Colm Toibin let loose on Lismore

Colm Toibin proved a gregarious speaker at the Immrama Festival of Travel Writing.

Colm Toibin proved a gregarious speaker at the Immrama Festival of Travel Writing.

A capacity crowd at Lismore listened to novelist and academic Colm Toibin speak at the Immrama Festival of Travel Writing.
Over 150 packed into the small theatre, located above the Heritage Centre with the audience travelling from across Waterford, Tipperary and Cork.
The well-known author of ‘Brooklyn’, which was made into an award-winning movie, recently released his new book, ‘House of Names’, which he didn’t focus his evening’s recollections upon.
Instead, he recounted his life in Barcelona in 1975 and travelling South American in 1985, when he gave up his editorship of Magill magazine, which was owned by the one and only Vincent Browne.
He threw in some good anecdotes about Vincent and also of new Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, complete with a few quips about getting up early in the morning!
Back in Barcelona in 1975, he assured us that he was not one for getting up early, hanging out for a while before finally working.
Out there, having left UCD with an arts degree and instead of taking a safe job in the civil service, his venture abroad ended up in a short career, teaching English in Spain.
He recalled how he was there in tumultuous times when dictator General Franco was in his dying days.
Incidentally, Toibin travelled to Barcelona via train to London and then by plane. And on the way over, he met a fellow UCD student, who had been in Dundrum Mental Hospital for a while, put there by his father, who happened to be a doctor.
After Franco died the country went on a two-week period of mourning cum holiday, King Juan Carlos got into power and appointed a new prime minister who was a democrat and Spain began modernisation.
He recounted the many Catalan demonstrations, including the Anarchists with their black flags and the Communists who came back from their exile in Paris to Spain.
The city was alive and he felt part of history. A Belfast friend of his made sure that if a demonstration occurred, they were not in danger in back alleys, keeping to main streets. Colm recalled former UCD college friends and former TD Joe Higgins, TD, who would have loved the Barcelona demos.
Joe was a radical at college and noted to Colm, a Wexford man, that if there was a revolution in Ireland things would change and opponents would be given justice .
Colm did manage eventually to chase down teaching hours with some ex-pat help and noted how the food was so different, the eating was so late and the wine cheap, but the Spanish were not big drinkers and did not approve of drunkenness of which the Irish were readily capable of on occasion.
It was a great experience to be at a moment of history and how Spain evolved from dictatorship through the help of the King, and the selection of the right successor in Adolfo Suarez, who made the path to democracy relatively smooth.
He also went recalled his times as an Editor of Magill and how his boss wanted him to do more stories on Charlie Haughey’s finances in the early 1980s, but it was hard to get information on this matter.
In 1985, he left Magill and decided to undertake a tour of South America; being a Spanish speaker, he was sell equipped.
Rio de Janeiro was his first port of call. Innocently, he travelled alone with just three addresses of Irish people to his name, two of which were priests.
He liked Rio but while swimming of Copacabana beach he was robbed but they left behind his press card which proved useful later.
He then went onto Sao Paolo, he loved the joy and happiness of the Brazilians despite the extremes in society.
Rich and poor together they seemed happy, but criminality was a huge problem. Colm’s next stop was Bolivia and at the border on an overnight train, the mood changed.
The police there watched foreigners more intently and their society as less multicultural when compared to Brazil. He also loved lake Titicaca in Bolivia, where he needed oxygen getting there such was the altitude, and the amazing train journey it took to get there.
Machu Pichu was amazing to see with his own eyes, and he stayed for a week there with little to do.
And from there, he went to Argentina and Buenos Aires where he knew the Pereira family, whose daughter Lisa now works for Morning Ireland.
Staying in Buenos Aires in luxury with hosts he met there some interesting Texan oil men and also attended the inquiries into the famous disappeared reels , that the junta had killed in the early 1980s and late seventies.
He was the only Western Europe accredited journalist there and sent reports home to papers in UK and Ireland, also did some broadcasting, the revelations of the amount that died or were missing was shocking and now today the children of the disappeared from mother s who were against the dictators and captured,
When the children were born they were given away to military junta supporters, who were childless couples.
The DNA is matched now with grand parents and the children are now going back to bond with their old family origins but understand that adoptive parents did not mistreat them, a major scandal said Colm.
He raved about Buenos Aires, a European city reminiscent of Paris, Madrid or Milan , in terms of beauty, given its great opera houses and culture.
Great profits form the beef trade after the discovery of refrigeration led to wealth flowing there, some of the best land in the world is here for farming.
On another point, he joked that the city is full of psychiatrists, as people are self obsessed, mentioning that Mr Freud remains very big out there!
He had a colourful life and also lived in the great city of New York and Texas later in life, he has a house now in Dublin and visits Wexford and his home town Enniscorthy, where he was inspired to write ‘Brooklyn’.
He was asked by Dee Jacques had some of his fictional characters come from his own life experience, which he conceded to, adding that Vincent Browne was an inspiration for the character of the shopkeeper in the Brooklyn movie!
The event beat a book reading by some distance and the spontaneity of his comment made for an entertaining night in West Waterford’s Heritage Town.
Travel, he stated, is where you meet people, learn new things and gain experiences that you will never forget, adding that chat with fellow travellers undoubtedly shortens the road
We look forward to hearing this talented, insightful and humorous artist talking again: what a marvellous raconteur!
Commenting on the weekend festival organiser Jan Rotte said: “Immrama 2017 has been an enormous success, we have had fantastic numbers at all of our events with many of those events selling out; but more importantly the feedback from our festivalgoers this year has been incredible, we’ve had rave reviews from every event, which is really wonderful and heartening for all of our volunteer committee. The committee put in tremendous work each year to make this festival a success. A big thank you to all of the team and indeed to our sponsors and of course the festival’s supporters.”

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