This time last week (9.30 am Sunday morning 7th June) I was on my way to the Literary festival in Borris house County Carlow. I’d been looking forward to the day for ages since my memory of the previous year was of sunshine and sitting around chatting on benches outside with beautiful landscape all around in between listening to writers talk about their work and eating delicious pulled pork sandwiches and organic cheese and good coffee. Sitting in the sun on the grass outside the ballroom listening to Sebastian Barry on a loudspeaker that the organisers had thoughtfully placed outside for everyone who couldn’t get in, there was a great feeling of camaraderie and also a sense that this was a festival like no other.
So I was in high spirits as I prepared to set off but the first disaster struck when I dropped my phone into the toilet. I grabbed it so fast that only the top part hit the water, so naively I thought everything would be ok as I removed it from the holder and dried it. There wasn’t much water and it was still working so I thanked my lucky stars. A few minutes later the screen was black and nothing would coax it back to life but there was no time to grieve since I was already late for picking up a friend. I’ll worry about it tonight I thought, determined to let nothing interfere with the day though now I would be able to take no photographs, and be google, facebook and twitter free.
So strange nowadays to be phoneless for a whole day…
The second disaster hit on arrival when we saw a blackboard at the ticket desk saying ‘Brunch Cancelled’. Now I don’t know what you would do but when I book a day ticket that begins with a literary brunch at 10.30 it means I don’t eat breakfast beforehand so after the hour drive we were pretty hungry. We politely enquired about alternative arrangements and were met with blank looks. No breakfast, no advance warning, no food available until 11.30, which was the time of the first event I planned to attend, no apology, and as we queued the power went in the one coffee stall that was open.
Not quite barefoot and homeless but phoneless and foodless…
But you can’t stay angry for too long in Borris- it has an air of quirkiness and dottiness as well as the natural beauty of the surroundings, like visiting some eccentric cousin who is not good on the practical aspects of life but gives you a sense of something beyond the ordinary.
‘Are you content to be there writin’ your little fuckin stories….. for an ever dwindling readership?’ Was Tommy Tiernan’s opening line in his conversation with Kevin Barry. And Kevin Barry was well able for him. The combination made for a hilarious hour where we all laughed continuously but it also had an underlying seriousness and was a lot about the influence of the landscape on the creative imagination, and touched on the Irish love of language and the need for creative people to resist the lure of over commercialising their work.
TT: You’re commercialising your own soul, going out to your shed (Barry talked about going to his shed to write) , digging in to yourself. Barry responded by talking about getting to a point where ambition doesn’t ‘poison the page.’ About trying to get a sense of flow onto the page. TT was throwing in comments like ‘A.I.B. gives me my touring schedule for the year.’ But the discussion became more serious as they talked about dreams and life being transformed by ‘unscripted stuff’, and the meaninglessness of life and Barry’s claim that the best you could do was to ‘give shape to sentences’. ‘So your work arises out of mourning?’ TT responded. This led on to KB talking about tuning into the vibrational layer and a discussion of landscape, which was part serious and part exaggeration and comedy. There were moments when TT made extreme statements which were hilarious but there were also moments when you got a sense of a deeply reflective man. Especially so when he talked about driving his daughter to her horse-riding class from Moycullen to Spiddal. He described the low walls, the bogland, the treeless barren landscape, a land ‘you could never put manners on’, ‘a wind coming from the east…that brings madness’. He talked about the landscape of parts of east Galway, that in some of those places the landscape is allowed to express itself when people are indoors or at night, that it’s like a ‘broken wounded beast’. A starkness to the west that he finds liberating and hugely inspiring. The Corrib river flowing through Galway city, boiling, filled with energy, holding two fingers up to the city.
KB talked about ‘a hauntedness in the land’, about the Ox mountains in Sligo, ‘The land of the pregnant pause’, about Limerick. About the susceptibility of the Irish people to geography., that what’s said on the surface is never the point, that there’s always a layer just underneath.
A lot of slagging about places- ‘Sligo had TB as a child’- Carlow and Sligo are like sickly children- hard to slag it’. Love of language in Navan- ‘love of the sly word, the sneer, always put some fucker down’. The 30 second pause in the west from fear of language. Limerick- ‘if broken glass could talk’.
The last part became a discussion about the difficulty of creativity- KB talked about going to his shed every single day even if nothing came; about the subconscious shelf at the back of the mind that some days gives you bits; that it takes about 11 years to get the flow from something. TT talked about trusting yourself as a human being and not taking yourself too seriously, about realising that ultimately product is useless, about going out on a limb with no concern for product. This seems to be his motivation behind his new unscripted show which he described as hugely embarrassing and nerve wracking and risky yet in some way completely fulfilling and inspiring.
I came out after the hour sore from laughing but also with a huge respect and admiration for Tommy Tiernan in what he is trying to do. As my friend commented, you could see the moments when he was being ‘really authentic’ in between the provocative statements and gags. I’ve always admired Kevin Barry, I love his work and his sense of humour. (He told me once he loves Roscommon town, loves stopping off there on his way back to Sligo- the only person I’ve ever heard say that about Roscommon so he went up even further in my estimation after that!)
I went to see Ian Mc Ewan, and to A.C. Grayling in discussion with Michael Harding- I was disappointed that Anne Enright was on at the same time as this- and eventually got some food… but I’ll have to write about all those later in the week.
Meanwhile I put my phone in a bag of rice on Sunday evening and left it there until Wednesday evening, when I took it out, put it in a shaft of evening sunlight for an hour on my bed, and then forgot to breathe while I pressed the button, and almost dropped it in fright when it sprang into life, rescued from temporary coma. And good as new…