Films at the Fleadh – Shem the Penman Sings Again

We continue our series of posts on the films at 2015 Galway Film Fleadh, taking a look at Pádraig Trehy’s experimental Shem the Penman Sings Again. The film screens Thursday July 9th, at 2pm in the Town Hall Theatre.

Shem the Penman Sings Again is a musical and cinematic journey into James Joyce’s creative imagination that is an imagined archive of the actual and much fabled, friendship of James Joyce and John McCormack. The renowned writer and superstar tenor first met in 1904 when Joyce still had hopes of becoming a professional singer himself. They reconnected in Paris in the 1920s and Joyce was to use his first hand knowledge of McCormack to create the character of Shaun the Post in his famously ‘unreadable’ novel Finnegans Wake. As Joyce struggled with the book for seventeen years, he portrayed himself in it as Shaun’s lowly twin brother, Shem the Penman.


Joyce’s twin obsessions of singing and literary experimentation flow through the film as his and McCormack’s encounters are reimagined in a variety of early cinematic styles, constantly interrupted by a series of films within the film which chart the exploits of Shem and Shaun. As Joyce’s eyesight fails the narrative is carried by a mix of archive recordings and imaginary radio broadcasts which give us an emotional connection to an increasingly isolated Joyce.

Shem the Penman Sings Again was funded through the Irish Film Board’s micro-budget scheme. The film stars Hugh O’Conor, Frank Prendergast, and Brian Fenton as James Joyce, and Louis Lovett as the great tenor John McCormack. It is directed by Padraig Trehy and produced by Rossa Mullin for Pooleen Productions and is written by Trehy and Peter McCarthy.

Shem the Penman Sings Again premieres on Thursday July 9th, at 12:15pm in the Town Hall Theatre.