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Irish envoy tours UB's Joyce Collection – just check Twitter

Irish Ambassador Daniel Mulhall first heard of the UB James Joyce Collection in Dublin while planning for the centenary celebration of “Ulysses” the epic novel by Joyce that takes places on June 16, 1904.

Since then, Mulhall has dreamed of visiting Capen Hall at the University at Buffalo North Campus in Amherst to tour the exhibit. The Joyce Collection, part of the university’s comprehensive poetry archive and manuscript collection, holds numerous manuscripts related to “Ulysses,” an epic literary work that thrust Joyce onto a global stage.

On Thursday Mulhall fulfilled that dream, and viewed other examples of the area’s Irish heritage.

Mulhall, 63, described his job as Irish ambassador as “telling Ireland’s story.” He often relies on poetry to do that. He lives in Dublin with his wife, Greta, a former ambassador born in Australia who met her husband while both were on diplomatic assignment in India.

On Thursday, she was by her husband’s side as they explored the Joyce Collection, the largest collection of Joyce artifacts and manuscripts in the world. After their visit, they were escorted by State Sen. Tim Kennedy to Irish monuments marking the Irish Famine and the Fenian Invasion as well as another world wonder, Niagara Falls.

Mulhall, a career ambassador for Ireland who held posts in Malaysia, Germany and the United Kingdom, is a poet at heart. And even though he has not written a word of poetry, Mulhall writes up a storm on Twitter.

How did you become a tweeting ambassador?

A friend of mine attended our ambassadorial conference about 10 years ago on how to smarten up our public profile. She said if we didn’t take to social media, we would become dinosaurs. At that stage I had never heard of social media, so I went back to Germany where I was posted and googled Twitter. I signed up without telling anybody at the embassy. I didn’t ask for anyone’s permission. At that stage our mission in Brussels had a Twitter account, and maybe New York. Now every embassy has one. But I got in early.

21,000 followers is not bad.

I’ve been involved in telling Ireland’s story for the last 40 years. I gave lectures in India about (W.B.) Yeats and Joyce. I wrote articles in newspapers in Malaysia, Thailand and Germany, and I’ve issued hundreds of press releases. Twitter is another version of a press release. It’s another way of communicating with the public.

First thing in the morning?

7 a.m. I wake up and I tweet a couple lines of poetry. I’m one of the people who thinks the increase in characters a couple of years ago (from a maximum of 140 to 280 characters per tweet) was a good thing because it allowed a more substantive passage. With 140, you really only have three lines. Now you can get six. You need a passage that stands up on its own, that doesn’t require the rest of the poem to give it context.

Tell me about your poetry jam at the Lincoln Center.

The story is that because of my daily poetry tweets, the Academy of American Poets asked me to read some poetry at their annual reading at the Lincoln Center. I read a Seamus Heaney poem; that was their suggestion because he spent a lot of time in America. I read a poem by an Irish American poet who has the best name, Brigit Pegeen Kelly. I read four poems. It was great because 2,000 people were there. I read in Philadelphia, and there were 40 or 50 people. I like to read poetry, but I never wrote a word. I know a lot of poets, and when I see or hear a poem I know when it’s good. I often do recordings and put them on my Twitter account.

How did you hear about the UB James Joyce Collection?

I first heard about it 20 years ago in Dublin from someone who lived in Buffalo. We were discussing how the university might become involved in the centenary celebration of “Ulysses” in 2004. I happened to be home on leave from Malaysia, and that was the first time I became conscious of the existence here of such a huge collection dedicated to Joyce. From that day I had the desire to visit Buffalo and to see the collection. Today is culmination of that aspiration I’ve had for 15 years or more.

What is your takeaway?

The last page of the manuscript of Ulysses, and it’s a famous last page. Most people think the last three words are: “I will Yes.” But the last three words are: “Trieste Zurich Paris.” I often use that to illustrate the fact that Ulysses is a great European novel. I was recently asked by a student at another university: “What would James Joyce make of Brexit?” My answer was, Joyce was a European and he would have understood Ireland’s journey to be Ireland but to be more European. That’s why Joyce left Ireland, to observe Ireland – with great precision – from Trieste, Paris and Zurich. He wrote this great novel about the Ireland he left behind in 1904, so I was very excited to see that manuscript here.

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