I couldn’t just choose one thing for this letter L. I even had to edit out out certain things to see like linen, which was for many years a huge part of the Irish economy. But what Ireland does consistently export well is literature! While a book might be read in your armchair at home, a literature festival offers something more than just print as some thing to see in Ireland. You will see your writing heroes read from their books and give workshops and lectures. If books aren’t your bag I also have two other suggestions of things to see in Ireland beginning with L – like loughs and lace-making.
All art is collaboration, where the imagination of the people, and the language they use, is rich and living, it is possible for a a writer to be rich and copious in his words, and at the same time to give the reality, which is the root of all poetry, in a comprehensive and natural form.
- J.M. Synge
For those who fell in love with Ireland through the rich words of her writers a literature festival will probably be a magnet. Ireland has many different types of literary festivals. To make sure that you discover which one would be on your wish list to attend I’ll break them down into four categories. First there is the literature festival that is dedicated to all the literary art forms. The most famous in Ireland is Cuirt in Galway City between 24-29th April, 2012. Galway is also the home of the Western Writers Centre.
Listowel, Co.Kerry, holds the famous Listowel Literary Week from May 30th this year. This festival was started by local son J.B. Keane and includes a competition, workshops and opportunities to meet writers.
West Cork holds a literary festival in Bantry in Co. Cork between 8-14 July 2012. This is the literary festival that is within a broader spectrum arts festival. It includes other artistic activities and is similar to the more heterogenous Arts Festivals that include a literature component with music, visual arts, and much more. Kilkenny and Boyle both host this sort of Arts Festival. Kilkenny kicks off between 10th and 19th August. Boyle, Co. Roscommon, holds its festival between 26th July and 4th August. But with Boyle you also have the opportunity to visit a lough! Lough Key is close by to the Roscommon town and could be a diversion for extra-artistic activities. Clifden in Galway hold an annual arts week each September with the festival running from 20th-30th September in 2012.
The other sort of literary festival held in Ireland is one that celebrates famous literary sons and daughters who lend their name to a festival. Patrick Kavanagh, Oliver Goldsmith, Kate O’Brien and Brian Merriman all have festivals named for them. For instance Oliver Goldsmith will be celebrated in Athlone over the weekend of 1-3rd June. Kate O’Brien is feted in Limerick over 24-26th February, 2012.
But what Ireland does really well – and several times a year is different parts of Ireland – is the international poetry festival. Poetry Now will occur over the weekend of March 22nd –24th, 2012 and is always held in DunLaoghaire, just south of Dublin on the coast. Strokestown, Co. Roscommon holds its annual International Poetry Competition finale and festival each May over the bank holiday weekend, 4-6th May in 2012. Cuisle is another internationally renowned poetry festival held 17th-20th October, 2012 in Limerick. Poetry Ireland will be able to inform you if there is a literary festival or poetry festival on during your visit to Ireland.
I have to remind you that in Ireland there is rarely three degrees of separation,so you have an excellent chance of meeting your literary hero. Did I not have the happy good fortune to have the wife of Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney sit down beside me at a poetry reading in Manorhamilton? This is true! We chatted and got along famously and my companion and I were introduced after the reading to her husband.
Now, let’s look at loughs. Ireland’s Lakelands are in the north/central part of Ireland concentrating in Fermanagh and Cavan, said to have as many lakes as days in the year! But each county has it’s own lakes and legends surrounding them.
Lough Gill is famous for its Isle of Innisfree that inspired Yeats’ poem of the same name.
There is Lough Derg in Donegal that features as part of Seamus Heaney’s collection Station Island. Ireland’s largest lough, Lough Neagh, close by where Heaney’s wife Marie grew up provided much inspiration for other poems.
Loughs have a long and honourable connection with that other honourable Irish heritage – poetry. You may even be inspired to try your hand at writing yourself if you spend a bit of time in the lovely landscape.
You will not be short of choice of other things to see in Ireland if you head for a lough. There are plenty of activities like windsurfing, canoeing and kayaking. There are Adventure Centres such as the eponymously named Lough Allen Adventure Centre that can teach you these skills or rent you equipment for a day’s outing on the water.
Lastly we turn to lace making. This craft was taught to women by nuns as a way to create family income to combat unemployment and poverty. The craft has long been in Ireland. The Sheelin Irish Lace Museum in Bellanaleck, Co. Fermanagh within the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark can acquaint you with this craft that is part of Ireland’s heritage. You will also be able to buy samples in the shop to take home for those family and friends that will not be satisfied with signed copies of books as souvenirs!