Landscapes in Ireland can get under your skin, but for some writers, poets and playwrights, though, they can do even more. They are inspiration itself
For a landscape to move artists to create, it has to have a special edge. It has to be transformative. “The Irish landscape isn't always straightforward,” Lonely Planet author Etain O’Carroll told CNN. “Its many layers of stone walls and hedgerows and its constantly changing light means that it unfolds slowly as you walk, cycle or drive by.”
O'Carroll may well have been thinking about Connemara when she said that. Endless green or golden hills, buttery bogland and scatterings of glassy lakes – this is a place of splendid isolation. All of which and more is captured in the work of writer and cartographer Tim Robinson, who found himself at the center of Connemara for vast tranches of his childhood.
From those memories and later visits, Robinson created a book that renowned Irish author Joseph O’ Connor believes, “…understands the emptiness of the region, the peacefulness that has drawn tourist and novelist alike."
But in terms of inspirational landscapes, Connemara is just the beginning.
The Burren and J.R.R. Tolkien
Ireland has inspired the settings for fantasy literature and film from Narnia to Game of Thrones. Now it turns out that our landscape may have inspired one of the world’s best fantasy novels, The Lord of The Rings.
The Burren, Co. Clare
If you come to the Dingle Peninsula you can visit the Blasket Island Centre, in mainland Dún Chaoin, and find out more. But before you visit the island, read the books. They came from farmers and fishermen like Tomás Ó Criomhthain, whose memoir An tOileánach (The Islandman) has become a classic; from Muiris Ó Suilleabháin whose book Fiche Bliain ag Fás (Twenty Years A Growing) tells how he was raised on the island by his grandfather before leaving to work on the mainland; and from Peig Sayers, whose memoir, dictated to her son, reveals the islandwomen’s resilience, humour and courage. And 2013 sees the publication of the latest island memoir, from ninety-three year old Mike Carney, whose book From The Great Blasket To America describes his island childhood, the heartbreaking stories of its dwindling community in the 1940s, and his life in Springfield, Massachusetts, where many Blasket emigrants have put down new roots.
Further up Ireland’s untamed west coast sits Ben Bulben – a brooding bump on Sligo’s coast. As one commenter noted on Discover Ireland’s Facebook page, “an image does not really do this distinctive crag justice. You have to see it for yourself to really be inspired.”
Fringed by hot pink lupine flowers, it broods over Sligo Bay and is one of the island's most impressive natural sights. Irish poet and playwright WB Yeats felt its presence keenly, so much so that it moved him to write the poem Under Ben Bulben.
As Stella G Mew of the Sligo Yeats Society tells us: “For Yeats, Sligo’s Table Mountain represented something strong, constant, eternal.” And his relationship with Ben Bulben continues to this day – he was buried in its shadow, in the churchyard of Drumcliff village.
Ben Bulben, Co. Sligo
It seems that Ireland’s mountains inspire more than most and trigger that sense of fantasy in a writer. County Down’s Mourne Mountains, popping out of the landscape and rushing towards the Irish Sea, are one such place. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe author CS Lewis, born in nearby Belfast, imagined Narnia as a boy when the Mournes were his playground.