JRR Tolkien & Ireland

JR Tolkien and Ireland

J.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) had a background in medieval studies where he had been made aware of Irish myths and legends.

Tolkien  had a background in philology and medieval studies, and was aware of Irish mythology. He writes, in a draft of a letter from 1967, that he was acquainted with the Irish language (in both old and modern forms), having studied it on various occasions.

In 1949 he was offered a position by what was then the University of Galway to act as external examiner in the English Department. Below you will see an exam paper from Tolkien’s time as examiner.

This work for the University brought him back to the west of Ireland until the mid 1950’s. While working in Galway, he had the opportunity to visit the Burren staying many times at the home of Dr Florence Martyn near Ballyvaughan, Co Clare. Dr Marytn lived in the ancestral home of the Martyn family in the heart of the Burren at the foots of Corkscrew Hill. The residence is now a hotel and is known as Gregans Castle.

Dr Martyn’s housekeeper, a Miss Crowe, believed that the rugged, mysterious landscape of the Burren was in sharp contrast to the idyllic English countryside familiar to J.R.R. Tolkien. The latter inspired Tolkien in creating the Shire, which features prominently in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Miss Crowe also suggested that the starkness of the Burren may have been a considerable influence in the landscape through which the hobbits travel after they leave the Shire.

In 1954, during the period in which he was making frequent visits to Ireland, Tolkien published The Fellowship of the Ring, the first book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He returned many times to Ireland, and although his letters show a duality of feeling towards Ireland, it seems as though he held the country and its people in high regard.

JRR Tolkien in the Burren