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Irish bank forges in the smithy of its soul a botched James Joyce coin

The Central Bank of Ireland will not withdraw a 10 euro coin that it minted to commemorate Irish novelist James Joyce, even though the coin misquotes a line from his masterpiece 'Ulysses.'

By Correspondent / April 12, 2013

The Central Bank of Ireland's 10 euro coin, which incorrectly features an extra 'that' in the James Joyce quote it displays.

Central Bank of Ireland

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Dublin, Ireland

"Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race." - James Joyce, 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man'

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Ireland Correspondent

Jason Walsh has been the Monitor's Ireland correspondent since 2009, dividing his time primarily between Belfast, Northern Ireland and Dublin in the Republic of Ireland. During that time he has reported on stumbling blocks in the peace process, the dissident republican threat, pro-British unionist riots, demands for abortion legislation and Ireland's economic crash.

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Red faces on the island of the green: A €10 coin minted to commemorate novelist James Joyce but misquoting his work will not be withdrawn, the Central Bank of Ireland has said.

He was one of Ireland's most renowned writers, and one of the few titans of modernism the country has ever produced, so it's no surprise that Ireland would seek to commemorate Mr. Joyce. It's a pity, then, that the launch of a commemorative €10 ($13) coin has been marred by a mistake.

Comedians may be inclined to ask if a €10 coin costing €46 ($60) is a sign of continuing turmoil in the eurozone. Or rather, they might have, if there wasn't an even easier target: The coin features an engraved misquote on its obverse.

The quote from Joyce's masterpiece "Ulysses," one of the key texts of 20th century modernist literature, should have read: “Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read."

The script on the coin adds the extra word "that" to the second sentence, changing it to: "Signatures of all things that I am here to read."

The coin was designed in Ireland by Mary Gregoriy but minted by Mayer’s Mint in Germany, something that is itself a source of some mirth in the land of Joyce's birth, given widespread feeling the country has lost its economic sovereignty to Germany.

The design shows a stylized Joyce wearing his trademark spectacles with the words pouring in cursive script from his head.

Human error was blamed for the quotation mistake, with the Central Bank saying a staff member made a mistake copying the text.

Though the coin has sold out, the bank says a refund will be available to purchasers, who will be told of the misquote.

"While the error is regretted, it should be noted that the coin is an artistic representation of the author and text and not intended as a literal representation," the bank said in a statement.

Copyright expired on Joyce's work on Jan. 1, 2012. Prior to this his estate, run by his grandson Stephen Joyce, had fiercely guarded the writer's work, virtually forbidding all but the shortest quotations.

Irish-born novelist Gerry Feehily, now living in Paris, pours cold water on the cult of Joyce, not because he wasn't a great writer, but because his function today is quasi-political and at odds with history.

"Few people read Joyce, certainly they didn't at the time," he says.

According to Mr. Feehily, the error on the commemorative coin is doubly embarrassing given Ireland uses its literary figures as form of identity creation and tourism marketing.

"Ireland spends all its time talking up writers it hated. No Irish writer was ever accepted in their time. It's only through this conscious, revisionist reinvention of the Irish identity that we've decided to make something of Joyce, [Samuel] Beckett, and even poor old silly [Oscar] Wilde," he says.

Nonetheless, perhaps there is a certain poetry in the gaffe. Although the Joyce novel quoted on the coin, "Ulysses," is a difficult read, Joyce's last major work, "Finnegans Wake" (yes, there's no apostrophe) is famously close to unreadable, composed as it is of stream of consciousness, linguistic acrobatics, neologisms and, well, gibberish.

As Joyce himself wrote: "bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!”

Nonetheless, Antony Farrell, founder of publisher Lilliput Press in Dublin, says there is a serious side to the error.

"My editor, Danis Rose, who edited the definitive editions of 'Ulysses' and 'Finnegans Wake,' was in today and he found it risible. It's incredible that [the bank] didn't hire a Joyce consultant and that they haven't withdrawn it."

Mr. Farrell says while the lack of attention to detail may make the coin even more of a collector's item, it doesn't speak well of Ireland.

"Calling it artistic license, as people are, diminishes the idea that we value our culture – it's demeaning, frankly."

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