I loved reading all of the poetry submissions for the Joe Wattie’s limerick competition. The variety of voices and images was truly a pleasure to read. Everyone who submitted a poem should be proud of their work, even if they didn’t win the competition, because in writing about Aran you have contributed to the literary history of the Aran Islands! (Which is already quite rich, indeed!)
Aran has inspired many writers and artists over the years. Notable Irish writers Liam O’Flaherty and Mairtin O’Direain grew up on Inishmore, and in Gort na gCapall there is a lovely memorial for Liam O’Flaherty. I only wish I knew Irish so I could read their work untranslated. (I’m thinking of taking beginner Irish at the New York Irish Arts Center this fall, in fact.)
And, of course, the object of my obsession, the writer that drew me to Aran, J.M. Synge, was also greatly inspired by the Aran Islands. Mairtin O’Direain even wrote a poem about Synge. I was able to find an English translation online – I hope it is accurate.
HOMAGE TO JOHN MILLINGTON SYNGE
The thing that brought you among my people
from rich distance to rough rock
was something in the vital clay,
a trace escaping of woe and loss.
It was not from stone you took your stories,
but the wonders in stories by the fire;
not care for the stony cell or flag
— there are no groans out of dead ground.
Deirdre met you there on the road;
Naoise’s currach turned Ceann Gainnimh.
Deirdre and Naoise took their way
— and Pegeen was nagging at Shauneen.
Always in your fist, that book …
You cast your words from it in a spell:
Deirdre, Naoise, Pegeen took shape
and gave a hero-leap from its pages.
My people’s way is failing fast,
the wave no longer a guarding wall.
But till Cuan Wood comes to Inis Mean
the words you gathered here will be
alive still in a foreign tongue.
I love this poem. I think it really captures Synge’s fascination with the islands, and the way Aran seeped into his work.
Aran still inspires writing, and art in all its forms. One of my favorite acquisitions from my trip this summer is the book Island Writings. (Also available on Amazon, here). I bought it from the Internet Cafe in Kilronan.
- Island Writings
The book is a collection of poetry and short stories written by women from 14 different islands off the coast of Ireland. The Aran Islands feature prominently, with stories by Stephanie Brennan, Mary Burke, Rachel Burke, Katherine Conneely, Olwen Gill, Thomond Gill, Maire Ui Iarnain, Noilin Ni Iarnain, and Nonie O’Neill. Some of the writing is in Irish, but most of it is in English. Fiction, nonfiction, and poetry are all represented.
If you’re traveling to Aran, I recommend taking more than just a digital camera with you. Bring a small notebook and leave some time – whether it’s fifteen minutes or three hours – to sit somewhere and write. Record the colors and sounds around you, recall a conversation you had in a pub, or simply listen to whatever feeling comes out of you, and write from that. In doing so, you’ll become part of a tradition of those who were moved by the islands to put pen to paper.
Synge used to sit and write here:
Where would you sit and write on Aran?
LettersToAran.Blogspot.com. @EmilyHerzlin (twitter).