Heinrich Boll, the Nobel Prize winning novelist, was a regular visitor to Achill Island in the west of Ireland from the late 1950s to the 1970s. Heinrich Boll stayed at a cottage near Dugort on the north of Achill Island, now known as Heinrich Boll's Cottage and provided as a retreat for other artists and writers on Achill Island.

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Heinrich Boll & Achill Island (continued)

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..."The rosy glow from the shells on the walls gives out a feeble light, and in the semidarkness the atmosphere is as lively as at a fair. Conversations are carried on across four rows of seats, jokes are shouted over eight; up front in the cheap seats the children are making the kind of cheerful racket heard otherwise only in school breaks; chocolates are proffered, cigarette brands exchanged, somewhere out of the dark comes the promising squeak of a cork being pulled out of a whiskey bottle; make-up is renewed, perfume sprayed; somebody starts singing, and for those who do not allow that all these human sounds, movements, and activities are worth the trouble of occupying the passing time, there remains time for meditation; when God made time, He made plenty of it. [...] meditation comes surprisingly easily and is pleasant enough in this fairground of lighthearted gaiety, where bog farmers, peat cutters, and fishermen offer cigarettes to and accept chocolates from seductively smiling ladies who drive around during the day in great cars, where the retired colonel chats with the postman about the merits and demerits of East Indians. Here classless society has become a reality." (Irish Journal, pp54-55)

It is interesting to speculate whether one of the 'seductively smiling ladies who drive around during the day in great cars' could have been Catherine Walston, who certainly drove Ernie O'Malley's old Ford around Achill in the late 1940s with Graham Greene. The theme of time, and the abundance of it on Achill, was one that Heinrich Böll returned to many times in the book Irish Journal. Referring to the island's position at the extreme western edge of Europe he observed: "... Sitting here by the fire it is possible to play truant from Europe, while Moscow has lain in darkness for the past four hours, Berlin for two, even Dublin for half an hour: there is still a clear light over the sea, and the Atlantic persistently carries away piece by piece the Western bastion of Europe; rocks fall into the sea, soundlessly the bog streams carry the dark European soil out into the Atlantic; over the years, gently plashing, they smuggle whole fields out into the open sea, crumb by crumb." (Irish Journal, p83)

Achill Island, with its 'classless society' and its casual attitude to time, appealed immensely to Heinrich Böll. He was also attracted to the poetry and humour of the Irish, which he contrasted with the stern and foreboding outlook in his native Germany. Böll wrote: "When something happens to you in Germany, when you miss a train, break a leg, go bankrupt, we say: It couldn't have been any worse; whatever happens is always the worst. With the Irish it is almost the opposite: if you break a leg, miss a train, go bankrupt, they say: It could be worse; instead of a leg you could have broken your neck, instead of a train you could have missed Heaven ..." (Irish Journal, p109). To Böll this attitude requires poetic talent and creativity - plus a certain sadistic touch - to imagine a worse situation against which the present troubles seem tame. Coupled with the common Irish phrase 'I shouldn't worry', Böll contrasts this easy-going outlook with the grim reality of Irish history, famine and emigration. Time and again he refers movingly to the displacement of Achill sons and daughters to England, Australia and the U.S., and his account of the deserted village at Slievemore carries a haunting pathos. Click here for a gallery of pictures of the deserted village at Slievemore.

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Further reading

Buy books on Achill Island from Amazon

Irish Journal
- A Traveller's Portrait of Ireland

By Heinrich Böll

The Mad Dog
By Heinrich Boll

The Bread of Those Early Years
By Heinrich Boll

And Never Said A Word
By Heinrich Boll

The Clown
By Heinrich Boll

The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum
By Heinrich Boll