispensary doctor. Educated at Glenstal Abbey, University College Dublin and King's Inns, he practised law until the early 1960s when he became a fulltime writer.

After a spell in Spain, in 1967 he went to lecture at San Francisco State College, living in the Haight-Ashbury area. He eventually made his home in Milwaukee.
Baudelaire, Whitman and Kerouac were influences, while the work of William Blake, particularly The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, appears to have had a great impact on his imagination.

With his friend and mentor Patrick Kavanagh, he shared an unwavering hostility to bourgeois values.

He described the world as a "prison/Run by elderly bores" and bureaucrats who stand in the way of "the revolution we imagine/in which each of us will love/the other . . . " He favoured poems of "emotional intelligence" in which the "language and imagery are clear and evocative yet mysterious".

He rejected the idea of "the poem waiting there to be put together by the Department of English grammatical kit" in favour of "responsibility to the poem" in which the poem is founded on its allegiance to the imagination.

With Michael Hartnett and Liam O'Connor he co-edited the journal Arena, which he also funded, and was a contributor to a number of literary magazines including Aquarius, The Dubliner and Kilkenny Magazine. A former chairman of the Gorey Arts Centre, he edited the Gorey Detail . More recently he was associated with a Milwaukee journal, the Blue Canary , and was an occasional reviewer for The Irish Times.

An authority on James Joyce, he proposed in 1982 that Beresford Place should be renamed Nora Barnacle Place, but the proposal was turned down by Dublin City Council.

A US citizen, he was a member of Aosdána. The second volume of his autobiography, The Full Shilling , is forthcoming. He is survived by his sister Nora and his partner, Jim Chapson.

James Liddy: born July 1st, 1934; died November 4th, 2008
This article appeared in the print edition of the Irish Times

An Excerpt from The Full Shilling: A Memoir

The Old Shelbourne Hotel

Grand hotels remain the monuments of the middle-class upper- class gilded age that began in the mid 19th century and petered out in the 1930s, of which an after taste persisted until after the Second World War. By then this aristocrat-tinged medium high culture was giving away to economic pressure and a more business-like set of manners. I was as a child and indeed later privileged-privileged is the exact word-to enter this world through my mother's connection to the Shelbourne Hotel. After the war she went there from the country and sometimes stayed overnight; before that she had lived in the hotel for a few years and was married from it in 1931 at Westland Row church (this last fact has an echo of Mr. Harding in George Moore's Drama in Muslin, "Then you don't know the famous Shelbourne Hotel! All the events of life are accomplished here. People live here and die here, and flirt here, and, I was going to say, marry here..."). My mother's continuous memory of a long hotel era resulted in extensive reminiscence which I seek to recall.

She told me dinner was two shillings, the charge for her room five pounds a week. There were few permanent guests; a couple she remembered staying there was Sir Thomas Grattan Esmonde and his second American wife. She used see the young Kate O'Brien with her sister from Limerick. One dressed for evening dinner though the food was uninviting; what she recollected as remarkable was the lobster mayonnaise whose quality she never found in any other restaurant. She said living in the Shelbourne then was quiet, the hotel did not do so very well, times were hard for people. On her wedding day she planned to have a small reception in her bedroom-when her party got back from the church the bottles of brandy, whiskey, and gin had disappeared from the table.

My early memories of the Shelbourne confirm the glittering background, the theatrical sense of stage on the lower floors and the nearly invisible parade of intrigue reminiscent of the sumptuous accounts of the resort hotel on the Normandy coast in Remembrance of Things Past. The Writing Room where the horseshoe bar was placed later was perhaps more reserved for the ladies and their privacy than for salesmen writing up their orders. Guests went up a stairs at the far end of that room over to a Georgian interior, initially a house not part of the hotel, No. 32 St. Stephen's Green where glowed a Georgian cocktail lounge at which a martini or a white lady could be ordered. There one could be at peace as an American tourist.

As children my sister and I entered the revolving door past the well known porters and the first thing we made for was the lift. It was on a pulley which we used to play with while the strange cage was in motion; when it returned we pestered the liftman, a tubby little man in the grey and green uniform, with questions. The Lounge was the centre of the gorgeous establishment. In contrast to the Writing Room which was Dresden in style, duck egg blue walls with plaques, the Lounge was decidedly Victorian with a frieze, flock wallpaper, a large mirror over the fireplace, the Bossi mantelpiece and another large mirror at the other end of the room underneath which was a serving table with a white tablecloth.

The most prominent waiter was Bill, a stocky amiable character who always remembered us, but mother's favourite was the last of the German waiters, Fred. German waiters had been for a long period the distinctive feature of Shelbourne culture; in Drama in Muslin, Moore surveys the scene of the debutantes leaving for the Castle: "On the first landing, about the winter garden, a crowd of German waiters, housemaids. . . ." Elizabeth Bowen tells in her history of the hotel the narrative of their internment as enemy aliens in the first World War, a fate that was avoided in the second. There is even the rumour that Hitler's half-brother was a member of the staff for a while.

Events at Christmases, during or after the hostilities, were intense to the eye of childhood. My sister and I were carrying balloons from Brown Thomas, holding on to them carefully, as we made our way up Grafton Street to St. Stephen's Green. I lost mine to the sky outside Tyson's, Nora got through the door and into the Lounge before she let go of her balloon. It sailed over the tea table, the couch, to the plaster ceiling. Fred and Bill rushed out, an apprentice waiter brought a ladder while the balloon reposed up there too dominating for laughter. The Lounge resumed its cups and saucers, mother took her scotch while we contemplated the pot of tea and thin, delicate, sandwiches. Fred stopped by and regarded me, "That's quite a child you have there, Madame." Then they moved to their fervent topic as mother lamented, "It doesn't look so good, Fred, can Hitler be making the same mistake in a Russian winter as Napoleon?" "Yes, Madame, we are as damn stupid as the French but Napoleon was only a soldier, Hitler is a politician and knows what to do even in snow. And God is on his side." Fred bowed and Nora and I ran out to the lift, we pulled at the rope, skipped into the cage, but it did not move.

There were more connections. Father went up to interview for a medical job in Dublin with the Appointments Commission; he spent the night in the Shelbourne and was awoken by heavy noise. He looked out the window and watched the fire and smoke of the Luftwaffe blasting the North Strand, he ducked his head back in quickly. Shortly afterwards mother brought us up again to the hotel. Before she left, worried about food, not having much left on the ration cards, she begged the local Creamery Manager for an extra illegal pound of butter. She had taken a room facing the Green, and left the precious butter on the window sill to cool. It was requisitioned by the seagulls.

Mother knew society, she became very adroit at pointing out personalities using the Lounge. One of the first named to me was Sir Shane Leslie whom she said was a first cousin of Winston Churchill. He was dressed in a kilt but mother pointed to his knees, "I wish when they wore kilts they would wash their knees." The tweedy gentleman in the corner she identified as Lord Adare, "an aide-de camp to the last Viceroy of Ireland." She recognised James Johnson Sweeney, the New York connoisseur and art administrator, whom she had met on a Transatlantic liner two days before in Cobh. There were the perennials, Robert Briscoe in his bow tie, Tom MacGreevey sometimes in his cape, Billy Wicklow Hanoverian looking in his blue or green tweed suit, Leo Whelan the painter somewhat worse for wear.

The Shelbourne Lounge was a House of History. I felt about this sacred space what Osip Mandelstam wrote in relation to his city, "It always seemed to me that in Petersburg something very splendid and solemn was absolutely about to happen." But other areas of the building had played their part. In a first floor sitting room, No. 112, the Constitution of the Irish Free State was drafted. Mother and I in the early 1950's spent a night in this room. Maud Gonne had died and mother on a whim insisted on going to the funeral, she had often listened to her oratory and that of Mrs. Despard in O'Connell Street in an earlier period. We drove from Donnybrook church to Glasnevin through the saluting Gardai at traffic lights, uncomfortably close behind the hearse. That night there was no room in the Inn, so we were escorted up to the historic chamber where beds had been made up for us. As I lay there I remembered what the Pope O' Mahony had told me about the death of John Redmond in the Shelbourne: out through his window Redmond heard the crowd cheering the procession of Constance Markievicz on her release from an English prison and he turned his face to the wall. I wondered in what room this tragic scene had taken place.

In later years I often returned to the Lounge, to meet people or to indulge in celebrations like the fearful and awesome nights after an international rugby match. A quick sketch of such encounters would detail having an unusual tea with Patrick Kavanagh who commented as James Pope Hennessy walked by, "A woman has nothing to fear from such a man." I stood with Liam Miller by the registration desk as Richard Ellman checked out; I noticed the curious fact that his cheque book was printed in the Irish language. I had tea too with the Californian poet Brother Antoninus who was captivated by the sing-song voices the pages used to broadcast messages in the Lounge, "The queens must really be turned on by these guys." I was often in company here, with John Ashbery, with the American-Canadian writers Stan Persky and George Stanley, or with Tom Ronan, my mother's first cousin, the London correspondent of The New York Times who came over for elections.

In her majestic book on the Shelbourne, Elizabeth Bowen describes her subject on the first page, "Tall as a cliff, but more genial. . . ." May these characteristics continue to mingle. I say my last reminiscence. In 1951 I saw a pile of Bowen's book for sale on the registration desk A few years later I collected her in the Lounge and we walked across St. Stephen's Green to her talk to the U.C.D English Literature Society. She was affability tinged with restraint, like her hotel.

Other Titles from James Liddy

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