Hayden Murphy recalls a poignant encounter with the offspring of a

literary legend

IN March 1975, letters of introduction in my pocket, I headed for an

asylum. My destination was St Andrew's Hospital, Northampton. The

letters were addressed to a resident psychiatrist and his long-term

patient Miss Lucia Joyce. The introductions were written by a portly

Queen's Counsel called Eoin O'Mahony, who had died in 1970.

At the time of his death Hubert Butler, a great annotator of Irish

eccentrics, wrote in The Irish Times ''Eoin never had any triumphs, or

disasters, and yet he liked pomp and ceremony and relished life's


Eoin O'Mahony was known the length and breadth of Ireland as The Pope.

Mainly thanks to his modest self-belief in his own infallibility. Also

because of the air of benign sanctity surrounding him. I was his

presidential election agent when he stood as ''Non-party-political

Pacificist-Independent'' in the Presidential election of 1966. At 19 I

was chosen because of a maternal link with the Parnellite and Home Rule

MPs John and Luke Hayden.

We failed, fortunately for my sanity, by a handful of votes to get

nominated to the election proper. De Valera won that. The Pope's payment

for my efforts were letters of introduction to the great, famous, and

peculiar he numbered among his friends. Beckett, the Italian poet

Montale, Pablo Neruda and spy-jumping Sean Burke were among those

randomly selected from his files.

We had a love of Joyce's writing in common. In 1967, he and I had

shared, at their expense, a memorable Bloomsday with a busload of

Japanese Joyceans. Eoin had visited Lucia several times in the late

fifties. He wanted me to ''drop in, cheer her up, give her some youth''.

So, as The Pope's emissary I arrived at the hospital where she had

been a patient since 1951. The doctor was kind but firm. He would see

how she was ''today''. A nurse pointed out a dark-coated figure in a

wheelchair animatedly waving her arms.

The intrusive awfulness of my unannounced arrival hit me. I wrote a

line of explanatory greeting and left. Not before I felt I had been

sighted by the mild squint, hereditary companion to her mother's sleepy

left eye. And imagined the troublesome scar on her chin jut in my

direction with a stubborn curiosity reminiscent of her father. Her

father, James Joyce, ''international eyesore of all the crowning words

of Europe''.

Lucia Anna Joyce was born July 26, 1907, in the pauper ward of

Ospedale Civico de Trieste. Her father was in the fever ward with

rheumatics. Her Galway-born mother, Nora Barnacle, picked up 20 crowns

on her successful birth, ''a standard payment to the indigent.'' Her

only brother, Jeorgio, was born two years earlier on July 27. Birthdays

were co-celebrated collisions.

After years of ''domestic distributions'' (Trieste, Zurich, Rome) the

Joyces settled in Paris. In the early thirties Samuel Beckett, who took

dictation from Joyce for passages of what became Finnegans Wake, became

a regular house-guest. He took Lucia -- ''the tortured and blocked

replica of genius'' -- to the theatre and restaurants. She fell in love

with him. He fled. For some time he was unpopular in the household. But

Joyce relented and wrote of the tall French scholar: ''Sam knows miles

better me how to work the miracle. He'll prisckly soon hand tune your

Erin's ear for you.''

Meanwhile Lucia was turning the books upside down on the shelves,

cutting telephone wires, and throwing chairs at Nora. ''Needs a nice

young husband'' said her still unwed mother. ''I'm sex starved''

responded Lucia and set about a disturbing promiscuous remedy.

Hospitals, followed by sanitoriums, led to asylums. Even Carl Jung

despaired. In March 1951, a month before her mother's death (her father

died in 1941), she was committed to the English hospital for the rest of

her life. She died there in 1982.

These details, these Patrick Day memories, came crowding back when

watching Rosaleen Pelan's effervescent performance as Lucia in Robert

Forrest's moving play of that title in Fifth Estate's production at the

Netherbow Theatre, Edinburgh. John Linklater (March 9) has justly

praised script, production, and cast. It merely remains for me to

half-close my eyes, see the ''pretty, little American flapper'' that

novelist Thomas Wolfe saw in 1928. Recall again the assessing squint.

The vulnerable jut of the jaw and at curtain call cry ''Clapause'' and

hope I brought ''some youth'' to it.

This lovely understated play is never a triumph but is full of

creative pomp and theatrical ceremony. The Pope would have relished its


* Lucia is at the Netherbow Theatre, Edinburgh, (not Sundays) until

March 26.