About our Festival

Peter Curtin Roadside Tavern

Peter Curtin in the Roadside Tavern, Lisdoonvarna

The festival has its roots in the research and discoveries of Lisdoonvarna businessman Peter Curtin. Due to his love of the Burren area, as well as his growing interest in its possible link with J.R.R Tolkien’s Legendarium, he proposed a festival that had its launch on May 9th, 2013.

The inaugural festival bought together the world of J.R.R Tolkien with that of the Burren — a possible inspiration for parts of the cult trilogy The Lord of the Rings.

This is the story behind the possible connections as relayed by Peter Curtin:

‘I was living in Galway City in the mid 70s. I used to frequent a pub in Foster Street, then called Mrs Cullen’s Bar. Mrs Cullen was a genial host in the traditional fashion, offering great Irish music and a wonderful pint. One Saturday lunchtime, I was relaxing with a pint when an elegant, elderly lady to my left engaged me in conversation with the opening question “Where are you from?”, to which I replied “My name is Peter Curtin and I’m from Lisdoonvarna, County Clare.” The lady replied, “Oh, I’m Miss Crowe and I was Dr Martyn’s [an expert on the Burren] housekeeper for 30 years when Gregans Castle Hotel was the Martyn’s private residence. The imagery and the imagination for the book The Lord of the Rings is the Burren in County Clare.

‘As we say in Ireland, things rested so until 2008, when this chance meeting with Miss Crowe came to my memory again. Then, a few years ago, I decided to check if Miss Crowe’s statement was, in fact, true or not, so I spent many months putting the pieces together. I spoke with Mrs Cullen who said that in fact Miss Crowe called to the pub every morning and had breakfast there for a number of years. Mrs Cullen had an uncle, a Catholic priest at the village of Ballyvaughan (4 miles from Dr Martyn’s house). This was initially the point of contact with Miss Crowe. Mrs Cullen recalls taking Miss Crowe back to Gregans Castle to show her the former residence.

‘The next port of call for me was the National University of Ireland, Galway. I contacted the English Department and spoke with Professor Hubert McDermott, who confirmed that Tolkien had been external examiner to the English department for a number of years. A classmate of Professor McDermott’s, Rose MacNamara (nee Murphy), was the daughter of Professor Murphy, the former head of the English Department at that time, who, in his role as head, would have entertained the visiting examiner.

Tolkien in the Burren Daily Mail July 2007

Article in the Daily Mail 9 July 2007

‘Professor Murphy and his wife would wine and dine Tolkien. I spent a long time trying to track down an article written in the Irish Daily Mail with the headline “Was the Burren genesis of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings?” (published on 9 July 2007, see on the left and click to enlarge). As we say “around the house and mind the dresser”; I was more than amused to discover that the lady I was trying to find, Rose MacNamara, lived just fifteen miles away.

‘Two hours after discovering this, I was having tea with Rose, who recalled her many great times as a young girl in the company of Tolkien and her parents. Tolkien and the Murphy family became lifelong friends. Tolkien is remembered by Rose as a gentle man who loved nature, and who, when he felt tired while out walking, would just lie down and have a nap. Rose confirmed that her parents took Tolkien to the Burren (and to Dr Martyn’s residence) and Connemara on numerous occasions.

Special Collections at the National University of Ireland, Galway, confirmed to me that Tolkien was an external examiner for the years 1949, 1950, 1954, 1958 and 1959. The Lord of the Rings was published in 1955.’