27 April 2015

A weekend of poetry, reading, history
and photographs on Achill Island

The beach at Dugort, Achill Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I have been invited once again to speak at the Heinrich Böll Memorial Weekend in Achill Island, Co Mayo.

This year, the weekend takes place from 1 to 3 May 2015, beginning on Friday evening [1 May] in the Cyril Gray Memorial Hall, Dugort.

Declan Kelleher, the Permanent Representative of Ireland in the European Union, will give his opening address on the theme, “Culture, Diplomacy and Mutual Understanding.” Prior to his appointment to Brussels he was the Irish Ambassador in China from 2004 to 2013, and was instrumental in opening up trade and cultural links between Ireland and China.

Later in the evening, Kevin Toolis will speak on ‘The Prophet and the Bishop: the religious war between Edward Nangle 1800-1883 And Archbishop John MacHale 1791-1881.’ Kevin is a BAFTA winning film maker, playwright and writer. He won the 2014 Single Drama BAFTA award for his MI5 spy thriller Complicit, and is the playwright and director of the West End hit The Confessions of Gordon Brown.

Saturday’s programme includes an exhibition of archival photograph material from the Böll family collection at the Cyril Gray Hall, a guided walk with Eoin Halpin, and a writing seminar with Mike McCormack.

Later, Hilary Tulloch will give an illustrated talk on Edward Nangle with family pictures. Her great-grandfather, Harry Nangle, was one of the children of the Revd Edward Walter Nangle and his first wife, Eliza Warner. He was born in the Settlement at Dugort in 1841 and there he spent the first 11 years of his life and the summer holidays for the remainder of his childhood.

‘The Colony’ in Dugort, beneath the slopes of Slievemore on Achill Iskand (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patricia Byrne is also going to speak on ‘Women in the Colony.’ Edward Nangle’s first wife, Eliza, and six of their children are buried on the slopes of Slievemore. The presentation looks at the Mission roles of Eliza Nangle, her sister Grace Warner, and Isabella Adams, and how they related to the position of philanthropic women of the period.

Her narrative non-fiction book, The Veiled Woman of Achill – Island Outrage & a Playboy Drama, was published in 2012.

I have been invited to lecture on Saturday afternoon (3.45 p.m.) on ‘TS Eliot (1888-1965): the Nobel poet and his Irish connections.’

The programme notes say:

“Like Heinrich Boll, TS Eliot was a Nobel laureate and was deeply influenced in his writings by the events of war – ‘The Waste Land’ grows out of his reflections on World War I, and the events; he was an air warden in World War II, and the ‘Four Quartets’ draws on many of those war-time experiences.

“This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of his death on 4 January 1965, and the one hundredth anniversary of his marriage to Vivienne Leigh-Wood in 1915, portrayed in the film Tom & Viv. Her family’s wealth rested on property inherited in Dun Laoghaire (then Kingstown).

“Eliot’s reputation has been plagued by accusations that he held anti-Semitic and anti-Irish views. In a study of Eliot’s impact on Anglican theology, Professor Barry Spurr deals convincingly with the accusations of anti-Semitism. But Eliot has often been accused of being anti-Irish.

“Yet his conversion to Anglicanism is attributed to his childhood Irish nanny in America, Annie Dunne from Co Cork. His marriage to Vivienne Leigh-Wood brought another forgotten Irish connection, for her family’s wealth was built on her Irish-born grandmother’s inherited properties in Dun Laoghaire.

“Eliot had a strong friendship with James Joyce, a more difficult relationship with WB Yeats. Patrick Comerford tackles these questions by looking at Eliot’s portrayals of Irish characters from his references to the Irish princess Isolde in ‘The Waste Land’ to his deployment and of Irish figures such as Sweeney and Reilly in his poetry and plays.

“Patrick Comerford reassesses Eliot’s Irish influences and examines his friendships with four key Irish contemporary literary figures: WB Yeats, James Joyce, the Jesuit philosopher Martin D’Arcy, and the poet Louis MacNeice who closely identified with Achill.”

The programme describes me as follows:

“(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin, an Adjunct Assistant Professor in Theology in Trinity College Dublin, and a visiting lecturer in Mater Dei Institute of Education, a college of Dublin City University.

“He studied theology at the Irish School of Ecumenics, Kimmage Manor, Maynooth and in Cambridge, and holds degrees and diplomas from Maynooth, Trinity College Dublin and the IOCS, Cambridge.

“Patrick worked for 30 years as a journalist with provincial and national newspapers, and is a former Foreign Desk Editor of The Irish Times. He has contributed to many books, journals and magazines, and writes for three monthly magazines. He has published two studies of TS Eliot in this 50th anniversary year.

“He is a member of the General Synod and Standing Committee of the Church of Ireland, serves on the Irish and British boards and councils of the Anglican mission agency Us (formerly USPG), and his work for Anglican mission agencies has brought him to Romania, Egypt and China. He has been a regular visitor to Achill since the 1970s, and spoke about Nangle and the Achill Mission at these weekends in 2013 and 2014.”

I have also been invited to speak later on Saturday afternoon in the Cyril Gray Hall at the opening of an exhibition of photographs of Dugort Village Colony by the American photographer John Michael Nikolai who lives in Achill.

Last year he was commissioned by Kevin Toolis to take photographs at some of the locations on Achill Island associated with Nangle. As he worked on this project, the artist tried to imagine Achill during this period and what it might be like to have a powerful and enigmatic figure such as Nangle roaming the landscape.

The programme on Sunday morning [3 May] includes a guided walk with Eoin Halpin of Slievemore, the Colony and Finsheen, a recording of Sunday Miscellany for RTÉ in Saint Thomas’s Church, Dugort, and readings by Abbot Mark Patrick Hederman and John F Deane. Interestingly, John F Deane has been shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize.

Saint Thomas’s Church, Achill Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)