Saturday 22 October 2016

Pól Ó Conghaile: Ireland's Immrama is one of the world's top travel writing festivals

Have books, will travel

Published 29/05/2016 | 02:30

Harry Alexander Smith Huskinson counts down to The Immrama Festival of Travel Writing. Photo: Dylan Vaughan
Harry Alexander Smith Huskinson counts down to The Immrama Festival of Travel Writing. Photo: Dylan Vaughan

Immrama (June 16-19) punches way above its weight as a travel writing festival, says Pól Ó Conghaile.

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Travel writing is "literature's red light district," Jonathan Raban once wrote - "a notoriously raffish open house where very different genres are likely to end up in the same bed".

Formats range from lists (Lonely Planet's latest? 'Toilets: A Spotters Guide') to literary heavyweights like our own Dervla Murphy, whose books seem more seminal every year.

Murphy, now in her 80s, lives in Lismore, Co Waterford - a tiny town that is also the venue for one of the world's most respected travel writing festivals.

You may not have heard of Immrama (; June 16-19). Since its founding in 2003, however, it has attracted guests ranging from Pico Iyer to Michael Palin and Robert Fisk. This year, speakers include Fergal Keane and Phan Thi Kim Phúc, best known as the nine-year old child depicted running away from a Napalm blast in Nick Ut's famous photo from the Vietnam War.

I once interviewed Theo Dorgan at the festival, and was amazed at how warm, engaged and informed the audience was - despite the apparently random location.

Travel writing is no rock n' roll. A niche trip like Immrama will never draw the crowds of Longitude (July 15-17) or Electric Picnic (September 2-4). But that's its charm.

From literary luvvies to tuned-in locals and a new generation of travel bloggers, this is an intriguing weekend in West Waterford, with an Italian wine and film night, family fun Sunday and farmers' market rounding out the programme. Raffish it ain't, but some very different people are likely to end up in the same pub...



Irish hedgerows are in full bloom, which means it's time for the annual Wild Food Masterclasses at Wicklow's Brooklodge and Macreddin Village (

A one-day masterclass with chefs from the fully-organic Strawberry Tree Restaurant and Evan Doyle, co-­author of Wild Food, includes in-depth tuition on foraging, cooking and preserving wild foods, plus a two-course lunch.

Courses run on June 14, July 7 & 21, cost €95pp, and places can be reserved at 0402 36444 or



Looking for a deliciously designed bolthole to get family or friends together, or simply to get away? Ballilogue (, a luxury clutch of houses near Inistioge, Co Kilkenny, has rebooted to cater solely for private rentals.

Dating from the 1700s, the stone buildings are kitted out with wood-burning stoves, minimalist interiors, tasteful artwork (look out for pieces by Patrick Scott and Aiden Bradley) and Voya bathroom products. Up to 22 can stay, with prices from €120 per room (two-night minimum). A private chef is available, too.

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