Books Poetry

The Ireland visit, a reader’s tour, 2012

When the spouse and I went to Ireland in 2007 for the first time, I was in full-on James Joyce obsession, and we saw a lot. We did the Dublin Writers Museum. I had the glass of burgundy and gorgonzola sandwich at Davy Byrnes. We drove out to Sandycove to see Joyce’s Martello tower and the museum there. And in Galway, we went to Nora Barnacle’s home.

For our most recent trip, I was (am?) in full-on William Butler Yeats obsession. Sadly, though, we did not go to Sligo. There were good reasons for that, involving travel time and logistics and such like. So the ultimate Yeats tour of Ireland is still out there waiting to be undertaken.

No regrets, though! We had THREE great literary moments in our latest trip to Ireland, which I will recount here.

1. Dublin Literary Pub Crawl/Seamus Heaney radio interview. The pub crawl put together stops at Dublin’s historic pubs with  dramatic readings from Irish literature — Samuel Becket’s “Waiting for Godot,” James Plunkett’s “Strumpet City,” Oscar Wilde on his travels in America. The actors who proclaimed the roles did a great job, and the pubs had great ambiance, too. The capper on our night out, though, was the ride back to our cousins’ house north of Dublin in County Meath. As we were leaving the city, a radio interview with Irish poet Seamus Heaney was just beginning. 

It’s very difficult to summarize the career of Seamus Heaney briefly, so I won’t try. I’ll just note here that he won the Nobel Prize in 1995, and I’ll link to the Poetry Foundation’s biography of him and let you take it from there. Or, you could take a moment to read “Whatever You Say, Say Nothing.” (“Smoke-signals are loud-mouthed compared with us:/ Manoeuvrings to find out name and school,/ Subtle discrimination by addresses/ With hardly an exception to the rule.”)

As we were pulling into the driveway at home, the radio interview had just ended, we had listened to some of Heaney’s major works, and it was the perfect ending to a memorable evening in the city of Dublin. 

2. Yeats exhibit at the National Library. We went to the National Library of Ireland on one of our first afternoons in the country, so the spouse could do some research. Lo and behold, their very notable exhibit of The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats (see worthwhile NYT write-up here) was still going! This exhibit opened in 2006, and we wanted to go when we visited in 2007, but we got too busy, and like I said, I was obsessed with Joyce back then, not Yeats. 

This time, I got to spend a blissful hour and a half in the exhibit while the spouse did research in the library’s reading room. 

Most, most wonderful about the exhibit was the area that showcased Yeats’ poetry. You couldn’t miss it, it was a screened seating area right when you entered the exhibit, and it included wall-sized renderings of his poems with out-loud readings. The recorded reading were by Yeats himself, Seamus Heaney, Sinead O’Connor and several others. Sinead did a particularly haunting job with “Easter 1916.” (I’ve looked for a CD of these readings to no avail, sad.) The National Library has posted a virtual tour of the Yeats exhibit, and I’ve spent time on it even now. It’s fascinating.

3. Listowel Writers Week/Paul Durcan reading. The reason we went at the time we did this year was so we could go to Listowel Writers Week, the literary festival is in its 41st year, in County Kerry. Listowel is a charming town, and the highlight of the week was getting to see the poet Paul Durcan read on Friday night. Durcan is another one of Ireland’s celebrated poets; the Irish Independent says he “comes second only to Seamus Heaney as our most famous living poet.” 

Durcan’s new book, “Praise in Which I Live and Move and Have my Being” was in every bookstore we stopped at in Ireland (Dublin, Ballybunion, Kinsale, Clonakilty). The night of the reading, the spouse stood in a very, very long line to get me an autographed copy. It’s one of my favorite presents I’ve received in a long time and my best memento of the trip. My favorite poem is “The Recession.” The inscription reads, “For Angie, Warmest wishes, Paul Durcan, Listowel, 1 June 2012.” 

Books Travel

Books to read for a trip to Ireland

We’re going to Ireland again, so it’s time for another Irish reading list.

So what’s on my reading list? I don’t have all that much time, so it’s fairly short. 

Modern Ireland: A Very Short Introduction. You won’t find anything here about the Celtic tiger or the financial crisis. By “modern,” they mean from about1800 to 1992, with a heavy emphasis on before 1922. Got that? Instead, this is mostly a history of how Ireland won its independence from Great Britain. If you’ve watched “Downton Abbey,” this is the kind of book that would give you great insight into the world of Tom Branson, the “very political” driver. 

The Forgotten Waltz, by Anne Enright. This is a contemporary novel, the story of an affair. Enright won the Booker Prize for a novel about a family confronting the suicide of an  adult son. Her writing is supposed to be fabulous. 

Mothers and Sons, by Colm Toibin. This choice is much more difficult, I’ve been wanting to read something by Toibin for years. “The Master“— probably his best-known work — is a fictionalized portrait of the American novelist Henry James. Toibin’s novel “Brooklyn,” is about an Irish girl arriving in the States in the 1950s; it also got excellent reviews. His newest work is a set of essays called “New Ways to Kill your Mother,” in which he contemplates literature and family. But I will probably go with “Mothers and Sons” because it’s about (relatively) contemporary Ireland and also for a more mundane reason — I have it on my bookshelf.