26 September 2017

Richard Harris celebrated
in Kilkee and Limerick, from
MacArthur Park to King Arthur

Richard Harris, ‘Peace Not War’ … Jim Connolly’s bronze statue in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Richard Harris is Limerick’s most acclaimed actor. And there are two statues honouring him in this area, both by the sculptor Jim Connolly.

In the centre of Limerick, the bronze statue of Richard Harris on Bedford Row shows the actor as King Arthur in Camelot and was unveiled ten years ago in September 2007. His statue of the young Richard Harris in Kilkee, Co Clare, was unveiled by the actor Russell Crowe a year earlier in September 2006.

Jim Connolly is one of Ireland’s leading bronze sculptors, best known for his highly acclaimed life-size portraits. He lives and works in Kilbaha, on Loop Head in West Clare, where he runs his own art foundry. His other acclaimed works include his sculpture of the Kerry GAA legend, Páidí Ó Sé unveiled in Ventry in May 2015, and his life-size sculpture of the writer John B Keane, in Listowel, Co Kerry, erected in 2007.

Richard Harris(1930-2002) is one of Ireland’s greatest movie stars. He is known today by a younger generation as Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films, but he died on 25 October 2002 at the age of 72 before filming began the third film in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Richard St John Harris was born in Limerick City on 1 October 1930, the sixth of nine children of Ivan John Harris and Mildred Josephine (Harty) Harris.

He went to the Jesuit-run Crescent College, where he played rugby on several Munster Junior and Senior Cup Teams for Crescent and played for Garryowen.

His sporting career was cut short after a bout of tuberculosis. During his illness, he read extensively and nurtured an ambition for a life in the arts.

After recovering, he moved to England to become a director but then decided to study acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. After roles on the stage in the West End Theatre, he made his first film appearance in 1958 in Alive and Kicking. A year later, he played the lead role in The Ginger Man in the West End in 1959.

Harris starred with Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn in The Guns of Navarone in 1961. But his most impressive performance came the following year in This Sporting Life. For this, he was Best Actor at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival and received an Academy Award nomination.

After playing the role of King Arthur in the film version of the musical Camelot (1967), Harris took a break from acting and recorded several albums, including the song MacArthur Park, which was a million selling hit. At the same time, he published a collection of poetry.

However, he returned to acting in 1990 to play the lead role of the ‘Bull’ McCabe in The Field, a film version of John B Keane’s play, which brought him his second Academy Award nomination.

Harris was highly commended for his role as the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator (2000), when he starred alongside Russell Crowe.

At the end of his career, Harris played Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter movies, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Before filming started on the third Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harris was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease in August 2002. He died in London on 25 October 2002, shortly before the premiere of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

In 1957, he married Elizabeth Rees-Williams and they had three children: actor Jared Harris, actor Jamie Harris and director Damian Harris. They were divorced in 1969. His second marriage to Ann Turkel also ended in divorce.

‘Peace Not War’ … the main theme of Jim Connolly’s bronze statue of Richard Harris in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Jim Connolly’s statue of Richard Harris on Bedford Row in Limerick was unveiled ten years ago, in September 2007, by the Mayor of Limerick, Councillor Ger Fahy.

Critics say Jim Connolly’s bronze statue is too small and that Harris was larger than life. But Connolly has pointed out that his statue is, in fact, larger than life. He is reported as saying: ‘Richard Harris was six foot and not six foot three.’ He verified this with Noel Harris, Richard’s brother. ‘The statue measures six feet and two inches.’

Jim Connolly’s statue is entitled ‘Peace Not War’ and is based on Harris’s role in Camelot. The statue has four plaques on the base giving brief biographical details and information on some of his movies.

A life in words … one of the four plaques encircling Jim Connolly’s sculpture of Richard Harris in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The Inscriptions at the main frontage of the state read:

Richard Harris

Richard Harris playing King Arthur in Camelot (1967).

Holding aloft a reversed sword, he proclaims: ‘Peace not War.’

The Harris Family

The Harris family business included flour milling, a huge bakery in Henry Street and a chain of confectionery shops. They employed as many as 500 people and a fleet of Harris cargo boats plied the Shannon. Also, keenly interested in sports they founded the Limerick County Lawn Tennis Club.

Richard, one of six boys and two girls was born to Ivan and Mildred Harris on 1st October 1930. The brothers starred as rugby players. Educated by the Jesuits in Crescent College, which the Harris family helped to establish, Richard excelled at rugby, poetry and the performing Arts.

In 1956 he studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He was discovered by Joan Littlewood, Producer/Director. He starred in over 80 international films and on stage.

Richard St John Frances Harris died in London on 25th October 2002.

Extract from Richard Harris’s Poem: ‘There Are Too Many Saviours On My Cross’ (1972):

I hear your daily cries
in the far-off byways in your mouth
north and south
and my calvary looms again
in rebirth
your earth is partitioned
but in contrition
it is the partition in your hearts
that you must abolish

The erection of this bronze statue, in memory and celebration of the life of Richard Harris, Actor, was unanimously approved by Limerick City Council.

It was unveiled by Mayor Ger Fahy on 7th September 2007.

Sculptor: Jim Connolly

Around the base of the statue there are three further inscriptions recalling his work as an actor in three other movies:

Richard Harris, This Sporting Life (1963)

This film, a recognised classic, tells the story of the harsh life and realities of a professional rugby footballer in England. His powerful performance in the leading role as Frank Machen launched a remarkable debut and won for Richard Harris international acclaim and a Best Actor Oscar Nomination.

Richard Harris, The Field (1990):

This film, a rural Irish masterpiece, was adapted by Jim Sheridan from a stage play written by John B. Keane. It tells the story of an Irish farmer willing to go to any lengths, to keep a field his family had cultivated for generations. His powerful performance as the doomed farmer, Bull McCabe, was to re-invigorate Richard Harris’s acting career and win for him his second Oscar Nomination.

Richard Harris in ‘Gladiator’ on Jim Connolly’s sculpture Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Richard Harris, Gladiator (2000)

This epic film is a ferocious re-enactment of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, at the time of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius and subsequent disastrous rule of his son Commodus. This Academy Award winning film, has a star studded cast and his performance as the Emperor won for Richard Harris high acclaim.

Jim Connolly’s sculpture of Richard Harris in Kilkee, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Jim Connolly’s bronze statue of Richard Harris in Kilkee honours the actor in the West Clare resort where he spent many summer holidays. In this life-size statue, Connolly depicts Harris playing racquet ball, a game played against the sea wall in Kilkee, where he won the men’s open racquet championship a number of times.

The ‘Tivoli Cup’ was the prize in of a long-running racquets competition played against the plastered white walls on Kilkee beach – a game unique to the seaside town. Richard Harris won the trophy four times in a row (1948-1951), a record that still stands. The was revived in 2009.

The statue was unveiled in September 2006 by Russell Crowe, who became friends with Richard Harris in 1999 while they were filming Gladiator.

An appeal against planning permission for the statue on Wellington Square in Kilkee means it remains standing on a temporary site beside the Diamond Rocks café at the Pollock Holes.

Ballybunion Castle stands valiant
against the wind and the weather

‘No foes shall stay his might; though he with giants fight’ … Ballybunion Castle, Co Kerry, stands on a tall spit of land between the ‘Men’s Beach’ and the ‘Ladies’ Beach’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

He who would valiant be ’gainst all disaster,
let him in constancy
follow the Master.
There’s no discouragement
shall make him once relent
his first avowed intent
to be a pilgrim.

Who so beset him round
with dismal stories,
do but themselves confound –
his strength the more is.
No foes shall stay his might;
though he with giants fight:
he will make good his right
to be a pilgrim.

Since, Lord, thou dost defend
us with thy Spirit,
we know we at the end
shall life inherit.
Then fancies flee away!
I’ll fear not what men say,
I’ll labour night and day
to be a pilgrim.

I thought of John Bunyan and his Pilgrim’s Progress as a group of us visited Ballybunion Castle last week. The castle, which once stood ‘valiant be ’gainst all disaster,’ but has since been ‘beset … round with dismal stories,’ takes its name from a Bunion or Bunyon family who also gave their name to the Kerry seaside resort.

Although I cannot trace any link between John Bunyan and the Bunion or Bunyon family of Ballybunion, the castle ruins standing on the cliffs above the sandy beaches are a reminder of dismal stories and those who fought like giants.

John Bunyan’s words were adapted by Percy Dearmer for this hymn so many of us remember at school assemblies, and set to the tune Monk’s Gate by the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. But Bunyan’s original words were more mediaeval and redolent of stories associated with decaying fortresses such as this, with references to hobgoblins and foul fiends.

The ruins of Ballybunion Castle … the east wall is all that stands today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The ruins of Ballybunion Castle belie a rich history going back centuries, and bear testament to the workers who built it and to the Bunyan family who gave the town its name. This is one of 15 cliff forts on the North Kerry coast.

Ballybunion Castle was built by the FitzMaurice family, a branch of the FitzGerald family of West Limerick, in the 14th century on the site of an old promontory coastal fort built by the Clann Conaire.

The Irish peerage title of Baron Kerry was created around 1223 for Thomas Fitzmaurice. In 1325, Maurice FitzMaurice, 4th Baron of Kerry, murdered Diarmaid Óg MacCarthy, son of Cormac Mór MacCarthy, in the court in Tralee. Maurice was tried and attainted by the parliament in Dublin and his lands forfeited, but after his death they were restored to his brother John FitzMaurice, 5th Baron of Kerry.

The present castle that now stands in ruins on this site was built with black coursed masonry and cut quern stones in the early 1500s for Edmond FitzMaurice, 10th Lord Kerry. The FitzMaurice family lived at Lixnaw and placed the Bonzon or Bunyan family in the castle as caretakers. The castle was destroyed by Lord Kerry in 1582, and in 1583 the lands of William Og Bunyan were confiscated because of his active role in the Desmond rebellion.

Thomas FitzMaurice (1574-1630), 18th Lord of Kerry and Lixnaw, eventually submitted to the authority of King James I in 1604, and he was confirmed in his possession of the castle and lands of Ballybunion in 1612.

The FitzMaurices continued to hold Ballybunion Castle until the mid-18th century. The last FitzMaurice to own the castle was probably Francis FitzMaurice (1740-1818), 3rd Earl of Kerry, whose extravagance led to the loss of all his Irish estates. Lady Kerry died in 1799, her husband died in 1818, and they were buried in the same tomb in Westminster Abbey. He had no children and the title became an additional title of the Marquesses of Lansdowne, descendants of his uncle John Petty, 1st Earl of Shelburne, who give there names to many streets and places in Dublin, Cork, Bristol and Calne.

When the FitzMaurice family sold their estates in Co Kerry, Ballybunion Castle was bought in Richard Hare in 1783.

The Hare family came to Ireland after the Cromwellian settlement and acquired property initially in Dublin and later in Cork. Their influence extended to Co Kerry at the end of the 18th century when Richard Hare bought 20,000 acres around Listowel. His son William Hare (1751-1837) later became first Baron Ennismore in 1800 and Earl of Listowel (1816).

The ownership of Ballbunion Castle passed from the Hare family to the local improvements committee in the 1900s. The castle has been a national monument since 1923, under the care of the Office of Public Works.

In the 1960s, the castle was sold to Kerry County Council which is responsible for maintaining the ruin. A souterrain leading from the south cliff face towards the castle was discovered in 1987, but because of a cave-in it stops before reaching the castle.

During the winter of 1998, the castle was struck by lighting and the upper part of the tower was destroyed. The 12-metre-high east wall is all that remains of the castle today. In 2014, the Office of Public Works carried out some remedial work to stabilise the castle wall and the foundations on one side of the castle.

A plaque on the castle’s east wall says ‘it stands as a memorial to the Bonyons, a proud and powerful family from whom today’s beautiful town of Ballybunion takes its name.’

The castle ruins stand on an elevated point above the cliffs which extend below in both directions. It overlooks the mouth of the Shannon, and has magnificent views of the beaches, the cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean; on clear days, there are views as far as Loop Head and Dingle.

‘The Ladies’ Beach’ seen from the ruins of Ballbunion Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The beach on the south side of the castle is known as the ‘Men’s Beach’, while the one to the north is the ‘Ladies’ Beach.’ In the past, men would bathe on a separate beach from women and children, but this practice has not been observed for decades.

Meanwhile, ‘He who would valiant be,’ Percy Dearmer’s adaptation of John Bunyan’s words, remains John Bunyan’s only known hymn. The tune Monk’s Gate, arranged by Vaughan Williams, is named after a hamlet in West Sussex, on the A281, 4.3 km south-east of Horsham. It was there in December 1904 that Vaughan Williams first heard the tune when he heard Harriet Verrall of Monk’s Gate singing the English folksong ‘Our Captain Calls All Hands.’

Harriet and Peter Verrall, who lived at Thrift Cottage, were also responsible for teaching Vaughan Williams the ‘Sussex Carol’ (‘On Christmas Night all Christians sing’) and the tune known as ‘Sussex’ (‘Father, hear the prayer we offer’). Vaughan Williams’s tune was published in the first edition of the English Hymnal in 1906.

Bunyan’s original was not commonly sung in churches, perhaps because of the references to ‘hobgoblin’ and ‘foul fiend.’ Some recent hymnbooks have returned to Bunyan’s original, including the Church of England’s Common Praise and the Church of Scotland’s Hymns of Glory, Songs of Praise, and it has been popular with English folk rock artists such as Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band.

‘To Be a Pilgrim’ is the school hymn for many schools throughout England, and is sung in several school films. In Lindsay Anderson’s film if.... (1968), it characterises the traditional religious education in English public schools in the 1960s. It is also sung again in a public school context in Clockwise (1986), starring John Cleese, who directs all of the members of the Headmasters’ Conference to stand and sing the hymn, as he often would to his own pupils.

This was one of the hymns chosen by Margaret Thatcher for her funeral in 2013. But the hymn was also one of Tony Benn’s choices on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs.

The hymn’s refrain ‘to be a pilgrim’ has entered common usage in the English language and has been used in the title of many books about pilgrimage.

As I looked back on Ballybunion Castle last week, war-weary beaten by the winds, the waves, the weather and by lighting, I found myself humming once again John Bunyan’s or words:

one here will constant be,
come wind, come weather;
there’s no discouragement …