06 May 2013

Poets, poems and beach walks on Achill Island

Walking the long stretches of golden sand on the beach at Dugort (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

The Ninth Heinrich Böll Memorial Weekend extended into a fourth day on Achill Island this morning [Monday 6 May 2013], with poetry readings in Saint Joseph’s National School, Bunacurry, where the Achill-born poet John F Deane, had once been a schoolboy.

The walls of the classroom where we assembled were covered in paintings and poems by the schoolchildren of Bunacurry in their own tribute to John F Deane.

Jack Harte introduced this morning’s feast of poetry, which included readings by poets and translators Father Padraig Daly, Harry Clifton, Eva Bourke, Gerard Smyth, Jan Wagner and John F Deane himself.

In between these readings, I was asked to give a lecture: ‘The poet as theologian, the theologian as poet’ … a theologian’s engagement with John F Deane.

My contribution and some of these poetry readings had been scheduled originally on the programme for Sunday afternoon [5 May 2013]. So many of us were soaked to the skin during the crossings between Achill Island and the smaller island of Inishbiggle on Sunday morning, the programme for Sunday afternoon had to be rearranged.

The promised walking tour of the site of Bunacurry Monastery was eventually called off because of the rain, but we had a virtual tour of Bunacurry by John F Deane during his reading.

On Sunday night, about 40 of us gathered for a special dinner and early celebration of John F Deane’s 70th birthday in the Bervie, a restored coastguard station in Keel on the south coast of Achill Island, overlooking the majestic Cathedral Cliffs of Minaun and with views across Clew Bay towards the islands on the horizon.

With the poets John F Deane and Gerard Smyth at this morning’s readings and lecture in Bunacurry on Achill Island

It has been a busy and inspiring weekend. Apart from the readings and lectures, there have been seminars, workshops, art exhibitions, island tours and historical and archaeological field trips. In all this busy programme, there was still some time to visit the Heinrich Böll Cottage in Dugort, to explore the landscape around Lough Acorrymore and Corrymore House, to catch up with old friends, and to walk the long stretches of golden sand on the beach at Dugort, and beach walks at Bullsmouth and Inishbiggle.

Waiting on the shoreline on Inishbiggle for the crossing back to Achill Island on Sunday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The mist was still covering much of Achill as we drove through Bunacurry and Cashel and off the island at Achill Sound. The scattered rain continued until after we crossed the Shannon, where there were few boats on the river despite the May Bank Holiday weekend.

But as we drove further east, the skies brightened, the sun came out and the temperatures rose to 18. We had moved from the remains of Winter on the West Coast to the promise of Summer on the East Coast. There is a beautiful orange sunset as I write this evening.

I have come back from Achill with books signed by poets and historians, and some more ideas for writing, and for projects engaging poets, theologians and historians with the work of each other.

Looking back at the Strand Hotel from the long stretches of golden sand on the beach at Dugort (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

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