Tolkien fans to descend on the Burren

When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in... Co Clare.

Tolkien fans to descend on the Burren

From Thursday, anyone traipsing through the Burren may notice a new addition to the landscape of clints and dolmens — members of the Burren Tolkien Society.

Fans of JRR Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, have come together as the Burren Tolkien Society and have organised the inaugural week-long Burren Tolkien Festival.

The Burren was often visited by the writer and may even have influenced his writing.

Organisers say the event will highlight Tolkien’s many visits to the Burren and explore how the famous landscape and Celtic legends may have inspired The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien was a regular visitor to the West of Ireland 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 published.

Tolkien took a position as an external examiner at the University of Galway’s English department in 1949, and over the subsequent half decade, he visited the Burren on a number of occasions, often staying at the home of Dr Florence Martyn near Ballyvaughan.

Organiser of the event, Peter Curtin, said he had spoken with Dr Martyn’s housekeeper, Ms Crowe, in the 70s and she had said the author had admitted the Burren’s influence on his creation of his fictional Middle Earth landscape.

“It’s a reasonable assumption to make,” Mr Curtin said. “Forty weeks out of 52 I walk the Burren and it is an inspiring place.

“It is close enough to a no-brainer.”

Mr Curtin — a Burren resident and owner of the Roadside Tavern — said that hundreds of people are due to attend the festival’s various events, with visitors expected from America, Scandinavia, Britain, and elsewhere.

Speakers will include Dr Alison Grant Milbank, Tolkien expert and associate professor of literature and theology at the University of Nottingham, and one- time Tolkien undergraduate student Jeremy Prince.

Tipperary Man Mark Maher, who worked as a model maker on the set of Peter Jackson’s latest film trilogy, The Hobbit, will also attend.

Events include a group visit to the famous Poll na gColm cave, film screenings, a short story workshop and competition, and a hog roasting in the Roadside Tavern, which will also see the launch of a micro- brewed Hobbit Ale.

Sunday will see a quest in and around Lisdoonvarna where some involved may don costume, but Mr Curtin said he hoped the event would be a mix of fun and learning.

* The full festival programme of events can be viewed at www.burrentolkiensociety.ie

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