I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Bohemian Rhapsodist

Mícheál Ó hAodha
Walter Starkie: An Odyssey, by Jacqueline Hurtley, Four Courts Press, 320 pages, €49.50, ISBN: 978-1846823633 How does on recreate or resituate a “character” and a Renaissance man-type personality as complex and as multifaceted as Walter Starkie? Some would say you would be foolish to try to place this chameleon-like figure within the social, political and intellectual currents of his times; certainly, both the zeal of the scholar and the stubbornness of the detective would be required. Yet this is the huge task that Jacqueline Hurtley has set herself in this biography to which she diligently devoted the best part of two decades. The results are extremely impressive. This is a hugely comprehensive biography of a man for whom it would have been difficult for most scholars to trace thoroughly even one of his many personas. Starkie’s talents and interets are difficult to enumerate: a noted Hispanic scholar, fluent Romani speaker, musician, part-time reporter or interlocutor with the dictatorial regimes of Generals Primo de Rivera and Franco and Italy’s Mussolini, travel writer, theatre director, part-time diplomat, academic, folklorist, noted authority on Gypsy (Roma) music across a wide range of countries including France, Spain, Romania and Hungary, British colonial representative, or “stage-Irishman” as the contingencies of the moment required; an Anglo-Irishman who associated with the leading figures of the Irish Literary Revival and yet who had a more expansive vision and insight regarding Gaelic culture than most of his contemporaries. Starkie was a Europhile – before the term even existed ‑ and a man who despite his Victorian-romantic or bohemian image was politically astute beyond his years; he was a “spin-doctor” long before such a word existed or carried some of the negative connotations that it now has. Because Starkie became better known for his travel books, including Raggle Taggle – subtitled “Adventures with a fiddle in Hungary and Roumania” – the fact that there was much more to him was to a degree occluded to a great degree, at least until the appearance of this compelling new biography. The salient biographical facts are as follows. Born in Killiney, Co Dublin, in 1894, Walter Starkie was the eldest son of William Joseph Myles Starkie and May Caroline Walsh. His father was a noted Greek scholar and the last Resident Commissioner of National Education for Ireland when it was still part of the United Kingdom. His mother’s family was from Kerry. His aunt, Edyth Starkie,…

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