Literary Bangor Audio Tour

Listen to expert Kenneth Irvine trace the literary history of the town by the lough as the 2013 Aspects Irish Literature Festival approaches

‘The last time I gave this tour, it was ten years ago,’ admits Kenneth Irvine, Director Emeritus at the Aspects Irish Literature Festival in Bangor. ‘A lot has changed since then.'

It certainly has, and yet a lot has stayed the same, meaning that anyone who enjoyed Irvine's tour of Bangor in 2001 will recognise some of the landmarks that he points out, and the literary significance of, say, the North Down Museum, but will be happy to learn a little more.

In the intervening years, for example, the Aspects Irish Literature Festival has grown into one of Ireland's primary events on the literary calendar, having welcomed the likes of Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley and Bangor's own Colin Bateman in recent years.

 

Bangor itself – recently voted the most desirable place to live in Northern Ireland – has changed too, having inspired many a written word and spawned several new writers of some repute.

Irvine knows them all, of course. Irvine himself has grown greyer and huskier since his previous tour. But he is no less enthusiastic about his subject, and leads the way like the Pied Piper, script in hand. Even when on holiday, he can't help but discover new or existing literary references to the town of his birth.

'The English novelist, Frederick Forsyth, lived in Ireland for a number of years in the 1980s,' Irvine explains in the podcast above, 'and from that period came a collection of short stories called No Comebacks.

'I remember taking the book on holiday and deciding that I wanted to read something that had nothing to do with Ireland – I wanted a complete escapist story. Most of Forsyth's stories are set in exotic locations, and sure enough the first story was set in the Costa Brava.

'The second story, however, was called 'There Are No Snakes in Ireland'. It centres around an Indian medical student who seeks work on a construction site, and then he finds "cheap lodgings in a dingy boarding house half way up Railwayview Street, in the heart of Bangor's bed and breakfast land", and I was back home,' Irvine quips.

The 'historical dander around Bangor and its literature', which Irvine will be giving as part of the 2012 festival, begins in the Christian Heritage Room of North Down Museum, where Irvine talks about the origins of the town and Bangor Abbey, founded in 555, which makes the settlement older than Canterbury – much to Irvine's delight.

The tour then continues out into the town itself, and takes in the railway station – written about by the poet Moyra Donaldson – and the offices of the County Down Spectator, where the wildly successful crime author Colin Bateman, began his career in words with a series of columns collectively entitled Bar Stool Boy (which were collected and published in 1989).

There are many other local names mentioned – crime writers, adventure writers, authors of memoir et cetera – many of whom Irvine seems to know personally. And there could be no better man to give such a tour, even if it has been ten years since his last outing.

Listen to an abridged version of Irvine's tour above. The 2013 Aspects Irish Literature Festival takes place in venues across Bangor from September 25 – 29. Visit the festival website for more information.