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October 2, 1957, Vol. II, No. 49
Buck Mulligan is Dead
By Carol Janeway
Some months ago, when I was interviewing my old friend Dr. Oliver St. John Gogarty, famous wit, surgeon, poet, and founding Senator of the Irish Free State, he read my copy and crossly remarked: “For goodness sake, don’t make me out to be a hero.” It is with a deep sense of personal loss that I write that Dr. Gogarty died at 79 of a heart attack on September 22 in Beth David Hospital.
As a student he shared a Martello tower with James Joyce, who later, in “Ulysses,” based the character of Buck (Malachi) Mulligan on the mercurial doctor. A tosspot in his youth (“There is no such thing as a large whiskey”), he claimed to be prouder of drinking the scone at Oxford — 5 1/2 pints of ale drunk in one continuous gulp — than of winning the Vice-Chancellor’s prize for poetry four times in a row.
He was a master of the instant quip. In a posh restaurant he remarked that “they had a waiter for every pea.” A chain of cafeterias he referred to as “Horn & Hardup.” When challenged in the Irish Senate to a battle of wits, he retorted that he “would never fight an unarmed man.”
Max Eastman said that Gogarty was full of “gorgeous prejudices.” A book on England he slyly entitled “Going Native,” and when one of his books was unfavorably mentioned in the New Yorker, Gogarty wrote in to say the reviewer had read the wrong edition; upon being asked which one she should have read, he joyously replied, “Why the one in Braille, of course.”
The author of well over 20 books, he only recently had his best-known work, “As I was Walking Down Sackville Street,” reprinted in a pocket-size paperback. His latest memoirs are due to appear next spring. Yeats called him “the greatest lyric poet of our age,” George Moore said he was “the author of all the jokes that enable us to live in Dublin,” and AE dubbed him the “wildest wit in Ireland.”
An American citizen since 1938, he was a frequent visitor to the Village, and one of the early subscribers to The Voice. Known for his caustic tongue and pen, he was capable of great kindness, and on more than one occasion had been known to quietly leave an anonymous steak in a hungry friend’s Milligan Place mailbox.
His death marks the end of an era. To those who knew him, he was a living legend. Once Gogarty told me he would will me the royalties on his phonograph recordings — about $5 a year — so that I could drink to his memory once a year. I do not know if he remembered, but I do, and drink to him. Godspeed, Oliver.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 11, 2008