Nuala O’Connor on Dublin, Joyce and Nora

“I’ve always loved books…” Author Nuala O’Connor presents her acclaimed novel norathe One Dublin One Book selection for 2022 – read an excerpt from Nora here.

Each of the five novels I have published is set partly in Dublin – my home town – and partly elsewhere. Writers need their elsewhere. James Joyce was the embodiment of this fact. He left Dublin in 1904, to spend thirty-seven years gazing at the city with a powerful mixture of disdain and love.

Dublin is an alluring place, a place that – whether you are there or not – awakens your senses and moves you. Ulysses – Joyce’s masterpiece – is a book about the worship of the city, a salute to the architecture and streets of Dublin; businesses and churches; museums, libraries and schools; waterways and green spaces, restaurants and pubs, sound and olfactory landscapes. And Ulysses also celebrates the people of Dublin, in all their disorderly, cordial, emphatic and brash ways. But we can’t celebrate a hundred years of Ulysses, and Dublin, without recognizing the debt owed to another Irish city, my other home – Galway. And we have Galway girl Nora Barnacle to thank for giving so much of herself and her city to Joyce.

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Listen: RTÉ Arena talks to author Nuala O’Connor about her novel Nora

I, in turn, thank the visionary librarians behind One Dublin One Book for choosing Norah, my novel on Nora Barnacle, to celebrate the centenary of Ulysses – the novel is my tribute to the extraordinary Galwegian who helped an extraordinary Dubliner to become the man and writer he was meant to be. Nora was exactly the life partner Joyce needed. She was a sturdy, cheerful woman who, although she loved books and reading, did not worship the altar of literature.

Personally, I have always loved books. Virginia Woolf wrote: ‘I ransack public libraries and find them full of sunken treasure’ and although there was no library in my hometown of West Dublin when I was growing up, I loved it too libraries. We would go from Palmerstown to Clondalkin Library and later to Ballyfermot to dig up treasures. Luckily my parents loved books and the shelves in the house were well stocked, as was the large wooden press in the library at Scoil Mhuire, Marlborough Street, where I went to school.

James Joyce and Nora Barnacle

Those bookshelves and that school press were places of boundless, uncensored joy and wonder for me, and I carried that love of books through college, to jobs at a bookstore, library, writing and eventually – inevitably – full-time writing. And in a sense, inevitably, too, to Nora Barnacle, that charismatic, earthy maverick who was just waiting for someone to tell her story in her own words.

Books are never written by one person, but by one person supported by many others, as Nora Barnacle and James Joyce well knew. I’ve had many supporters and champions, and I wholeheartedly appreciate the writers I read when I was younger, who paved the way for me, especially women writers, who always had to dig harder furrows.

Thanks to their work, I now have the honor and pleasure of representing Dublin, and of reading, with nora, and I look forward to celebrating with readers throughout April with our extensive and brilliant program of One Dublin One Book events. And I hope that the many bibliophiles who join us in April will still search the libraries and find enough sunken treasures to transport them to many elsewhere.

One Dublin One Book is an initiative of Dublin City Council, led by Dublin City Libraries, which encourages everyone to read a capital-related book during the month of April each year – read more about the 2022 program of events here.

Nuala O’Connor’s Nora, read by Cathy Belton, is featured on the Book on a on RTÉ Radio 1, broadcast weekend evenings at 11:20 p.m. from Monday 4 to Friday 15 April.

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