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Ian Gibson, Distinguished Gentleman

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

The Bloomsday 2019 event in Madrid had one very unusual guest appearance during a reading of The Dead as the Bloomsday Society in Madrid brought Joyce back to life.

At the head table of El Ateneo was Sara Canto who founded the Bloomsday Society, the President of El Ateneo who was kind enough to open the magnificent theatre on a Sunday for Bloomsday and the Irish Ambassador Síle Maguire. They were joined on stage by singers and dancers and the honoured guest Ian Gibson. Mr Gibson is a Hispanist who has written several books about Spain’s most famous poet, Federico García Lorca as well as a biography of Dali, The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali.

Ian Gibson certainly draws a crowd and was honoured on the night with a painting presented to him that depicting him with Joyce, Dali and Lorca.

Lorca was murdered by Franco’s forces at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War and despite three digs attempting to find his remains, his body has yet to be discovered.

Either side of the dignitaries were singers and readers and in front of them a packed theatre of at least 200 people. Some people started to fill the upper gallery and for the day that was in it, not everyone removed their hats when they entered El Ateneo.

Pictured above, Ian Gibson leads a round of applause after a fantastic performance by Pilar Pastor as Molly Bloom. To capture the moment, Bill Dixon and I had discussed photographing the gathering with an old vintage camera and despite Bill’s best efforts to source film for my 1929 antique camera and bringing his own camera, it was impossible to photograph Bloomsday with old cameras as the theatre was full of people and I had to rely on my digital camera to capture the spirit of Joyce.

I think I succeeded in capturing Joyce when Mal Murphy took to the lectern and read from The Dead, a powerful stage light cast a shadow of James Joyce himself on Malachy’s vacant chair.

Malachy who is originally from Dublin was happy to read The Dead to our distinguished guest Ian Gibson who is also from Dublin but left Ireland when he was 18 and the Dubliners appeared to be joined by James Joyce himself.

James Joyce’s first novel was Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and his last novel was Finnegan’s Wake but “no one would think he’d make such a beautiful corpse” especially after all these years.

This is of course not the first time that the spirit of James Joyce has appeared in Madrid on Bloomsday as poet John Liddy told me a few years ago about a Bloomsday event in the James Joyce bar where he too was reading an excerpt from the dead Dubliner.

Back in the late 1990s, a group of twenty strong attended a Bloomsday breakfast in the James Joyce Irish bar. Standing to speak, John Liddy felt unwell and stopped, his head bowed like he was in a trance, he felt a shiver up his spine and looked at the group who all looked to be in a trance like state. He asked the group, “did you feel that?” and the group just nodded in agreement.

Maybe the author of Ulysses and The Dead is still alive and well in Madrid after all.

WAKING THE DEAD: Let me check my spectacles, I think I just saw James Joyce.

Supported by

UNESCO City of Literature

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