The Burren Tolkien Convention, organised by the Burren Tolkien Society, will take place from May 9 to 16, as part of The Gathering 2013. The organisers say the event will highlight Tolkien’s many visits to the Burren and how the region inspired one of his most famous writings, The Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien visited the West of Ireland on a number of occasions with his close friend and fellow fantasy literature icon, CS Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia series. Their friendship dates back to 1926, when the pair met at Oxford University, seven years before The Hobbit was originally published. Tolkien also spent considerable time in the Burren when he held the position of external examiner to the English department of NUI Galway on five separate occasions between 1949 and 1959, during which time he revised and published The Lord of the Rings. Diarmuid Murphy, a former head of the English department at NUI Galway, became firm friends with Tolkien during his time in Ireland.
The convention will feature contributions from Tolkien experts, writing workshops, screenings, lectures and guided walks of the locations frequented by Tolkien, including Poll na Gollum Cave, which event organisers suggest influenced the creation of one of the author’s most famous characters, Gollum.
Meanwhile, a book signed by the South African-born writer will be auctioned during the week-long festival. The author-owned copy of Tolkien’s book, Tree and Leaf, has been donated to the Burren Tolkien Society by Jeremy Prince, a former student of Tolkien’s at Oxford University. The book will be put on display during the festival before being auctioned off.
“From studying Tolkien’s works and correspondences, as well as having spoken with people who knew the man, we are certain that his most famous work, The Lord of the Rings, was inspired, at least in part, by his experience of The Burren,” commented Burren-native and Burren Tolkien Society chairperson, Peter Curtin.
“We believe that Tolkien denied the Burren links when his masterwork was published in 1954 as he might have felt that Irish influences would have been unpalatable to his largely English audience at the time. In the few years leading up to his death in 1973, however, Tolkien spoke more openly about how his writings were influenced by the themes and ideas of Irish and Celtic mythology.
“Although he referred to Gaelic as an unattractive language, he admitted that he had studied it and found it to be of great historical and philological interest. He also said he was suffering from acute Eire-starvation, having not visited his favourite counties of Clare, Galway and Cork for a number of years,” he added.
Mr Curtin said another clue to where Tolkien found his inspiration for The Lord of the Rings is the topography of the Burren, noting that comparisons of the Burren landscape and Middle Earth show “striking similarities”.
“Dr Charles Travis, a historical-cultural geography PHD graduate and research associate at Trinity College Dublin’s Long Room Hub, compared the actual topography of the Burren – around Gortaclare Mountain to be precise – with the Misty Mountains from Tolkien’s Middle Earth map, with the Middle Earth region of Rohan in the foreground and the Misty Mountains covering the spine of the mountain ridge with runs into Gortaclare Mountain.
“Mr Travis has confirmed that the curve of the Misty Mountain range in Tolkien’s ‘imaginary’ map seems to fit the actual topography of this region of the Burren.
“He added that the topography could arguably support the case being made for this region of the Burren being one source of inspiration for Tolkien,” explained Mr Curtin.
“We look forward to welcoming people to County Clare and facilitating them as they walk in the footsteps of Tolkien, arguably one of the most important writers of the 20th century.
“We also hope that this event will contribute to the growing number of Gathering events taking place in Clare during 2013. Further details relating to the Burren Tolkien Convention will be announced in the coming weeks,” he added.
Meanwhile, Gerard Dollard, chairperson of The Gathering Clare Steering Group said the event will further highlight the county’s unique landscape and history.
“We are delighted to lend our support to this excellent Gathering event idea, one of many being developed throughout the county at present. Heritage tourism is one of the main themes of the events already featured on our Gathering 2013 calendar.
“The Burren Tolkien Convention will help to further highlight the unique flora, fauna, archaeology, geology and cultural history of the County Clare’s Burren region.”