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National Seashore Cape Cod: A half-dozen list

11/06/2013 Comments off

Great Island Trail

The outer coast area of Cape Cod stretching from Chatham to Provincetown has been protected since President Kennedy signed the National Seashore legislation in 1961. I have just returned from a week there and offer my half-dozen ‘to-do’ list:

  • Spend a few hours at the National Seashore visitor centre at Eastham to immerse yourself in the history of the area, view videos, collect maps and visitor guides.
  • Visit the Highland Light, Truro – the lighthouse that was moved intact from the edge of the cliff!
  • Walk some of the numerous hiking  trails; our favourite was the four-hour Great Island trek by the Cape Cod Bay shore line.
  • Cycle some or all of the Cape Cod bike trail developed on the former railway line  with over 20 miles of off-road bicycle paths.
  • Wander around Wellfleet and sample the seafood at the town’s Mac’s Shack.
  • Pick up  a copy of Thoreau’s Cape Codoriginally published in 1865and be amused by some of the writer’s opinions e.g. ‘The time must come when this coast will be a place of resort for those New Englanders who really wish to visit the sea side. At present it is wholly unknown to the fashionable world, and probably it will never be agreeable to them.’

The National Seashore was certainly agreeable to this visitor.

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Loop Head: My Half Dozen List

28/05/2013 1 comment

Loop Head

Great to see Loop Head coming out tops in the Irish Times best place to holiday in Ireland competition. I have been visiting there for over a decade and it has grown on me year after year. Just last week I walked at the water’s edge around the light house to the sound of the kittiwakes and the ground awash with sea pinks. Here is my Loop Head list of favourite things to do:

  • Visit the light house at the tip on the peninsula and do a circular walk around it at the sea’s edge.
  • Enjoy sea food from Carigaholt; purchase it fresh at SeaLyons down towards the pier or enjoy it cooked at the Long Dock restaurant.
  • Take a boat trip to Scattery Island and tour its monastic settlements.
  • Take the cliff walk in Kilkee and have a coffee afterwards at The Pantry on the  main street.
  • Walk the spit at Querrin and enjoy the wonderful montbretia from Querrin Cross to  the pier in late summer.
  • Get a copy of Carmel Madigan’s The Wild Flowers of Loop Head to  open your eyes to the all-year round wonders of the west Clare landscape.

Edinburgh Fringe – My Half Dozen Events

25/08/2011 2 comments

It’s traumatic trying to select Edinburgh Fringe events and standing in the queue for the box office only makes matters worse as you’re bombarded with performers pushing their wares. But chatting in the queue can be helpful; it was great to hear so many people talk about Swimming with my Mother by Coisceim Dance Theatre ; but I’d already seen this inspiring piece of dance theatre in Limerick.

My Fringe did not get off to a great start with Ed Reardon: A Writer’s Burdenthe tale of woe from the fiftysomething failed writer. People around me who were fans of the Radio 4 comedy, Ed Reardon’s Week, seemed delighted with the live performance. But for me the miserable, self-obsessed, literary musings were monotonous and irritating; a case of what works on radio not making the transition to live performance.  

Things improved considerably with Bluebeard by Milk Presents theatre company. It is a playful retelling of the fairytale about a husband who kills off his wives, told in a cabaret style. The performance is playful, and quirky and uses music, overhead projections, dance and technology in a whirlwind of movement and energy. On the way out a woman said to me, ‘but it said nothing new’, to which I replied ‘butn it said it with great freshness’.

Alphonse – a one man show with a script by Canadian writer Wajdi Mouawad – was my top event. It is the story of a boy trying to hang on to his powerful imagination as he grows into an adult. The actor Alon Nashman gives an impressive performance in switching over and back between stories and characters while keeping the tension and coherence of the piece.

The Fringe show by the Belgian company Ontroerend Goed was disconcerting and uncomfortable. The audience is the focus of the performance – a man on stage directs a video camera into the stall and the audience looks at itself on-screen.  We did as we were told in response to directions from on stage, only to be reminded from history of how things can turn nasty if we surrender our right to choose.

Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage is a wonderful piece of physical theatre as it romps, crashes, and howls its way through a performance of an adaptation of the Beowulf story. Even if you know nothing of Beowulf, your attention will be held by the energy, pace and variety of the show that includes Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf being torn to shreds.

My last event was not really part of Edinburgh Fringe but a visit to Charlotte Square, the location of the Edinburgh Book Festival where I wandered among the stalls and sat in one of The Guardian colourful deck chairs. So the feasting on theatre and literature is over for another year. And Andrew Maxwell in the running for the overall Comedy Award.

Literary Mayo and A Half-Dozen Texts

02/06/2011 Comments off

It looks like good weather for the holiday weekend in Ireland. Time for breaks and trips. I like to link text and place when travelling. As I’m heading off to County Mayo, I thought I would pull together – in a fairly random way – some of my favourite texts linked to some wonderful Mayo places. So here they are – the texts and the places:

Heinrich Boll’s Irish Journal: Head to Achill Island’s Deserted Village and read Boll’s account of how he came upon this ‘skeleton of a human habitation’ that nobody had mentioned to him and where ‘the elements have eaten away everything not made of stone’. There’s a new edition of Irish Journal out with a fine Introduction by Hugo Hamilton.

J. M. Synge Travelling Ireland: Take this book to Erris and read the essays Synge wrote when he visited there in 1905 with Jack Yeats – travelling by long car from Ballina to Belmullet. This edition of the essays – edited by Nicholas Greene, with fine illustrations – was published in 2009.

Paul Henry’s An Irish Portrait: Take a boat from Blacksod to the deserted Inishkea Islands off the Mullet Peninsula where Henry travelled while a visitor to Achill in the early nineteenth century and wrote a graphic account of the whaling station.  Paul Henry’s book is out of print but is available in many libraries and can be purchased on-line.

Michael Viney, Wild Mayo: Take a journey through Mayo’s landscape and wildlife with this wonderful account packed with great illustrations from the writer/naturalist who lives in Thallabawn.

Michael Longley, A Hundred Doors: In his latest collection the Northern Ireland poet brings a fresh perspective to the place he has long frequented – the Mayo townland of Carrigskeewaun: ‘Where sand from the white strand and the burial ground / Blows in.’

Graham Greene, The End Of The Affair: It is sixty years since this book was first published. Inspired by the affair Greene had with Catherine Walston, the cottage they occasionally shared still stands in Dooagh, Achill at the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

I would love to hear stories of other texts linked to favourite Mayo places.

A Literary Canter Around Achill Island

20/02/2011 Comments off

I was back In Achill recently when the wind roared and the Atlantic churned and the mist hid the outlines of Slievemore.

I did a quick car tour of some literary haunts. Between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries writers and visual artists flocked to Achill, helped by the extension of the railway line to the island by the Midland Great Western Railway company in 1895.

First stop The Deserted Village at the foot of Slievemore in the north of the island. A short distance away is the Heinrich Böll Cottage – now an artist’s residence – where the German Nobel prize-winning author came with his family in the 1950s. He stumbled one day on the Deserted Village ruins, spent five hours there and later wrote the piece ‘Skeleton of a Human Habitation’ in his Irish Journal.

In Dugort, just down the hill from the Heinrich Böll cottage, is Gray’s Guest House that was run by the late and legendary Vi McDowell at the place which was once The Colony – the centre of the Achill Mission on the island from the 1830s. Victorian travellers and writers flocked here in the mid-nineteenth century, including Mrs S C Hall and Harriet Martineau. Gray’s Memorial Hall and St Thomas’ Church, a short distance away, are now the venues for the annual Heinrich Böll Memorial Weekend.

The Valley House is in the north-east corner of the island. It was the scene of a vicious crime in October 1894, when the owner Agnes McDonnell was attacked by James Lychehaun who became a notorious fugitive from the law. He was one of the influences on J M Synge in writing The Playboy of the Western World.

On the main spine road through the island are the ruins of Bunnacurry Monastery where a Franciscan monk , Brother Paul Carney, was based for a quarter of a century. His hand-written Lynchehaun Narrative was the basis for James Carney’s book The Playboy & the Yellow Lady, and of the film Love & Rage.

Keel, and the island areas of Pollagh and Gubalennaun, were the places where the painters Paul and Grace Henry spent almost a decade in Achill in the early twentieth-century. Paul had a fascination with writing and much of his autobiography An Irish Portrait (1951) dealt with his time on the island.

Graham Greene and his mistress, Catherine Walston, shared a holiday house in Dooagh in the late 1940s. I understand the 2011 Heinrich Boll Memorial Weekend will focus on Graham Greene’s connections with Achill.

When I drove away across Michael Davitt Bridge on to the mainland it seemed that the mist lifted from the island behind me. I will be back.

(Some great Achill photos on Lucy’s blog here.)

(Trailer for film Love and Rage, which was filmed on location in Achill and is based on the story of James Lynchehaun and the Valley House attack of 1894)

Literary Gems among The Moderns

15/02/2011 4 comments

 

I made it on the very last day. The Moderns – the major exhibition of the Arts in Ireland in the 20th century at Dublin’s Irish Museum of Modern Arts (IMMA).

It covered modernity in Ireland from the 1900s to the 1970s through the visual arts mainly, but with photographers, film-makers, composers, architects, designers – and writers – all featured in a major interdisciplinary collection.

I was interested in the smattering of exhibits connected to Irish writers and showing the crossover of the literary and the visual arts. These were some of my highlights:

Samuel Beckett’s ‘Film’, written in 1962 and filmed in New York in 1963. It can be viewed here on YouTube.

John Millington Synge’s Photos from Aran, Connemara, Wicklow and Kerry. Synge bought his first camera from a fellow visitor to Aran in 1898 and it became a constant on his travels along with his bicycle.

Jack Yeats’ Book Illustrations.  He and Synge spent a month together in 1905 on a tour of the Congested Districts in the west, Synge writing his series of articles for the Manchester Guardian and Yeats providing the illustrations.

Robert Flaherty’s film documentary Man of Aran (1934)  The work was inspired by Synge and the wheel has come full circle with Martin McDonagh’s drama The Cripple of Inishmaan – currently on tour with Druid Theatre – set against the backdrop of Flaherty’s film.

Paul and Grace Henry Paintings of the West. The couple stayed in Achill for close to a decade and most of Paul’s autobiography An Irish Portrait (1951) centred on the island.

Elinor Wiltshire’s Photo of Patrick Kavanagh picking potatoes in Inishkeen in 1963.

Pity the exhibition is over. Another visit, I feel, would have revealed many more gems. And I loved this TV commercial for the exhibition:-

  

 

A Half-Dozen Literary Lists

27/01/2011 Comments off

 

For six months now I’ve been posting an occasional ‘half-dozen list’ on reading and writing and literary bits and pieces. I looked back over them today and found I had a half-dozen such lists. So I’ve put them all together as a half-dozen literary bunch. Here they are:

  1. Book Club Reads: A Half-Dozen Selection
  2. Books on Writing: My Well-Thumbed Half-Dozen
  3. A Half-Dozen Selection of Irish Short Stories
  4. Six Literary Things to do in Erris
  5. I’d Like These (6) Books for Christmas if I didn’t have Them Already
  6. Short Story (6) First Lines

 

There will be more half-dozen literary lists to come, I hope.

    
Categories: Half-Dozen Lists
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