The only complaint I can make about my trip to Ireland is that it was too short. Nonetheless, in two weeks time, Carla and managed to squeeze in an amazing amount of touring, sight-seeing, and poetry. I thought that I would blog about it, my very first day back, and the next…and the next. But it was just too overwhelming to process, and what should I focus on?
An Exercise for the Overwhelmed Writer
When my students felt overwhelmed by a subject, I used to assign an exercise in which they had to list ten things they could put into a piece of writing, you know, if they were really going to get down to it. It works for an ordinary day (it’s a Heather Sellers‘ exercise), so let’s see how it manages to contain my two-week sojourn:
- After landing in Dublin on Sept. 29, we drove (all day!) to Castletownbere, which is the largest fishing port in the country. My first Irish Coffee (in Ireland, that is) was imbibed that evening at MacCarthy’s Bar (which happens to grace the cover of this book).
- The next day, we hiked up to a stone circle — “20 minutes” our B ‘n B host said. It took us 2 1/2 hours, and according to my fitbit, we walked 5 miles, all told. But, worth it. It was our first up-close introduction to Irish sheep and cows and stone fences. And the pied wagtail.
- Although we weren’t successful at finding a poetry reading (as advertised) on the Beara peninsula, we had better luck on our second night, in Cork. The reading began with part two of a Poetry Slam contest, held above a pub, rather late at night. After that, an open mike allowed us to share our work. Four young American poets were also there and read, and a host of Irish poets. And, yes, the next day we visited Blarney Castle and, yes, I did kiss the Blarney Stone.
- Everywhere we stayed, we had a great experience with our Air B n’ B choice, and in Limerick what made it special was Emmett at Nelly’s Corner Cafe. (Did I not take a picture of him?) He was always there, no matter what time we stumbled in, and introduced us to black and white pudding, plus the most amazing cappuccino’s. He pointed us toward St. Mary’s Cathedral (the oldest building in Ireland still used for its original purpose), and King John’s Castle, which, if a bit commercialized, gave us a thumbnail history of Irish oppressions.
- In Limerick, on Oct. 4, we attended the “Make a Joyful Noise” poetry reading and open mic. Featured readers were Michael Gallagher and Lorraine Carey.
- Listowel deserves a longer stop — as they host a full-on literary festival every May. I was pretty delighted with the Listowel Writers’ Center (I want one in my neighborhood), complete with barista.
- In Sligo we stayed with Durkan and Nicola at an Air BnB waaayy off the beaten path. The house was built in the 1790s, and was preceded by another manor house, and before that, by a castle. I asked, innocently, “So your family has lived here since the 1790’s?” “Our family has lived on this land since 243,” I was solemnly informed.
- We had done a lot of driving that day (“Mad. Certifiably mad,” Durkan said when we told him how far), so we almost talked ourselves out of finding the open mic down in Sligo town. But we decided to go — and once again it was amazing and unique and we were glad to be there. The Illuminations Poetry Reading, hosted by Patrick Curley, met in The Bookmart and the readers and audience squeezed in amid the books to read poems and excerpts of plays.
- On our drive from Galway (could do a whole post on the nightlife there) to Belfast, we detoured to the coast to find breakfast, and happened upon the mythical island of Hy-Brasil. Later I purchased a book of poems by Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill and found that she had written a series of poems about the island. There was something magical afoot on this entire drive — including a labyrinth, and the ruins of a 15th century Abbey at Fenagh.
- About Belfast in Northern Ireland, just Titanic. Also amazing food, great pubs, and so much more that it really deserves its own top-ten list (as do all the items here). And for Dublin, ditto. Both of these are international cities with a million things on offer. In Dublin we walked through St. Stephen’s Green; we saw Ulysses at the Abbey Theatre; we went to Trinity College and spent a blissed-out hour with the Book of Kells and other manuscripts; we had tea with Carla’s professor (from 54 years ago!), Dr. Maurice Harmon, and his wife, Moira (a true highlight in a trip full of highlights); we shopped for sweaters. We visited bookstores and listened to really bad poetry. We found Harry Potter in Irish. We were…overwhelmed.
What One Writes Next
The next step in this exercise is to choose one item and begin again. You can start by listing ten things just pertaining to that item (a useful strategy if the overwhelm continues), or you can simply begin writing.
Thank you for sticking with me this far. I’m sure I’ll have more to share with you, stay tuned!