Tag Archives: Ireland

Ireland: Communication, Imram and Beer

slea head irelandBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Today we take as our text one of the recent contributions of Kevin Dolgin to the annals of travel writing. This narrative is found at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and its title, “The Best Pint of Guinness in Dublin,” is self-explanatory. It’s all about visiting with members of one of the most loquacious of all ethnic groups, the Irish, in their native haunts. This was done on the advice of a cab driver, whose considered opinion was that the most Irish characteristic is communication — particularly the kind carried on over a measure of excellent brew. Actually, the more measures, the better. But first, Dublin must be navigated — and here’s how Kevin describes the venerable city:

It’s made of bricks: the buildings, the sidewalks, everything is made of brick. I find brick cities to be cold, industrial. You expect to see Charlie Chaplin skittering around the corner with a bevy of incompetent cops running after him.

Confiding in the barman that they are in search of the best pint of Guinness in Dublin, Kevin and his friend are promised they’ve come to the right place, because of an elusive factor called the “sharp draw.” Indeed, it is an article of faith among the Irish that their Guinness will have a different taste, depending on the architecture, fittings, and ambiance of each particular pub. Various other bars are recommended, and as the two seekers journey on, helpful bystanders recommend yet more not-to-be-missed watering holes, including one housed in a former morgue. As the Irish communication skills blossom, the writerly note-taking diminishes, and the details of the last few stops are a bit blurry, except for a sudden return of awareness re: an interesting vending machine in the gents’.

Now, we must not get the idea that Ireland is all kegs and drafts. Remember the communication aspect? For that, you’ve also got your literary festivals, a roaring great crowd of them. Poetry Ireland, for example, offers a complete roundup of all Irish poetry festivals throughout the year. July saw the 11th West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry, only one of many such cultural gatherings. The granddaddy of them all, at 18 years, is the Aspects Irish Literature Festival that occurs in Northern Ireland, not far from Belfast, whose mission is “firstly to promote exclusively Irish writing in all its forms.” Declan Burke outlines the past and future prospects of the crime novel as an element of the Irish lit fest in “Plots of crime masterminds” at the Irish Independent. As the host of “Crime Always Pays”, a blog dedicated to Irish crime writing, Burke has the whole scene covered.

Upcoming is the 6th Dromineer Literary Festival, to be held from October 1st to 4th in County Tipperary. It’s probably a bit late to arrange for attendance at “Let Me Take You To The Island,” namely Rathlin Island, a lovely spot in the Irish Sea near Ballycastle, or to make it to Dublin’s IMRAM Irish Language Literature festival, which is in progress even as we speak — but keep them in mind for next year. This IMRAM bash is beyond eclectic, with such offerings as “the Russian poets of the Silver Age translated into Irish and English,” and the Dylan Project (Dylan Thomas, not Bob Dylan). The imram, by the way, is a rowing voyage, sort of a pilgrimage or walkabout, only by sea. In the tradition of the Celts, it’s also an inner voyage to the realms of vision and dreams. In fact, imram designates a whole genre of Irish literature.

That festival is not to be confused with the Immrama Literary Festival, which in June drew 4,000 travelers to Lismore, County Waterford. “Rory Maclean literally blazed the Hippie Trial taking his audience from Istanbul to Kathmandu and on to Burma and Russia, his presentation ‘Creating a Traveller’s Tale’,” reads part of the gathering’s description, and in fact the focus of this particular festival is on travel writing.

But for those who avoid both communication and festival multitudes, here’s a bit of Ireland whose praises are sung by John G. O’Dwyer: An Daingean, or Dingle, a windswept part of the western coast with no golf courses or luxury hotels. (The photo on this page is Slea Head.) According to O’Dwyer, “It is often said that the Irish countryside is a giant storybook seeking readers.” He says it, and a lot more besides, in The Irish Times.

photo courtesy of Frankensteinnn, used under this Creative Commons license

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Literary Travel Popular as Ever

LimerickBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Literary travel might be one of those concepts that means different things to different people. Many travelers go places to pay homage to their literary idols and draw inspiration from walking in their literal footsteps.

In the Irish Times, Prof. Noel Mulcahy talks about the effect on an Irish city of the memoir written by a recently deceased author:

Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes provided a documented account of 1940s Limerick society, its behaviours and values. It spawned a new tourist product for the city. It offers a focus for literary research way past the foreseeable future.

Noel Mulcahy, incidentally, is a Professor of Industrial Strategy who holds management and technical training courses. He’s into stuff like the role of mathematics in engineering education.

Literary admiration also lures visitors to Madrid, to chase the ghost of the great travel writer Corpus Barga. At Wonders and Marvels, we learn from Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon that even Virginia Woolf was not immune to the fascination of literary travel. She made a pilgrimage to Haworth, home of the Bronte sisters, and wrote about it for The Guardian back in 1904. This present-day piece mentions some other world-class writers who traveled to partake of the atmosphere frequented by their own literary idols.

In Massachusetts, tourists are drawn to the homes of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Louisa May Alcott, James Russell Lowell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and (a guy with only two names, for a change) Rudyard Kipling. And that’s not even the whole list. Several other prominent writers, and painters too, frequented the North Shore area of that fine state, as explicated by Jim McAllister of The Salem News.

Speaking of Longfellow, tourists flock to Nova Scotia in French Canada, because Evangeline, an entirely fictional person and the heroine of his poem, lived there. In New Brunswick, there’s a hybrid theme park and historical reconstruction called Le Pays de la Sagouine, founded by novelist Antonine Maillet, who was so enthralled by her cultural heritage that she wrote 40 novels to commemorate the Acadian lifestyle.

Veteran journalist Stephen Mansfield mixed literature and travel in another way. As a youth, he slaked his appetite for foreign shores by becoming an English teacher (and rock musician) in Spain. There’s a great interview with Mansfield, conducted by Ulara Nakagawa, in The Japan Times.

Please suggest original conjunctions of place and literature!

Limerick photo courtesy of gabig 58, used under this Creative Commons license

Travel Writing Turned Inside Out in Ireland

cornwall_coast

By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

What we have here is the very opposite of travel writing. It’s host writing. It looks at our favorite subject not as a traveler might, but from the point of view of the inhabitants of a place. In this excellent Dublin Independent piece, Martina Devlin makes comparisons of the cost, and looks at the difference between the tourist experience in France (good) and Ireland (not so good). She explores the three main factors that are responsible: price, service, and quality. Okay, that’s about what you’d expect from any writer with both an aesthetic sense and a grasp of realpolitik. And then she goes brilliant:

What we do have to offer — our unique selling point — is our reputation as the Land of Saints and Scholars; our literary tradition. We can attract tourists by offering well-organised, weather resistant events: one extension of the “smart economy” we should not ignore… If we are to live to tell the tale of this once-in-a-century recession, we need to access those survival-of-the-fittest genes hardwired into our DNA.

In the matter of price, Devlin contends that the Irish don’t have a chance, because of the twin pillars of socialism, namely, high minimum wage and high income tax. As to the causes, agree with her or not — but the evidence is undeniable: it’s no longer an Ireland where visitors “will be content simply to admire the scenery.”

Devlin even provides specific suggestions, by giving examples of what has been successfully done in the literary tourism field. The recent West Cork Literary Festival, for instance, offered a class on travel writing, and encouraged professional travel agents to sign up. It’s that niche marketing concept. For novel-writing classes, about a third of the participants came from outside Ireland, and she believes this trend can be capitalized on to the very great benefit of the local economy. Ireland did just fine in its recent renaissance, and if there’s any country that can make a comeback, this is the one to do it.

Martina Devlin has published four novels and two nonfiction books. Her website offers great advice for writers. This opinion is not necessarily endorsed by Kevin Dolgin or anyone else around here, but the writer of this blog says it loud: Devlin is hot, hot, hot.

Last year, TripAdvisor compiled a list of the top ten literary travel destinations and #4 is Dublin, so things are heading in the right direction. Dublin has Yeats and Joyce, of course. For Harry Potter fans, this Skyscanner page offers a list of 13 possible destinations. Ireland is included on the basis of winning the 1994 Quidditch World Cup, and also on general principles, for being the stomping ground of Imps, Porlocks and Kelpies.

Ireland needs a literary-tourist-magnet on the scale of Menabilly, which is in the British county of Cornwall. That estate was the prototype of the fictitious Manderley in Daphne DuMaurier’s immortal best-seller Rebecca. Apparently, the author fell in love with a house, and wrote a bestseller featuring the house as a character, and made enough money to lease the house and move in. What a great story!

The person who knows the most about it is Justine Picardie, who has just published a book about DuMaurier, and who tells many entertaining details in The Times. Her description of that whole area makes a person want to go there right now. Not to Menabilly itself, of course. It’s not open to the public. But there is a yearly gathering in the nearest town, for devotees of the novel and the house. This article also gives careful directions for the optimal self-guided walking tour of the local countryside.

One reader we asked says that in Ireland, she’d like to see places associated with Maud Gonne. Or Bobby Sands. We’d like to hear more ideas. In Ireland, or any part of the United Kingdom, whose house or neighborhood would you like to have a peek at?

Cornwall coast photo courtesy of Kai Hendry , used under this Creative Commons license