02 May 2014

A weekend on Achill looking at
travel writers and the landscape

Dugort beach on Achill Island … I am taking part in the 11th annual Heinrich Böll Memorial Weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am staying on Achill Island, off the west coast of Co Mayo, this weekend, and taking part in the 11th annual Heinrich Böll Memorial Weekend, which opens this evening [2 May 2014] and continues until Sunday [4 May 2014].

This year’s event continues a series of lectures and talks as well as guided walks in the landscape of Achill Island. On Sunday morning at 10 a.m., the archaeologist Eoin Halpin will lead a guided walk of the landscape in Dooega, and I will then speak on ‘The Achill missionary buildings at Mweelin – history, origins and people.’

At the Heinrich Böll Memorial Weekend last year, I spoke on ‘The History of the Church of Ireland, Inishbiggle,’ and ‘The poet as theologian, the theologian as poet … a theologian’s engagement with John F. Deane.’

Registration for this year’s weekend takes place this evening at 7 pm in the Cyril Gray Memorial Hall, in Dugort. The 2014 weekend will be formally opened by the Berlin-based Irish Times journalist Derek Scally.

The weekend focussing on travel writing and includes a talk by Dea Birkett on “Women travellers through the ages – difficult journeys by extraordinary women,” in which she looks at the works of travel writer and novelist Honor Tracy, who lived in Achill for many years.

Dea Birkett is an award-winning writer and journalist, the author of seven books, including Serpent in Paradise, about her time on Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific, Spinsters Abroad, Jella, A Woman At Sea, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, and Off the Beaten Track, Three Centuries of Women Travellers.

Also during weekend, the writer Hugo Hamilton is reading from his new novel Every Single Minute and in discussion with Derek Scally. Other writers taking part include the well-known travel writer Mary Russell, who is also leading a creative writing seminar, and the German novelist Birgit Vanderbeke, who is one of Germany’s most successful literary authors.

Many of these readings are taking place in Saint Thomas’s Church, the Church of Ireland parish church in Dugort on the north shores of Achill Island.

Dr Gisela Holfter, Senior Lecturer in German at the University of Limerick, will speak on German writers travelling in Ireland in the 20th century. Tomorrow evening, she will open an exhibition of archival photograph material, ‘Heinrich Böll and family,’ from the Böll family collection, and of landscape painting, ‘Paintings of Achill island,’ by Alex McKenna at the Western Light Art Gallery in Keel.

During the weekend, Heinrich Böll’s son, Rene Böll, will speak on “Heinrich Böll and his family’s fight for humanity.”

The guided walks tomorrow and on Sunday include lunch each day. This weekend event is organised with the support of the Goethe-Institut Irland. The Achill Heinrich Böll Association is funded by Mayo County Council, the Arts Council of Ireland, and receives donations from members of the public.

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