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Independent.ie

Friday 20 April 2018

welcome at writers' gig word perfect

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

Some towns manage to convey a real sense of welcome from the moment you enter them. Perhaps this can be attributed to attractive buildings and shop fronts, but more likely it's down to the people who live there. Kerry people in general, and especially the residents of Listowel, possess a talent for hospitality that is little short of an art form.

When visiting there on the last weekend in May for the Writers' Week festival, and not having been in the town for five years, I stopped to buy a newspaper and was immediately greeted with a friendly smile and a warm, "How are you keeping?"

The lady behind the counter couldn't have remembered me but she made me feel like she did.

"Are you down for Writers' Week?" she enquired.

I mumbled some inanity in reply and she then added cheerfully, "We call it Riders' Week".

This observation, spoken in that lovely lilting Kerry accent, left me speechless and as she handed me my change she added "Enjoy it".

There was really no answer to that and I left the shop pondering on this fresh insight into the supposed activities of the literary community and headed for my lodgings.

On arrival my landlady immediately offered me a cup of tea – "You must be tired after your long journey" – and having showed me to my spotless room, suggested I make the house my own for the duration of my stay.

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But the best was yet to come when I entered one of the many bars and restaurants later that evening for a pint and a meal.

"How are you keeping?" said the barman. It was said with such warmth and feeling that I looked in the mirror behind him to see if he was addressing someone else but no, it was me, his long-lost friend. That encounter just about sums up Listowel.

It's not only a busy country town but a haven of genuine hospitality that would cheer up even the loneliest and most depressed traveller. If you ever feel your self-esteem is in need of restoration, spend a while there, and especially during Writers' Week when the town buzzes with activity and world-renowned writers and poets gather to share their talents with the rest of us struggling scribes.

My quest was to try to learn more about travel writing, for my favourite books have always been those that describe real-life adventures in faraway places, where authors such as Jonathan Raban, Dervla Murphy and Paul Theroux take their readers on journeys to wild and often dangerous locations that are far off the beaten track.

I don't travel abroad much anymore for my limbs refuse to move like they used to, but that won't stop me kayaking around the South Sea islands or trekking through Amazonian jungles. I now find this is best done from the comfort of an armchair. With a good book we can be in almost any part of the world and be there in the company of intrepid and experienced explorers. Once the words are written to inspire us, our minds can capture almost any scene or event.

The workshop I attended was hosted by writer and documentary maker Manchán Magan, a brilliant communicator who has written a number of books on his travels in India, Africa and South America, in both English and Irish. In addition, his travels have been televised widely including on RTE and TG4.

Perhaps what interested me most was that he now lives in a self-built straw bale house in Co Westmeath and is almost self-sufficient in fuel and food, having planted 6,000 oak, maple, larch and Scots pine, along with an orchard of 40 fruit trees.

During one of our classroom sessions, he set us the task of writing a short piece titled 'My Favourite Place'.

I had to think long and hard about this one, especially as my fellow pupils were widely travelled, but if we are to write anything worthwhile, then it must be written honestly. I wrote about the fact that while I may no longer be able to trek along the Camino de Santiago or gaze in awe at giant redwoods in Sequoia National Park, it doesn't mean I cannot still enjoy many wonderful adventures.

My favourite place for this strenuous activity is Cashel House Hotel in Connemara. Maybe I could now write a book about it while sitting there in front of a warm turf fire with a glass of whiskey by my side.

Irish Independent