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.
Michael Longley’s new volume A Hundred Doors is slim and snug and almost weightless in the hand. He returns again, almost apologetically, to a place that changed his life: ‘I am writing too much about Carrigskeewaun.’
He is there for the millennium, at Christmas, at lambing time, and – for the first time – with his new grandson Benjamin: ‘This is your first night at Carrigskeewaun. / The Owennadornaun is so full of rain / You arrived in Paddy Morrisson’s tractor’.
And then abruptly, we are in the Berg Room at New York’s Public Library where Longley peeks at the field note-books of the war and nature poet Edward Thomas: ‘A shell blast killed Edward Thomas, a gust / That still rifles the pages in the library.’
At the end of the collection the poet loops back to Carrigskeewaun and imagines a time when ha has left the place for the last time: ‘I hope you discover something I’ve overlooked, / Greenshanks, say, two or three elegantly probing / Where sand from the white strand and the burial ground / Blows in.’