Sunday, June 17, 2012

Immrama 2012 - Celebrating Lismore's 10th Travel Writing Festival - Part One

Jan and me with Artemis Cooper and Colin Thubron
 I will blog about Immrama in two parts as there is far too much to report for a single post. This was a very special anniversary for Immrama as it was the 10th festival. We marked it with the publication of a very special book called "The Blue Sky Bends Over All" which is a quote from William Makepeace Thackeray that Immrama adopted as its motto at the festival's outset in 2003. It was his remark on the Catholics and Protestants being buried in opposite sides of the Church of Ireland cemetery which he visited in the 1800s. He noted that the sun didn't shine more on one side than the other and "The blue sky bends over all", an early nod to ecumenism that deserves to be lauded. Paul Clements, a long-time friend of Immrama, was the editor of the book along with hubby Jan, and it comprises essays from around 20 earlier speakers at Immrama from the first decade. I already blogged about the Yarnbomb homage to Immrama here.

Prof. Eoin Burke at the launch
This year's festival was another successful milestone on the literary calender. Immrama has become recognised nationally and internationally as a world-class literary festival, a boutique festival that has a global reach far exceeding its perceived niche of travel writing.  Visitors come from as far afield as Vancouver and Melbourne, and from all over Ireland and the UK and mainland Europe.

Ciaran Murphy at the book launch
The participants and speakers always love the hospitality and Lismore welcome they get, from the preparations for their journey to and from Lismore to the attention lavished on them by the committee during their stay. They will be looked after and brought to see local sights like Ballysaggartmore Towers, a local folly, or The Vee up in the Knockmealdown Mountains, or Mount Melleray, a local Cistercian Abbey. And if they want to chill and do nothing, that's fine too. The fact that after each evening's event we all repair to the festival club in a local pub, a different one each night to keep everyone happy, means the speakers get to chat with the locals and there's very little standing to ceremony, which they all seem to enjoy.

Catherine de Courcy at the launch
Jan, me, Paul, Peter, Claire, Catherine and Bernard
Story Trail led by Bernard and historical Lismoreians!
Thursday evening saw the launch of three books in the prestigious Lismore Castle Arts Gallery. First was "What Happens on Tour|", Waterford man Ciaran Murphy's adventures in Australia and New Zealand, followed by Galway University Professor Eoin Burke's tome on German travellers in 19th Century Ireland in translation which is quite academic but fascinating, and finally our own Immrama book which Catherine de Courcy launched, as she was at the festival as a returning visitor, having been a speaker and creative writing workshop faciliator other years. That event took place in the Castle Arts Gallery amid the massive sculptures of Hans Josephsohn, whose work adorns the gallery and the gardens for the summer exhibition.
St. Carthage in his Cathedral in Lismore

Friday was a busier day with the school children doing the Story Trail with local characters like St. Carthage and Robert Boyle of the eponymous Law who was born in Lismore Castle, as his father Richard was the Earl of Cork. The weather held despite vile weather earlier in the week and a bad forecast.

That evening the first main event was held in the Courthouse Theatre. It was a panel discussion on the Legacy of Patrick Leigh Fermor, an acclaimed albeit little known travel writer. The panel consisted of Colin Thubron, the legendary Asian and Silk Road travel writer, Artemis Cooper (wife of Antony Beevor the historian), Jan Morris on a return visit to Lismore, and Tony Wheeler, the co-founder with his wife Maureen of Lonely Planet, the gold standard guide series.

Robert Boyle explains Boyle's Law
The topic was timely given that Leigh Fermor's death occurred a year ago on the same Friday night of Immrama, when it was announced during that evening's event in the same venue. There's a Lismore connection too, as he was a great friend of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, formerly Deborah Mitford, the youngest of the famous Mitford Sisters. She is now in her 90s and her grandson Lord Burlington is a frequent visitor to his home in Lismore, where he established the Castle Arts exhibitions, always highly regarded internationally even if a tad avant-garde.

The panel discussion was chaired by Paul Clements and was riveting as Artemis Cooper introduced the man she called Paddy and knew as a dear friend. She is his biographer, and Jan Morris and herself and Colin Thubron are all involved in administering his estate on Crete, where he called home for many years. It was a fascinating insight to a dashingly handsome boys' own adventurer who had a somewhat rocky childhood - parents left him behind in England when they headed off to India, and when they returned as strangers he was uprooted from the only home he knew.

The Panel discuss Patrick Leigh Fermor
Jan with Colin Thubron
He hated school and when he was about 18 he headed off on foot to walk from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul or Constantinople. The diaries of this journey are in two books while a third will be posthumously published when completed. He had a penchant for parties and seemed to fit in wherever he went, and I'm looking forward to reading his two books and eventually the third. I also have the book of letters between him and Deborah Devonshire, In Tearing Haste, which I got for my birthday and which Artemis Cooper and Colin Thubron both signed.  The Q&A Session after the discussion was animated and showed the knowledge of an informed and erudite audience that packed the theatre to capacity and beyond.  Easons  as the main sponsor of the festival ensure a wide range and good supply of books of all the speakers and the entire panel were happy to sign books after the talk, a great chance for informal chat with the public, to be continued in the pub or hotel.

Artemis, Tony, Jan, Colin and Paul

I'll continue with the events of Saturday and Sunday in the next blogpost.

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