Monday, May 4, 2009

Launch of Immrama 2009 - a Lismore Cultural Landmark

Last Thursday evening saw the long-awaited launch of the 2009 Lismore Immrama Festival of Travel Writing in Lismore Castle's Ballroom, which I have already written about when I wrote a post on Devonshire Day. There is more than the ballroom linking these two events, as Devonshire Day is the key fundraiser for the Immrama Festival. For those readers who have no idea what Immrama is all about, have a look at the website for the details. June 11th - 14th are this year's dates for your diary!

Mayor of Lismore - Jan Rotte

It is Ireland's only Festival of Travel Writing and as far as I am aware the only one of its kind in the world. I notice there is a Traveller's Tales Festival in the UK but it seems a more commercial venture organised by a training agency for travel writers and photographers, whereas Immrama is a community festival with origins in the Lismore Mochuda Development Group, a voluntary body that serves to promote and support Lismore's artistic, cultural and business development.

Immrama began in 2003 after a diverse group of interested locals got together to brainstorm for ideas for an iconic festival to celebrate
Lismore in a unique fashion. Immrama is the result as it seemed very logical to celebrate travel in a town that is home to one of the most famous contemporary travel writers, Dervla Murphy. (There are so many sites about her on Google I chose this one as it is a recent article written by herself in The Guardian rather than an insipid biopic on Wikipedia!)
I declare a bias here as Dervla is a personal friend and an amazing woman - a truly intrepid traveller in the grand tradition of famous women travellers over the centuries, from Isabel Burton and Mary Kingsley to Freya Stark, and she lives a simple life in Lismore in between her travels, which seem to be as daring as ever even in her mid-70s.

This is the seventh year of Immrama and each year it goes from strength to strength. It has been a wonderful success, after a somewhat shaky start, where the travel theme formed part of a range of events rather than being central. Subsequently it has been primarily focused on the theme of travel writing with a literary perspective, not the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide sense, and each year has been driven by a theme. Africa, The Silk Road, Journeys to the Top of the World, and Travel and Conflict have all been Immrama themes.

Lismore Town (Jan) and County Waterford (Ger Barron) Mayors with Fáilte Ireland's Gary Breen
The festival is now recognised nationally and internationally as a uniquely iconic boutique festival, and visitors come from all corners of the world. Lismore has had a rich heritage of links with travel, going back to Thackeray and Marco Polo, right up to Dervla Murphy. The Marco Polo link inspired the Silk Road theme, as there is a translation in Irish of the Travels of Marco Polo in the Book of Lismore, an illuminated manuscript similar to the Book of Kells, one of Ireland's most visited tourist attractions in Trinity College Library in Dublin. The Book of Lismore was found in the walls of Lismore Castle during renovations in the 19th century and is now in Chatsworth House, while there is a facsimile in Ireland in the Lismore Heritage Centre.
As hubby is the Immrama administrator I get a sneak preview of the line-up each year, but am sworn to masonic secrecy not to leak anything, which is not too difficult. If anyone fishes, I just say - If I told you I'd have to kill you - which generally works! There are tantalising hints dropped if the theme is mentioned at either Devonshire Day or the January Table Quiz fundraiser - a great night in Ballyrafter House Hotel - which whets the appetite and leads to massive speculation, usually way wide of the mark.

Me, hubby Jan and Mary Houlihan, Heritage Centre manager
This year's theme is Extraordinary Travels- Extraordinary Lives, and has a great line-up of renowned speakers, including writers and journalists Kate Adie and Fergal Keane and Dervla Murphy herself being interviewed by Manchán Magan, who is probably better known in Ireland among Irish languge aficionados, as he has done a number of travel shows as Gaeilge (= in Irish). Catherine de Courcy and Dermot Somers will be making return visits to Immrama albeit in a different capacity than previously, and there will be Irish language children's literary activities from Aine Uí Foghlú from Ring in Gaeltacht na nDéise (the Waterford enclave - my work area - where Irish is the main language). Rory MacLean is a Canadian who seems to have written hilarious books which I look forward to reading.

There will be creative writing workshops from sometime-Lismore dweller Annie Rogers (whose memoir writing courses I enjoyed over a few summers in the early Noughties), and poet Mary Branley. There are a number of well-established fringe events over the weekend and a family fun afternoon in the Millenium Park on the Sunday afternoon. Poetry open mic sessions and a Literary Breakfast are part of the weekend, and Fortwilliam House will be the setting for Dervla's interview. The booking office opened the morning after the launch and already some sessions are nearly booked out!
Immrama Committee and friends

I will post about the festival after the event, but the build-up is always exciting, as we are so close to it. Though my involvement is from the health and saftey aspect and as at Devonshire Day I will be once again at all the gigs tastefully clad in my trusty yellow Hi-Viz jacket armed with a First-Aid kit, I do get to enjoy the events from the sidelines.

The Launch was hosted as usual by Lismore Castle who are great supporters of Immrama, and we enjoyed cheese and wine while the Mayors of town (hubby) and county spoke, the head of Tourism South East launched the festival, and there was a climactic slide presentation culminating in the announcement of the keynote speakers by the manager of Lismore Heritage Company. I took some photos and as I was wielding hubby's SLR as well as my little camera I was nearly mistaken for one of the local press photographers!

Meanwhile, hubby will be busy being Mayor, administrator for the festival and canvassing for the local elections (which take place with the European elections on 5th June, the week before Immrama).
It will be a hectic few weeks, and I am off to the INO (Irish Nurses Organisation) Annual Delegate Conference in Killarney this week for a few days debate and discussion on the state of our crumbling health services. Watch this space for a post on the sights of Killarney which I plan to see at some stage between motions and various other heated debates!
Crescent moon over Lismore Castle

A group of local artists (Corina Duyn, Alan Murphy and Jane Jermyn) enjoying the launch with Margaret O'Brien of Lismore
Courtyard of Lismore Castle at dusk


diane b said...

Sounds like an exciting festival. I guess there is an awful lot of work involved in organising such an event. The Lismore Castle looks wonderful. Did you know we have a Lismore town in Australia. It is a small country town in the Northern Rivers region of NSW. (Don't tell anyone but I don't think there is as much culture there as in your town)

Catherine said...

Hi Diane, yes it is a great festival and has put Lismore on the cultural map even more than it was with the literary links it already had with Dervla Murphy. Glad you enjoyed the post, there are plenty more with LIsmore Castle if you check the labels list, and Devonshire Day which is linked on this post has a slide show of its own, as has the Castle arets Gallery which was great, the Sotheby's preview, check them on the sidebar here.
Small world would you believe about the Lismore connection check this post - - about the link with Lismore here and there - they are twinned towns! There is also a Lismore in Victoria Australia and they came here to play cricket against Lismore some years back, my son broke his collar bone playing this Lismore International one-day match!
Not sure about the culture, there is a lot of lovely scenery around the NSW one and the weather is much better than our awful Irish weather! No wonder we say bring on the global warming!(joke!!)
I have already commented on your wonderful memoirs of your mother's diary on your blog.
Keep visiting, I don't post too often but I do love to get feedback!

Peggy said...

Hi Catherine, I was in the middle of reading the post last night when my computer froze! I remember Dervla Murphy, I think I read a serialised version of one of her books about cycyling around the world? I made the pastry (with Butter)anyway before reading your comment and it turned out delicious!It is a light and melt in the mouth pastry which I will be using from now on.The festival looks like going from strength to strength and I look forward to reading about it.

diane b said...

To answer your question you left on my blog about the camera my parents had in 1949 on the voyage to Australia. It wasn't a brownie box it was a flat shape when closed but it opened up and had bellows. I don't know what brand or type it was called. On my May 1st post you can see it (just) hanging on my dad's arm in the picture. My Dad took most of the photos.