Saturday, March 15, 2014


We pass through grass behush the bush to. Whish! A gull. Gulls. Far calls. Coming, far! End here.
On the final page of Finnegans Wake, the River Liffey enters the ocean.  But the book is circular and its last words, spoken by Anna Livia Plurabelle, the personification of the river - 'A way a lone a last a loved a long the' - point back to its opening - 'riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.'  I was listening to these words at the National Theatre last night in riverrun, a solo performance in which the Irish actor Olwen Fouéré embodies the voice of the river.  Based on the trailer (see above) I imagined this could involve riverine footage and field recordings, but there was just Fouéré and a microphone, carefully lit, with ambient sound designed to immerse you in the experience rather than signify flowing water directly.  Her extraordinary performance has received good write-ups (e.g. in the Telegraph and the Independent), although reviewers have been honest about the inaccessibility of the text - none has claimed to be able to follow exactly what they heard.

'A river is not a woman / ...  Any more than / A woman is a river', wrote Eavan Boland in 'Anna Liffey', a poem published in a collection twenty years ago.  'Anna Liffey' is the name the river has sometimes gone by, an anglicisation of Abhainn na Life.  'It rises in rush and ling heather and / Black peat and bracken and strengthens / To claim the city it narrated. / Swans. Steep falls. Small towns. / The smudged air and bridges of Dublin.'  One of these bridges is now called Anna Livia and the city has also recently acquired a James Joyce Bridge, facing the house where his story 'The Dead' was set.  In a park by the Liffey you can see a sculpture depicting Anna Livia Plurabelle.  She was originally sited on O'Connell Street with water flowing around her long limbs and became known as The Floozy in the Jacuzzi.  However, her presence was insufficient to turn the tide of economic decline and as part of a new plan to regenerate the street she was replaced by a millennium monument, The Spire of Dublin (aka The Stiletto in the Ghetto).  But as the city continues to change around it, the Liffey flows on, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, always back to the ocean.

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