Anyone heading to see ‘The Hobbit’ over the Christmas holiday season might be forgiven for thinking some of the film was set in Galway after it was revealed that JRR Tolkien spent time in the city and could have based some of his fictional world on Connemara.
Mr Tolkien worked as an external examiner to the National University of Ireland, Galway in the 1940s and 1950s, while he also served as Professor of English Language and Literature at Merton College in Oxford.
He subsequently received an honorary degree from the National University of Ireland in 1954, the year that The Lord of the Rings was first published.
“I’ve heard it from word of mouth that the landscape of the Burren is something that influenced Tolkien in his writings, as did so many other locations across Europe. The Burren and Connemara are always credited as being in some small form an inspiration for Tolkien’s landscapes,” said NUI Galway Archivist Barry Houlihan.
This is confirmed by Peter Curtin of the Burren Tolkien Society, whose interest in Tolkien’s connection to the West of Ireland was first sparked in the 1970s when he had a chance meeting with a woman named Miss Crowe in Mrs Cullen’s Bar on Foster Street in Galway City.
Miss Crowe had served as housekeeper for Tolkien’s friend Frank Martyn at Gregans Castle Hotel in Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare, and suggested that “the imagery and the imagination for the book ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is The Burren in County Clare”.
Further research by Mr Curtin found that Rose MacNamara, daughter of former NUI Galway Professor Diarmuid Murphy, recalled Tolkien spending time with her family while serving as an external examiner at the university in the 1950s, during which time he also visited The Burren and Connemara.
“The relationship with the Murphys, Professor Diarmuid Murphy, his wife and family, extended throughout the lifetime of Diarmuid Murphy, it was beyond the notion of going to Galway and collecting papers and setting papers and things like that,” said Mr Curtin.
The Lisdoonvarna native now intends to hold a symposium next May on Tolkien’s connection to the West, with film screening, writers’ workshops and lectures being held at the Burren College of Art and other events celebrating Tolkien’s work being held in the Burren, Lisdoonvarna and Ballyvaughan.
NUI Galway Archives released copies of examinations marked by the renowned author this week, which have since have gone viral, with many students commenting that examinations are stressful enough without the added pressure of having the man behind ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and recently released blockbuster ‘The Hobbit’ scrutinising their work.