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Walk in Paul Henry’s Achill Footsteps

01/03/2012 Comments off

You can walk in the footsteps of the artist Paul Henry, following the shoreline from Dooagh to Keel, as part of the May bank-holiday Achill Walks Festival. There are a half-dozen walks, some on the island, some on the north-west Mayo mainland in Ballycroy National Park and the Nephin mountain range.

A century ago Paul Henry and his wife Grace first came to Achill on a Midland Great Western Railway train and stayed on and off for a decade. The area between Kell and Dooagh, taking in Pollagh and Gubelennaun, was the focal point for much of Henry’s painting. The Achill walk will include the bog road made famous by Henry in one of his Achill landscapes.

Henry’s autobiography, An Irish Portrait (1951) is mainly about his experiences on Achill Island and his artist’s desire ‘to express a life that has never been expressed’.

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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.

I’d like these books for Christmas (if I didn’t have them already)

04/12/2010 5 comments

This is my half-dozen list of  books from Ireland or by Irish writers that I think would make great Christmas gifts.  And not a whiff of misery writing about the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger or the sorry IMF/ECB bailout.

Emma Donoghue’s Room  was my book of the year before it won the Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year prize.  Asked at the awards ceremony why she thought the book had such an impact Emma said, ‘I think it touches on the universal theme of a young person discovering there’s more to life their own little world.’  That little world of Jack and Ma incarcerated in a room is richly imagined and conveyed with humour and freshness through the voice of the child narrator.

I was at the launch of Seamus Heaney’s Human Chain at the Abbey Theatre in September where the poet roamed over and back between old poems and new. This is his twelfth collection. John Banville said: ‘Human Chain marks many deaths but all the markings are a celebration of what was lived.’

The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story is edited by Anne Enright. How on earth did she make her selection from a century of Irish short story writing? ‘I wanted to put together a book that was varied and good to read, with a strong eye to the contemporary,’ she said.  It is a delight to have O Faolain and O’Connor, Mary Lavin and Maeve Brennan, Kevin Barry, Claire Keegan and many others in one volume.

A legendary Irish text-book has been reprinted. Soundings, a poetry anthology edited by Gus Martin will evoke mixed emotions if you sat your Leaving Cert between 1969 and 2000. Joseph O’Connor describes it well:  ‘Amid the ink-stains of our adolescence, the shocking sweetness of first kisses, the pimples and growth-spurts and uncertainties and aches, it saw to it that poetry would find a way of seeding itself.’

The Thank You Book is edited by Roisin Ingle and is a fund-raising initiative of the Irish Hospice Foundation. The book will be largely written by you as you fill the pages with your gratitude lists in these dismal times.

There’s a personal bias in my last selection, Michael Viney’s Wild Mayo. It is my native county but the places are familiar to many through Michael’s weekly column in the Irish Times. Described as ‘a poem to a place’, it captures a county’s natural history and evokes a wild landscape of peatlands and islands and rocky shores illustrated with sumptuous photos.

(If you are looking for other Irish book ideas, Publishing Ireland have a list of 25 to choose from here.)

Any suggestions? Of Irish books as Christmas gifts? Would love to hear.

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