Constantine [Peter] Curran (1883-1972)

[var. 1880-1975; usu. C. P. Curran; fam. ‘Con’]; ed. O’Connell Schools (CBS), and UCD, where he was a contemporary and friend of James Joyce whom he met in 1899 (2nd yr); as editor of St Stephen’s in 1904, he solicited a piece of writing and received “The Holy Office” - which he returned unprinted and humorously dubbed ‘the unholy thing’ in a covering letter; after college he joined the Four Courts Service and was posted to Account-General, 1904;
appt. Registrar of the Supreme Court of the Irish Free State; modelled for a lost character in James Joyce’s Stephen Hero and Donovan in A Portrait (‘the fat student’ AP, 216; Corr. Edn. 1968); lent money to Joyce in Paris, while visiting the city in 1904, remained on letter-writing terms with him throughout his life; author of the photograph of Joyce in yachting shoes; kept Wednesday afternoon literary salons in Dublin; m. Helen S. Laird, creator of the role of Maurya in Synge’s Riders to the Sea (1904);
visited Joyce in Paris and found exaggeration of Nora’s danger from the Civil War preposterous, 1922; responded to Joyce’s request to visit his father in his last days in Drumcondra Hospital, Christmas 1931 and later assisted with Lucia when she ran away to Ireland; spoke of Joyce in a radio broadcast, 2 Feb. 1938; met the Joyces with the Gormans at Fountainbleu, Aug.-Sept. 1938; issued The Rotunda Hospital: Its Architects and Craftsmen (1945) and Dublin Decorative Plasterwork of the 17th and 18th Centuries (1967);
issued James Joyce Remembered (1968), a memoir, and Under the Receding Wave (1970), an autobiography, correcting the impression of an otiose and sterile intellectual life at the Royal University in Joyce’s day; his contributions to Studies incl. a notice on Evie Hone in (Summer 1955); Elizabeth Solterer is his dg. DIW

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  • Dublin Decorative Plasterwork of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (1967) [see details];
  • James Joyce Remembered (OUP 1968) [see under Joyce, Commentary, infra];
  • Newman House and University Church (1953);
  • Under the Receding Wave (Gill & Macmillan 1970).

Miscellaneous incls. ‘Griffith, MacNeill and Pearse’, in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, 55 (1966), pp.21-28; Also, an obituary for Eoin MacNeill, in Irish Independent (21 Oct. 1945).

See also letters addressed to him by Joyce in Selected Letters of James Joyce (London: Faber & Faber 1975), p.21ff. [23 June 1904, &c.], in which Joyce variously signs himself “yours heroically”, “Stephen Daedalus” and “James Overman” as well as “J.A.J.”.

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Bibliographical details

Dublin: Decorative Plasterwork of the seventeenth and eighteenth century (London: Alec Tiranti 1967), 123pp. [+ c.100pp. pls.] Acknowledgements; Preface; The Guild of Plasters; Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries; The Age of Swift and Molyneux; New Stylistic Influences; The Francini [Pts. 1 & 2]; Mespil Ceilings and the 1750-1760 Decade; The Rotunda Hospital Chapel; Robert West and Others; Edward Smyth, Sculptor and Stuccodore; Charles Thorp and others; Michael Stapleton; XII: Epilogue [TEchniques of the Old Masters; Footnotes; App. A: Admitted Freeman of the City; App. B: Plasterers no on the Freeman Roll; App. C: List of plsaterers drawn from Bryan Bolger’s Papers of 1789-1825 now in the Public Records Office, with names of the occupiers of the houses mentioned; App. D.: Plasterers engaged on the Parliament House; App. E: Plasterers engaged on the Rotunda Hospital; App. F: The West Family - Freeman of Dublin; Index to Dublin Plasterers (incl. dates of their activities); Bibliography; Index to People and Places.

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Extracts from James Joyce Remembered (OUP 1968) - Chap. 1: Joyce at University College

Note: Curran appears to mistake the date of the commencement of Stephen Hero for 1903, presuming that the aesthetic ideas that Joyce uttered to him and others were “flag-practices” [and] “the trying-out on friendly ears of a book in progress’ [infra], the “ironic” attitude towards the explosive effects of his Mangan paper [infra], together with his incidental remarks on the question of the “saffron kilt” as a national garb for Irishmen and the “particoloured, druidical Pan-Celts” founded by Fournier d’Albe [infra].

The whole discussion on aesthetics, the “applied Aquinas” which occupies twelve pages of Stephen Hero, had, I believe, no place at all in this paper. I am satisfied of this not merely by reason of Joyce’s absorption at this date with Ibsen but because the title of his address was not altered, as Stephen says it was, from “Drama and Life” to “Art and Life” - a change which would have been necessary if aesthetics were its main subject and also because Joyce’s elaboration of his “applied Aquinas” aesthetics was, I dare to say, a matter of later date. His monologues on this topic, begun on pages 76-80 (of the New Directions edition, 1944) before the delivery of his address, are continued later to Cranly on pages 212 and 213. These monologues were heard (but much later - from 1903 onwards) by more than one of Joyce’s friends. His brother, Stanislaus, was the chief, J. F. Byrne (Cranly) was another, and I myself in the autumn of 1903 and the beginning of 1904 was a third. Their subjects, the cone-shaped image of art, its disposition into the lyric, epic, and dramatic, the definition of these kinds, the Thomist constituents of beauty, were set forth to me, as no doubt to others, succinctly and dogmatically at times and places I well remember as belonging to a period three years after his “Drama and Life”. Cavendish Row and the slopes up Rutland Square [12] are indissolubly associated in my mind with such discourse - conversations they can hardly be called, their sententiousness betrays the written word. They were ideas derived from St. Thomas and extended to literature, theories which he had already set down on paper when drafting the text of Stephen Hero in or about 1903. They were the “flag-practices”, the trying-out on friendly ears of a book in progress. A little - his special use of the term “literature” and the definition of beauty - appeared, somewhat earlier, in his paper on Mangan [viz., 2 Fen. 1902].
Mangan spoke of this deplorable parent of his as a “boa-constrictor”. In Finnegan Wake (London, 1939, p.180) Joyce wrote of his own as a “Boer-constructor” what time Shem the Penman was still a lexical student. His first audience no doubt missed the parallel, but they did not fail to pick up his allusion to Mangan as lamenting no deeper loss to his country than the loss of plaids and interlaced ornament. This topical, now obscure, allusion pointed to Edward Martyn’s Maeve whose exacting love required her pattern of Celtic youth to equal “the rare and delicate perfection” of Celtic ornament. It pointed also, and more immediately, to the new evangel of national dress preached in saffron kilt and plaid to the Literary and Historical just a fortnight before by Fournier d’Albe, an assistant lecturer in physics [15] at the College of Science - better known to us as the inventor of the particoloured, druidical Pan-Celts.
This paper on Mangan is not mentioned by name in the surviving fragment of Stephen Hero, but its material, I imagine, bulks larger than “Drama and Life” in that composite text. Its definitions of literature and beauty have been already referred to. There is as well, as I have mentioned, the more personal reference to the poet who alone is capable of absorbing in himself the life that surrounds him and of flinging it abroad amid planetary music. And there is again the “eloquent and arrogant peroration” (Stephen Hero, p.80). Whether “Mangan” or the earlier “Drama and Life” was the “first of my explosives” (ibid., p.81) is immaterial. One need not be misled by Stephen’s indignation; Joyce regarded him with more ironical eyes. Was his fate, after all, so dreadful or the explosive reckoned so deadly? The fowler had spread his nets and caught the unwary. His other hearers stood free and approved the performance. How else explain the note of the meeting sent by the Society’s secretary to the Freeman’s Journal to appear in its columns on Monday 3 February? It reported categorically that it was “the best paper ever read before the Society”.
pp.11-17; for longer extracts, see attached.

‘He was diligent in following up clues and the modish allusions to more esoteric writers in Yeats and the French Symbolists. His extraordinary memory and natural acuteness did the rest in the way of preserving for use immediately, or after a great space of years, what came his way.’ (p.35-36; quoted in Frank Shovlin, Journey Westward: Joyce, “Dubliners”, and the Literary Revival, Cambridge UP 2012, p.125.)

Further ...

‘He was diligent in following up clues and the modish allusions to more esoteric writers in Yeats and the French Symbolists. His extraordinary memory and natural acuteness did the rest in the way of preserving for use immediately, or after a great space of years, what came his way.’ (p.35-36; quoted in Frank Shovlin, Journey Westward: Joyce, “Dubliners”, and the Literary Revival, Cambridge UP 2012, p.125.)

At Fr. Darlington’s English lecture: His first words were from Aristotle’s Poetics. [He] made some passing allusion to Stephen Phillips who had just published his Paolo and Francesca. “Have any of you gentlemen read Paolo and Francesca?” he enquire, and then immediately: “Yes.” I looked round and saw my first poet.’

On Joyce’s appearance: Joyce ‘[...] tall, slim and elegant; an erect yet loose carriage; an uptilted, long, narrow head, and a strong chin that jutted out arrogantly; first, tight-shut mouth; light-blue eyes which I found could stare with indignant wonder an which were uncommonly like Lord Rosebery's as described by [his biographer], “at times although expressionless like the eyes of a bird. They gave an air of inscrutability and sometimes of lack of interest in the surroundings of the moment.”’ (Both quoted in Gordon Bowker, James Joyce - Chap. 5 [online]

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Dublin: Decorative Plasterwork of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century (London: Alec Tiranti 1967): ‘[...] The stucco in certain Irish country houses mentioned here is of equal interest to the work in Dublin. As the century advanced the eighteen century provincial landowner had his town house in the capital; he took part in its development and in some cases the same architect and decorator worked for him in country and capital. This is far from implying the absnce of competent provincial craftsmen. Guilds of plasterers for what they were worth existed in the chief provincial centres. Cork, Limerick and Waterford were active foci of craftsmen. In many houses of minor importance throughout the country one may detect the naivety and inconsequence of the untravelled, inexperienced practitioner but in many others, and from an early date, the work is in no way inferior, either in conception or execution, to that of the metropolitan artist. Patrick Osborne’s work in Castletown and in the Waterford Chamber of Commerce is a notable example.’ Speaks of the pioneering work of the short-lived Georgian Society as ‘beyond praise.’ (p.x.) also gives only passing mention to Belvedere House, under “Michael Stapleton” [chap.]: ‘We may therefore include in Stapleton’s canon, in addition to the princial rooms in Powerscourt House, and the decorations in Trinity College, Dublin, already referred to; Bellevue, Delgany; Lucan House and Cork Abbey; Nos. 16, 17 and 44 St. Stephen’s Green; the work (1874-7) in the Viceregal and chief Secretary’s Lodges, and the decoration of his own housess in the Mountjoy Square vicinity [... &c.], incl. poss. 5 Great Denmark St. (Killeen House) et al. [e.g., 39 Mountjoy Sq.]

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Joyce Connection [1]: Joyce wrote to Con Curran in early July 1904: ‘Invaluable! A thousand feudal thanks! I have finished the awful chapter - 102 pages - and Russell [AE] has the book now. I shall send you the chapter in a week. I am writing a series of epicleti - ten - for a paper. I have written one. I call the series Dubliners to betray the the soul of hemiplegia or paralysis which many consider a city’ [SL22; addressed “The Rain, Friday.”]. In an earlier letter of 23 June 1904, he signs himself ‘Yours heroically, Stephen Daedalus’. [SL21-22.]

Joyce Connection [2]: Con Curran took the celebrated photograph of James Joyce legs astride, with yachting shoes and cap, against a greenhouse background, which is held in the Lockwood Mem. Library of Buffalo University, USA.

Joyce Connection [3]: In 1904 Con Curran praised the novel [Stephen Hero] and spoke of George Meredith as one of its models, ‘a remark which made Joyce eyes assume a look of “indignant wonder”.’ (BBC broadcast quoted Ellmann, James Joyce, 1965 Edn., p.168; cf., Curran, James Joyce Remembered, 1968, p.30.)

Joyce Connection [4]: Ellmann writes of Gabriel Conroy in “The Dead”: ‘For Gabriel’s personality there is among Joyce’s friends another model. This was Constantine Curran, sometimes nicknamed “Cautious Con”. He is a more distinguished man than Joyce allows, but Joyce was building upon, and no doubt distorting, his memories of Curran as a very young man. That he has Curran partly in mind is suggested by the fact that he calls Gabriel’s brother by Curran’s first name Constantine, and makes Gabriel’s brother, like Curran’s, a priest. Curran has the same high colour and nervous, disquieted manner as Gabriel [Letters, Vol. I, p.234], and like Gabriel he had travelled to the continent and has cultivated cosmopolitian interests. Curran, like Gabriel, married a woman who was not a Dubliner, though she came from only as far west as Limerick. In other respects he is quite different. Gabriel was made mostly out of Curran, Joyce’s father, and Joyce himself. He probably knew there was a publican on Howth named Gabriel Conroy or [...] may have borrowed the name from the title of a Bret Harte novel.’ (Ellmann, James Joyce, 1959, 1965 rep. edn., p.256.)

Joyce Connection (3): James Joyce wrote to Curran apropos Lucia’s illness: ‘It is terrible to think of a vessel of election as the prey to impulses beyond its control and of natures beneath its comrehension and, fervently as I desire her cure, I ask myself what will happen when and if she finally withdraws her regard from the lightning-lit revery of her clairvoyance and turns it upon that battered cabman’s face, the world.’ (10 Aug. 1935; quoted in Ellmann, James Joyce, 1959; 1965 rep. edn., p.690.)

Joyce Connection (4): Joyce sent 12 bottles of Clos S. Patrice, 1920, to Con Curran in celebration of the US District Court decision by Judge Woolsley permitting the publication of Ulysses, 20 Dec. 1933. Joyce wrote: ‘Thus one half of the English speaking world surrenders. The other half will follow’. (Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, 1959; 1965 rep. edn., p.679.) Note: Further letters from Joyce to Curran are printed in Letters, Vol. 1 (1957), pp.392, 395, 396.

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Frank Fay is cited as a close friend of Currans, in a circumstantial story about the performance of [R. B.] Sheridan’s plays, in James W. Flannery, Yeats and the Idea of the Theatre (1976), p.179; ftn.6.

A photo portrait of Con Curran appeared in Capuchin Annual 1946-47, p.515. Helen S. Laird, whom he married, was one of the official founders of the Irish National Theatre Society, creating the role of Maurya in Riders to the Sea in Molesworth Hall in 1904. There are portraits of her by AE (George Russell), and John Butler Yeats [NGI].

WBY: Con Curran was present, with others such as Gogarty, Starkie, Robinson, Donaghy and Dodds, at W. B. Yeats’s Mondays. (See Monk Gibbon, The Masterpiece and the Man: Yeats as I Knew Him, 1959, p.109.)

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