by Ulick O’Connor
Ulick O’Connor introduced himself to the nation in the early black and white days of the Late Late Show and in 2006 this Peter Pan of Irish letters introduced himself to a whole new generation on Newstalk radio on sunday nights when profiling some of the great writers of the Irish Literary Renaissance in conversation with Roger Greene. This 3CD set is culled mainly from those conversations. Ulick is a fine performer and entertainer as well as a great biographer. Of his biography of Oliver St John Gogarty, John Ford claimed that it was The only book I’ve stayed up all night to read. On these CDS Ulick is a superb mimic, is full of anecdote, insight, and mischief. Patrick Kavanagh’s lung in a glass case in the College of Surgeons. The vocal impersonation is spot on and very funny as is his description of meeting Maud Gonne, Yeats’s great muse and mother of his good friend, Sean MacBride. He tells of a punch up with Brendan Behan where Brendan’s nose came off worst. No contest. Ulick was a trained boxer. Oliver St John Gogarty kicking the box to release a pair of Swans who took off up the Liffey like a pair of torpedoes. He is good on outsiders, like O’Casey and Synge, who became insiders somewhere else. His favourite Christy Mahon was Cyril Cusack. He recounts a mysterious phone call he once had from someone claiming to be Molly Allgood’s son. Was it genuine and or was it a wind up? Someone setting a hare knowing Ulick would jump at a chance to reveal some distant offspring of Synge’s? His reading of Synge’s The Curse is full of fire and the reading of Gogarty’s lovely Golden Stockings, is moving. Though on other occasions something strange happens when he reads a poem, he becomes too reverential and the poem sometimes slips away. But only occasionally. The sound quality on the radio pieces is fine but the item on Yeats recorded at the Dundrum theatre, suffers from a booming echo; however, this one slight fault doesn’t mar the enjoyment of the overall package. As well as being pristine snapshots into the past these CDS will prompt listeners to ferret out the great biographies that are still in print. Also, Theatre Companies may wish to have a look at some of Ulick’s unperformed plays. His play on the great Japanese writer, ‘Mishima’ and his version of Alexandre Bisson’s ‘Madame X ‘are worth considering. Maybe some of the younger generation may be more open to experiment. Ulick still is.