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 centre 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.
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 if 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.
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 Mourne Wall, a dry stone magnum opus, cuts through their middle while the tops of Slieve Donnard and Slieve Binnian are dusted by early snow falls. 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.
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Later in life, he gave a clue as to how that childhood and those mountains informed and inspired him: “I have seen landscapes [in the Mourne Mountains] which, under a particular light, made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise his head over the next ridge.”
It’s this ability to jolt the imagination that has seen Ireland’s landscape become home to many writers’ retreats, places where the surrounding area can become a potent cure for writer’s block.
Sue Booth-Forbes of Anam Cara Writers Retreat on West Cork’s Beara Peninsula has an idea about what sets the island’s landscape apart: “No matter where you are in Ireland, the landscape plays a central part in the life here. I have found that many writers from abroad recognise its importance immediately and are inspired to match, no matter what they are writing, the solid sense of place the landscape offers...”
A sense of place. And maybe even a bestseller? What do you think?