I see there’s going to be a Richard Harris film festival in Limerick soon to honour the famous Limerickman who was so proud of his home town that he adopted a British accent even though he had never set foot outside Ireland until he went to London in search of work. In a long and indifferent career, bookended by two fine movies, Harris lived off the fawning adoration of a small town in desperate need of a hero, and that town continues to seek vicarious fame in his memory, even erecting statues to his memory.
Toe-curlingly bad statues.
Every single person in Limerick played handball with Dickie Harris. Did you know that? It’s like the people in the GPO during Easter Week. There is not a single person, man or woman, of a certain generation, who didn’t play handball with Dickie Harris. Dickie was the Jahangir Khan of handball in Limerick and also, of course, racketball in Kilkee. Jahangir Khan and Padre Pio, since he also had the power to be in two places at the same time, while drunk, playing rugby and being witty all at the same time.
Never ceasing from the recitation of his melodious poetry.
Did I mention wit?
Limerick was always famous for its hams, and perhaps the best-known ham of all was Harris, international drunk and professional ne’er do-well who revelled in the lionising he received from Gay Byrne on the Late Late Show and the inevitable small-town ego-boost whenever he decided to visit Charlie St. George’s pub to patronise the locals.
I suppose he thought of himself in the same mould as Oliver Reed and Peter O’Toole — that other old thespian fraud — but an obnoxious drunk is still just a drunk, while a well-known drunken actor is something quite different. While your common-or-garden piss-head might simply be ejected from the pub, a famous actor, especially from a small town, is rumbustious, unruly and turbulent, instead of simply being an overbearing bully.
Such are the dynamics of celebrity. Such is the way small-town people prostrate themselves before those in the public eye.
The blurb for the event speaks for itself: Richard Harris was an actor, singer, theatrical producer, film director, wit, poet and writer of immense ability.
It’s true that he acted and it’s true that he sang, after a fashion. I don’t know what a wit is — do you?
It’s anyone’s guess what a poet is.
Harris acted in two good roles, This Sporting Life near the start of his career and The Field at the end, although I have to say that I enjoyed his performance as the Duck of Death in Unforgiven, even if his only function was to serve as a punch-bag for Gene Hackman.
In between the two good roles is a mix of the indifferent and the downright bad, but Harris prospered at a time when Ireland was desperate for any indication that one of its own might have achieved success in any field, and of course, we can never discount the small-town hunger for reflected glory.
This is why we erected that dreadful statue to the Burger King, and why we were careful to inscribe it with the health warning that it was put there by a unanimous decision of the city council. Heaven forfend that anyone would think there were objectors among that fine body of men and women to such a fine sculpture.
I gather that the mayor of Limerick will open the film festival by formally leaving a cake out in the rain.
Elsewhere: Skip Traces