Annual Tolkien Festival visits the Burren

The world’s most pre-eminent minds on fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien and how his most famous works were inspired by the landscape of the Burren will come together for the annual Tolkien Festival in County Clare from 26-28 June.

Organised by the Burren Tolkien Society and supported by the Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark and Clare County Library, the festival will feature contributions from Tolkien experts, creative writing workshops, archery demonstrations, evening feasts and lectures about the writers time in the Burren and the locations he frequented, including Poll na Gollum Cave which is said to have influenced the creation of one of the author’s most famous characters (Gollum).

Among the festival participants is Derry-based academic Dr. Liam Campbell who will be sharing his thoughts on the world-famous karst landscape of the Burren Region and Celtic legends of the West of Ireland inspired Tolkien in writing ‘The Lord of The Rings’ and ‘The Silmarillion’.

Other speakers include Dr Allan G Turner who edited “The Silmarillion – Thirty Years On”, a collection of academic pieces brought together to mark the 30th anniversary of the original work. Dr. Turner will examine how the landscape features of Tolkien’s Middle Earth come alive in the reader’s mind.

London-based Canadian author of ‘Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien, Myth and Modernity’ (2004) and ‘Deep Roots: Essays on Tolkien’ (2014), Dr. Patrick Curry will speak about’ The Two Faces of Faerie in Tolkien’s Work’ detailing the fictional characters of Tolkien’s works and how they symbolised growing disenchantment around the world during the first half of the 20th century.

Meanwhile, Professor John Gillespie – Emeritus Professor of French with Ulster University – will make a presentation on Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and how the dynamics of their friendship and their shared Christian faith affected Tolkien’s literary creations.

Also taking part is Barry McGovern, one of Ireland’s best known actors who has starred in Game of Thrones, Vikings, The Tudors and The Treaty with his most recent stage appearances being in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Abbey and The Price at the Gate. The actor will be performing readings of Tolkien’s works throughout the weekend festival.

Tolkien visited the West of Ireland on many occasions and spent considerable time in the Burren when he held the position of External Examiner to the English Department of NUI Galway between 1949 and 1959, during which time he revised and published The Lord of the Rings. Diarmuid Murphy, a former head of the English Department at NUI Galway, became firm friends with Tolkien during his time in Ireland.

“From studying Tolkien’s works and correspondences as well as having spoken with people who knew the man, we believe his most famous work, The Lord of the Rings, was inspired, at least in part, by his experience of The Burren,” said Festival founder Peter Curtin.

He added: “We believe that Tolkien denied the Burren links when his masterwork was published in 1954 as he might have felt that Irish influences would have been unpalatable to his largely English audience at the time. In the few years leading up to his death in 1973 however, Tolkien spoke more openly about how his writings were influenced by the themes and ideas of Irish and Celtic Mythology. Although he referred to Gaelic as an unattractive language, he admitted that he had studied it and found it to be of great historical and philological interest. He also said he was suffering from acute Eire-starvation, having not visited his favourite Counties of Clare, Galway and Cork for a number of years.”

Mr. Curtin said another key clue to Tolkien’s inspiration for the Lord of the Rings may be found in the topography of the Burren. He said topographical comparisons of the Burren landscape and ‘Middle Earth’, as featured in the Lord of the Rings, show “striking similarities”.

Dr. Charles Travis, a Research Associate at Trinity College Dublin’s Long Room Hub, has compared the actual topography of the Burren – around Gortaclare Mountain to be precise – with the Misty Mountains from Tolkien’s Middle Earth map with the Middle Earth region of Rohan in the foreground and the Misty Mountains covering the spine of the mountain ridge with runs into Gortaclare Mountain.

“Mr. Travis says the curve of the Misty Mountain range in Tolkien’s ‘imaginary’ map fits the actual topography of this region of the Burren. He added that the topography could arguably support the case being made for this region of the Burren being one source of inspiration for Tolkien,” explained Mr. Curtin.

The Burren Tolkien Society Festival gets underway on Friday 26 June with the official opening event featuring Tolkien-inspired food, drink, music and insights from Burren Tolkien Society founder Peter Curtin and Tolkien scholar Dr. Liam Campbell at Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughan at 7pm.

The main event of Saturday 27 June is the series of Tolkien lectures from 11am at Burren College of Art, followed by a Creative Writing Workshop with acclaimed Poet and Fiction writer Frank Golden in the same venue at 2.30pm.

Festival goers will then be invited to take afternoon tea, just as Tolkien did, in the library of the McCorkendale residence – now the drawing room of Gregans Castle Hotel – while Barry McGovern reads extracts from Tolkien’s works at 3pm. Saturday’s programme concludes with a feast of Tolkien-inspired culinary delights, libations and music at the Burren Food Emporium from 7pm.

Aillwee Cave and Birds of Prey Centre will host a Family Bush Craft event from 10am to 2pm on Sunday 28 June, where the surrounding woodlands will be the setting for participants to uncover the secrets and skills of the woodland elves with master craftsmen. At 1pm, the skilled craftsmen of Aillwee woodland village will demonstrate the archery skills and tactics, which feature heavily in Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’. Barry McGovern will once again perform readings during Afternoon Tea at Gregans Castle at 3pm before the festival close is held at The Roadside Tavern in Lisdoonvarna.

For more on the Burren Tolkien Society Festival visit www.burrentolkiensociety.ie or see Facebook (www.facebook.com/BurrenTolkien).

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