Sunday 18 February 2018

Old hobbits die hard in Ireland

• The revelation that JRR Tolkien was a regular visitor to Ireland and an external examiner in English literature in NUI Galway in the early 1950s (Irish Independent, December 19) raises the intriguing possibility that some of his writings on Middle Earth may have been influenced by ancient Irish legends as well as the acknowledged Anglo-Saxon origins of his work.

The legend of Balor of the Evil Eye springs to mind. He was an ancient wizard king in the time of the Tuatha De Danann who lived on top of a high tower and had a giant eye in the middle of his forehead, which, when opened, would "cause seven degrees of burning, each more fierce than the last".

Once Balor opened his all-powerful eye, legend has it, no one could look upon him and live. In fact, the Irish for 'evil eye' is 'suil Bhaloir'. The similarities with the evil Lord Sauron from 'The Lord of the Rings' are unmistakable, a huge, all-seeing eye on top of the tower at Mordor which caused Frodo and Gollum such anguish. Talking of Gollum, when Tolkien was external examiner at NUI Galway (then UCG), he would be a frequent visitor to the Gregan's Castle Hotel, which lies just four miles from. . . Poll na Gollum, the entrance to one of the most extensive underground cave systems in Ireland!

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