Tuesday, August 28, 2018

SB Poets Take Ireland: Day 6


Let's just start here, no introduction, because, well, look above. That's the page of the summer program for the Seamus Heaney HomePlace about Chryss, David, and Paul's reading. (I took the picture, so that makes me an international photographer now.) But they are the stars, of course--I mean a couple pages from their event was one with Viv Albertine! From the Slits! Like real true punk!

As if reading at a museum to the memory of a Noble Prize winner isn't enough. Heaney is one of those poets everyone seems to love, and how could you not, given his work is almost mystically musical (he mines internal rhyme like my Slovak ancestors dug anthracite out of Scranton), so of a place and instantly of all humanity. That's not easy to do without toppling into bathos, but he's far too unsentimental for that, as he knows the world is cruel and we are the world. Yet most of us still hold hope like a noose holds an adulterer's neck.

The trio was hosted by the HomePlace's manager Brian McCormick, yet one more too-kind Irish person. I mean, functionaries in the U.S. can be bored/proud/snobby, oh, you know these folks. None of that here. McCormick just wanted the best event, so you wanted to help that happen.

And the the three laureates each read for 15 minutes or so, their care and concern for words and the world dear and deepening. The small crowd in the Library of the HomePlace was richly rewarded and hung about to chat afterwards, wanting to know more.


Not only did the poets get to read at a museum dedicated to a Noble Prize winner, but said museum also put us all up for a night for free at the Glenavon House Hotel in Cookstown. A fascinating place, once an estate and now a hotel rigged about two sides of a stream, that turns out to be a famous spot for weddings--you could practically not open a hallway door without banging the butt of a mother-of-a-bride. (True story.) Super nice staff, too. After the afternoon reading and dinner we retired to the bustling bar only to have some 20-year-old Irish dude serenade us with hits of the day like "Roxanne." The world can be too international at times.


Hotel room--check. Lunch at Heaney HomePlace--check. Thank you, kind people. Nothing too fancy, but free makes up for that, don't it. You know, sandwiches, salads, some sweets. David even figured out there was a Heaney farmhouse brewing Irish red ale (don't know how I missed that).

For dinner we escaped wedding-central at the hotel and walked into Cookstown to find one of the places the hotel desk most recommended, Villa Vinci Restaurante. OK, I know what you're thinking, that means they only serve gnocchi, as it's the only Italian food with potatoes. But you're wrong, so wrong. First, here's what Sharon and Paul Willis and Chryss look like standing in front of it.

And then you open up the door, and here are all the pastas.

At least the ones Chryss and I ordered. The first is Marti Johnson’s Hot Smoked Salmon with peas, asparagus and white wine sauce with linguine. The second is Spaghetti con Frutti di Mare, featuring local seafood sautéed with garlic and white wine in a cherry tomato sauce. We do not know who Marti Johnson is, but she makes a lovely dish. All of this was excellent without being exceptional, if that makes sense, but then that's what so much of Italian cuisine seems to want to be. Pleasing without even worrying about perfect, because how pleasing is that worry? Take it easy. Order more wine. Like this satisfying tempranillo for a value play.

Somehow the poor place seemed a bit overwhelmed by our giant table of 6, or who knows what was happening, but they were out of some things, and then things they did have took awhile to come out. So that meant Italian/Irish hospitality kicked in, and dishes started showing up for free--salads and pizzas, two of which got to share a plate once we slowly pied our way through them. Quite good.


Oops, I did that already. See wine above. There was Guinness at the hotel bar.


Before Chryss and I left Blacklion, we got to hang with the cows a bit, thinking we might find a spot with coffee and scones or something, but not so (we did get to stare into MacNean House and Restaurant, but even if they were open we didn't have the time to invest there). But cows!

And as it was a short 90 minute drive today, one last pass through Enniskillen which we'd sort of felt connected too (a whole three days in its vicinity!), and off to Cookstown.

Also, we can't say enough about the Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy as a way to memorialize a poet. (Quick, name the U.S. museums that do that?) First, everyone gets a wand, so you can listen to his poems as they apply to the exhibits of his life. And hearing his music is the sweetest of singing. So sure there's a couple spots that seem too much like reliquaries--hey, here's the leather jacket he wore for too long, just like James Dean or Joey Ramone or Augustine of Hippo!--but what else should honor a twentieth century saint of the word on an island where religion can mean everything?

Even better, the museum wasn't just displays, it also kept offering you a chance to take part, from naming your favorite Heaney book (hey, that assumes guests have read more than one) to getting you to create. Irish schoolchildren are crazy lucky.

Go ahead to the post on Day 7 (Waterford, Cork).

Go back to the post on Day 5 (Blacklion, Devenish Island, Enniskillen).

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