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Mayo has a special place in the imagination of poets, especially perhaps those from Ulster. Any contemporary anthology of Irish poetry is unimaginable without plentiful references to the West of Ireland in general and Mayo in particular. Home to Ireland's remotest and wildest places and the highest number of its offshore islands, the many nooks and hideaways provide writers with resonant places to think in peace and develop their metaphors.
So loved the Western sea and no tree's green
Fulfilled him like these contours of Slievemore
Menaun and Croaghaun and the bogs between.
Achill's most famous literary disciple is Heinrich Böll (1917–1985): for many Europeans he defined the values of rural Ireland, contrasted sharply with the rapidly industrialising continent of the post-war period. Significantly, the house he stayed in is now known as the Böll Cottage in Dugort and, since 1992, used as a self-catering residency for writers and artists. On May Bank Holiday weekends, a cultural weekend takes place with lectures, readings and creative writing seminars, featuring writers such as John F. Deane (poet and founder of Poetry Ireland) and novelist Mike McCormack, from Louisburgh.
A particularly significant contemporary poet, Michael Longley, has summered on the Atlantic coast beyond Louisburgh for several decades and reads around the county on occasion. By his own account, a full one-third of his poems are set in Mayo and he takes particular pleasure in the music of its placenames, as demonstrated in these lines recalling a neighbour lost to cancer:
I missed his funeral. Close to the stony roads
He lies in Killeen Churchyard over the hill.
This morning on the burial mound at Templedoomore
Encircled by a spring tide and taking in
Cloonaghmanagh and Claggan and Carrigskeewaun,
The townlands he’d wandered tending cows and sheep.
Poets continue to come in their droves to the Mayo coast, staying in Achill or Old Rectory Retreat in Knappagh, seeking perhaps a quiet space to write but happily surprised to find themselves in a natural wonderland that has been celebrated abroad far less than the beauty spots of West Cork or the Ring of Kerry.
The annual Westport Arts Festival has featured writers such as poet Sean Lysaght and the late Dermot Healy who have read from their work and also conducted writing workshops. Each November, The Rolling Sun Book Festival in Westport describes itself as “a quirky boutique festival that indulges bookworms and connoisseurs of music, song and poetry.” The RTE radio programme ‘Sunday Miscellany’ presents thoughtful radio essays interspersed with live music.