Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Irish Tourist Board Damns Belfast With Faint Praise

Heaney, Longley and two men with beards
In an ad that's been running in The New Yorker the Irish tourist board urges New Yorker readers to come to Ireland to explore its literary heritage. The ad is called A Touch of the Poet and is an expensive double page spread with photographs of the Liffey, Ben Bulben and the James Joyce statue on O'Connell Street. Of course they talk about the Dublin of James Joyce and Wilde and Beckett which is fair enough. This, however, is what they come up with when they mention Belfast: "Belfast welcomes visitors with tours that encompass the favourite haunts of EM Forster, John Keats and Anthony Trollope." Who wrote that bullshit copy? It really is some tenuous nonsense when there's no need for tenuous nonsense as Belfast's literary heritage is very rich. John Keats? Really? John Keats spent one day walking from Donaghadee to Belfast and had nothing nice or very interesting to say about the place when he got there. He left immediately for the packet back to Scotland, so what pray was his favourite haunt in the twenty minutes he spent in the city? Forster spent a couple of days in Belfast in the 1950's unveiling a plaque. Trollope did actually live in Belfast and wrote The Warden there so thats ok but my God Keats and Forster? That's incredibly lame. What would I mention if I was going to do a literary heritage tourism spread about Belfast (especially a spread called A Touch of the Poet)? Well how about:
1. CS Lewis: born and grew up in Belfast. Wrote a little thing you might have heard of called the Narnia series. There's a statue of Lewis and his wardrobe and a blue plaque outside his house. Millions of copies of the Narnia books have been sold. Tourists might like that. 
2. Philip Larkin: the greatest twentieth century poet lived in Belfast in the 1950's and wrote some of his best work there. 
3. The Queens University Poetry circle in the 1970's produced Ireland's most important poets since the Gaelic revival. Who exactly you might ask? Well just half a dozen Pulitzer Prize winners and Noble laureates and winners of every other major poetry award. People like: Seamus Heaney, Ciaran Carson, Paul Muldoon, Tom Paulin, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, etc. etc. 
4. Belfast's current poetry scene is one of the richest in Europe with exciting young poets like Sinead Morrissey et. al. many of whom read at the Seamus Heaney Poetry Centre at QUB, the place for poetry in Ireland. Tourists might like that too.
5. And if we're talking about Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett how about mentioning that they spent their formative years in Northern Ireland at Portora School? Or that Jonathan Swift wrote A Tale of a Tub and began Gullivers Travels in a spot just outside Belfast called Carrickfergus. Or why not mention my favourite, the great Flann O'Brien who grew up in Omagh?
My point in all this is that the Discover Ireland people don't need to embarrass themselves by mentioning some half assed John Keats or EM Forster reference when the literary heritage in Belfast is already impressive. I haven't even talked about Louis MacNeice or Brian Moore or Ian McDonald or Ronan Bennett or Eoin McNamee or Colin Bateman etc. bloody etc.