Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Celebrating a Decade of Travel Writing in Lismore - the Launch of Immrama 2012

Me and Jan at the launch (photo by David Clynch)
Last Thursday saw a landmark day in the evolution of the Immrama Festival of Travel Writing in Lismore when the 10th festival was launched to great anticipation as to what the line-up would be for such a momentous anniversary.  It was a special occasion for hubby Jan and the Immrama committee who have done trojan work for the past 9 months to bring this year's festival to fruition; a fitting gestation metaphor for this baby, whose birth is always the fruit of much hard labour.

The 2012 festival will be held from June 7-10, and bookings are already flooding in.  Jan is the administrator and this was his first year doing the presentation for the launch, announcing the speakers and presenters. In previous years the manager of the Lismore Heritage Centre did the announcement presentation, but as she has moved to greener pastures as Tourism Officer for Co. Waterford she is no longer involved in Immrama. So this was a new challenge for the committee as they did all the preparatory work themselves. Jan has been working hard at contacting the speakers and arranging the logistical minutiae of travel, accommodation and venues right from the end of the last Immrama in June 2011.

Immrama Committee at the Launch
Another first for Immrama is the commemorative book they are publishing for the 10th year of the festival. It's a compilation of essays by former presenters and speakers and will be a classic collectors' item, with much local interest as it portrays their individual impressions of Lismore and/or Immrama. It will be ready for sale during the festival, and Jan co-edit it with Paul Clements, a stalwart of Immrama from the outset, as he returns year after year to run Creative Writing Workshops or to just soak up the ambience. The book is called "The Blue Sky Bends Over All" which is the motto of Immrama and is attributed to William Makepeace Thackeray who, when visiting Lismore in the 1800s, noted that while Protestant and Catholics are buried in opposite sides of the same cemetary, the sun shines equally on both and "The blue sky bends over all". It's a lovely image and even if the story were apocryphal it has become embedded in local lore.

Theme of Immrama 2012
Back to the launch of this year's festival. It was held as before in the Pugin Room of Lismore Castle, where Devonshire Day takes place, and thanks to the generosity of the Duke of Devonshire's son Lord William Burlington, who spends a lot of his time here with his wife Laura Lady Burlington and their children Maud and James, the Castle has become synonymous with these events. The Burlingtons were at the launch, as they are in the final stages of preparing the summer exhibition of the Lismore Castle Arts gallery, which will  be opened on May 12th. No doubt there'll follow a blog post on that next month! As there was much interest locally in who'd be coming to the festival this year, there was a nice crowd of locals and "blow-ins" at the launch, and we all enjoyed the cheese and wine while we chatted and smiled for the local photographer, who very kindly sent  me the pic of Jan and myself, as it's often the only one of the two of us I end up with, as I'm so busy taking photos of everyone else.
Lord William Burlington and Jan

After the President and Chairman of Immrama spoke, and the County Manager officially launched the Festival, Jan presented the 2012 programme. There's a great group of speakers this year, with the theme of the festival "In The Footsteps of Marco Polo" and will feature a tribute to the late famed travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, who died last June and news of whose passing filtered through during Immrama 2011's Friday night talk and was mourned by many of the speakers who felt they'd lost a friend and mentor.

Tony Wheeler, co-founder of Lonely Planet, and Colin Thubron, the renowned travel writer who has written on The Silk Road and Siberia, will  be the main speakers on the Saturday. There's a panel discussion on the Legacy of Patrick Leigh Fermor on the Friday night with Jan Morris making a return visit to Lismore after two years, and the aforementioned Colin Thubron and Tony Wheeler, who will also be joined by Leigh Fermor's biographer Artemis Cooper, who is married to Antony Beevor, and this will be a fascinating evening.

Jan presenting the programme
Patrick Leigh Fermor has connections to Lismore Castle, as he was a personal friend of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, the former Deborah Mitford, youngest of the famous - or infamous - Mitford sisters, and her niece-in-law, Charlotte Mosley (yes, that Mosley; she's the daughter-in-law of Diana Mitford who was married to fascist leader Oswald Mosley) compiled their correspondence over many years in a fascinating book "In Tearing Haste: Letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor". Coincidentally I got a present of that book for my birthday and look forward to reading it before Immrama. I suppose there's a certain complacency in Lismore over the Devonshire connection and the castle, as we live in its shadow, and it's only when we are shown it through the eyes of outsiders we see what a magical and beautiful place it is and indeed Lismore as well!

Audience at the launch in the Pugin Room
Mary Russell will also present at Immrama on the Saturday at a lunchtime talk. She wrote The Blessings of  Good Thick Skirt, a book that I read in Tanzania and which I gave to Dervla Murphy when she visited Iringa and came to dinner with us while she was researching The Ukimwi Road back in 1993. I absolutely loved that paean to women travel writers, and it marked my introduction to Freya Stark, Mary Kingsley, Isobel Burton and of course our own Lismore heroine Dervla who featured in it. Mary has recently published her latest book on Syria, My Home is Your Home and it's very topical with all its current tribulations.

Anthony Sattin will speak at the Sunday Breakfast in Ballyrafter, a year late as he was scheduled for 2011 but fell ill at the last minute and had to cancel. The final speaker on Sunday night is Diana Gleadhill who met some Lismore friends when travelling in Ethiopia last year, and who has written on her travels on the Silk Road including a trip to the Kamchatka peninsula.

Mike Foley serenading Niamh in his bar!
Sunday afternoon is an afternoon of family fun, music and circus acts in the town's Millenium Park. That's become a fixture of the festival from its inception and draws crowds of children and their parents from far and wide. The Sunday will have the Farmers' Market, and there will be a great  buzz around town all weekend culminating in the fun day. I look forward to another great weekend and even though I end up wrecked  by Monday, after being on First-Aid duty in my Hi-Viz jacket all weekend at every event, I am blessed that I get to see and hear all the speakers, even if I have to keep a vigilant eye out for any untoward incident.

Donal, Edward and Jan in Foley's on The Mall pub
After the launch at the Castle, we repaired to the pub, and spent the next few hours enjoying the craic in Foley's on The Mall, where we were entertained by the proprietor Michael Foley, who's a wonderful tenor, and gave the launch a fitting finale. Roll on the second weekend in June, and if you can make it to Lismore, why not drop in on one of the many events during the festival.


Jo said...

Oh, how I wish I was near you and could attend this cultural event, Catherine. But as you know, Western Tanzania is a LONG way from you. I enjoyed the post, thanks. Jo (Mwadui, Tz)

Stephanie V said...

If only wishing could fly me over to Lismore. Your plans sound wonderful and so busy. Your feet won't even touch the ground.

Reader Wil said...

Thank you for visiting and for the link to Facebook, though I must confess that I couldn't find the lyrics on your page. I also put the Norwegian and English on my page.
Anders Breivik hates this song. He said that Norwegian children were brainwashed with this song.