August 9- 19 2018

Wild Atlantic Way (Donegal) & The Causeway Coast (Derry Antrim)

Readings accompanied on the lyra and lute with 2 Greek Musicians from the island of Crete, Vassilis Chatzimakris & Tasos Stavrakakis.


The Odyssey, like the Iliad, is divided into 24 books, corresponding to the 24 letters in the Greek alphabet and has some of the most familiar mythical monsters and human struggle stories such as the Cyclops, Circe, Calypso and Sirens stories within its wide sweep.

The story is a Greek epic poem that tells of the return journey of Odysseus to the island of Ithaca (his home) from the war at Troy (addressed in The Iliad).  In the Greek tradition, the war lasted for ten years. Odysseus then spent a further ten years getting home in the face of hostility from Poseidon, god of the sea.

Odysseus’s return to his island, however, is not the end of his woes. He finds that 108 young men from the local vicinity have invaded his house to put pressure on his wife Penelope to marry one of them. A stalemate exists, and it is only resolved by a bow contest at the end of the poem, which then leads to a slaughter of all the suitors by Odysseus and his son Telemachus. Peace on the island is eventually restored through the intervention of Athena, goddess of wisdom, victory and war.  Odysseus’s quest is built on the power of his love for home and family. This notion of love conquering fear and hatred is a common theme in Greek quest mythology.

Brian Friel had a great love of Homer, it is said he read either the Iliad or the Odyssey every year.  Some of the great themes in Homer – the complexities of family, leaving-taking, return, honour, the aftermath of war – are also explored in Friel.

Episode 1

Rhapsode – Maxine Peake

Book 11 – The Dead (Hades)

August 9, 8.30pm: Downhill Beach (Co. Derry-Londonderry, NI)

Odysseus travels to the underworld (Hades) where the shades of the dead gather around to talk to him.  Tiresias foretells his fate.  In Hades Odysseus meets the spirit of his mother and then that of other famous men and heroes.  To open our reading series, this is one of the most beautifully written and moving books of the Odyssey’s 24 Books.

Downhill beach is overlooked by the very impressive Roman-Greek Musenden Temple which perches on the edge of a 120 foot cliff drop. The temple was built in 1785 at the bequest of Frederick Harvey, Bishop of Derry and Earl of Bristol and one of the great eccentric characters in Irish history, and is now owned by the National Trust.  Underneath runs a tunnel for the beguiling single track railway to Derry-Londonderry.  The beach looks across to the northern-most point of Ireland, Malin Head on the Inishowen peninsula. 

Episode 2

Rhapsode: Maxine Peake

Book 5 – From the Goddess to the Storm

August 10, 7.30pm: Killahoey Beach, Dunfanaghy (Co. Donegal ROI)

Hermes (the Messenger of the Gods) tells Calypso (the beautiful enchantress who has captured and captivated Odysseus as her lover for seven years)  that Odysseus must be allowed to leave the island.  Calypso indicts the gods for having double-standards.  She complains that they are allowed to take mortal lovers while the affairs of the female gods must always be frustrated. Odysseus builds a raft from the forested island and finally leaves. An angry Poseidon (the sea god) stirs up a storm and Odysseus’s boat is wrecked at sea.

Killahooey Beach has the conical-shaped Errigal Mountain (not unlike Mt. Olympus) rising behind it and in front looks it out into a large idyllic horseshoe bay enclosed by two peninsulas.  The beach became famous during WW2 when a Canadian aircraft, having flown 2000 miles to join the British war effort, had to make an emergency landing on the beach.  Ireland was neutral but the locals welcomed and looked after the strangers and helped them on their way for their final journey to England to join in the war.  An Odyssean story of heroic proportion if ever there was one.

Episode 3

Rhapsode: Imogen Stubbs

Book 19 – The Queen and the Beggar

August 11, 2.30pm: Portstewart Beach, (Co. Derry-Londonderry, NI)

Book 19 tells the story of the first meeting on his return between Odysseus and his faithful wife Penelope, who has waited for his return for twenty years.  Odysseus (known as the trickster, the cunning one) is disguised as a beggar so Penelope does not at first recognise him.  His childhood servant, Euryclea, washes his feet and in so doing feels the scar on his foot that dates back to his boyhood and thus she realises before Penelope that Odysseus has returned.

This is a National Trust beach close to one of Northern Ireland’s most popular family holiday destinations, Portstewart, on one side and with the River Bann on the other.  Portstewart Golf Club hosted the 2017 Irish Open.  The audience will be able to drive their car onto this beach (access Is already within ticket price) to a parking area on the beach and then walk to the Odyssey Tent for the reading.

Episode 4

Rhapsode: Imogen Stubbs

Book 22 – Bloodshed

August 12, 2.30pm: Magilligan Strand (Co.Derry-Londonderry NI)

Odysseus finally reveals himself and the suitors are terrified. He declares that he will spare none of them.  A full battle rages in the palace hall.  Athena joins the battle which with her help ends swiftly.

Magilligan beach is backed by a Martello Tower (a defence system during the Napoleonic Wars, and also a feature in Joyce’s opening book of Ulysses, the Roman name for Odysseus) and looks across the narrow Lough Foyle to the village of Greencastle, the Republic of Ireland, where Brian Friel lived the latter decades of his life.  His close friend, the poet Seamus Heaney, wrote a beautiful poem, Sandstone Keepsake, about looking across to Magilligan from Greencastle whilst staying with Friel.  There is a small car ferry (duration 20mins) between the two countries of NI and ROI.  A mile inland from the beach is the notorious modern fortress prison of Magilligan which in the years of the Troubles housed many terrorists but now has a somewhat benign presence with family holiday caravan camps nearby.   This first Odyssey weekend finishes not far from Derry-Londonderry, the heart of the Lughnasa Frielfest, whilst looking across to Friel’s Ithaca, the Inishowen Peninsula.

Episode 5

Rhapsode: Jaye Griffiths

Book 10 – The Winds and the Witch

August 15, 7pm Ballycastle Beach (Co. Antrim, NI)

Odysseus and his crew are attacked by the Laestrygonians, a tribe of man-eating giants, who devour a number of the crew.  Those remaining run for their ships but the Laestrygonians throw giant boulders and sink all the ships except that of Odysseus.  His crew reach Circe’s island where some of them then suffered the indignity at Circe’s hands of being turned into pigs.

We begin our second week of the Odyssey on the curvilinear white sand beach of Ballycastle beside a harbour on the Giant’s Causeway – a place of hexagonal mythic stone pillars that therefore beautifully complements a poem originally written in hexameter metre.  A conjoining of landscape and literature.  The beach looks across to Rathlin Island and on a clear day the Scottish coast is clearly visible. Nearby are the famous Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, the Antrim Glens, Dunluce Castle (an inspiration for C S Lewis’s Narnia) and The Dark Hedges, one of the most familiar Games of Thrones sites.

Episode 6

Rhapsode: Jaye Griffiths

Book 16 – Father and Son

August 16, 7pm: Narin Beach Portion (Co. Donegal ROI)

Telemachus returns to Ithaca and to the hut of Eumaeus where he meets a stranger, Odysseus in disguise.  Telemachus does not recognise his father but when Athena removes the disguise he does.  After the joyful recognition they begin to plot how to kill the suitors.

Narin Beach is one of Donegal’s most beautiful beaches, overlooking the small Inishkeel Island and its 9th century church ruins and graveyard.  Also visible is Portnoo Pier, the setting for Friel’s Wonderful Tennessee).  One of West Donegal’s most popular holiday resorts, known as Lughnasa Country, it was where Brian Friel holidayed as a child, in the process visiting with his mother the family home of his four aunts, visits which would become the inspiration for his Broadway hit Dancing at Lughnasa.  Brian Friel is buried nearby in Glenties.

Episode 7

Rhapsode: Natascha McElhone

Book 12 – Difficult Choices

Book 13 – Two Tricksters (line 187 on p.322 to end of chapter)

August 17, 7pm: Carrickfinn Beach (Irish Gaeltacht area, Co. Donegal ROI)

Book 12: Odysseus and his men approach the island of the Sirens, and Odysseus, as instructed by Circe, plugs his men’s ears with beeswax and has them bind him to the mast of the ship. He alone hears their song flowing forth from the island, promising to reveal the future. The Sirens’ song is so seductive that Odysseus begs to be released from his fetters, but his faithful men only bind him tighter.

Book 13: Odysseus is on Ithaca but does not recognise his homeplace because Athena has shrouded it in mist.  He and Athena (disguised as a shepherd) converse.  She expresses her delight at Odysseus’ trickery and, on revealing herself, they plot how to punish the suitors.

Carrickfinn Beach In the heart of the Irish Gaeltacht area (where Gaelic is predominately spoken).  The small Carrickfinn airport, with incoming flights from Dublin and Glasgow, is only a few hundred yards back from the beach.  The beach is a large sand-scape of white sand with beautiful giant rounded boulder stones at its entrance.

Episode 8

Rhapsode: Frances Barber

Book 9 – A Pirate in a Shepherd’s Cave

August 18, 5pm: Magheroarty Beach (Irish Gaeltacht area, Co. Donegal ROI)

Odysseus and his men travel to the land of the Lotus-Eaters.  Once his men have eaten the intoxicating fruit, Odysseus has to drag them back to the ship.  They travel on to the land of the Cyclopes (the one-eyed monsters) where Polyphemus traps them in his cave.  Ultimately though Odysseus tricks him and he and his men escape.

This is one of the most scenic beach settings in Ireland with Errigal Mountain rising behind the remote, scimitar- shaped, white sandy beach.  It looks out to Ireland’s most northerly island, Tory, with its dramatic dark cliff bluffs and its mythical association with the one-eyed Balor of Irish legends.

Episode 9

Rhapsode: Frances Barber

Book 17 – Insults and Abuse

(line 182 on p.392, to end of chapter on p.407)

Book 23 – The Olive Tree Bed

August 19, 6pm:  Lisfannon Beach, Amazing Grace Country, Lough Silly (Co. Donegal ROI)

Book 17: on the way into town Eumaeus and Odysseus (disguised as a beggar) are scorned by some of those they pass.  At the palace Odysseus receives a similar welcome from the suitors, insulted by almost all and struck with a stool by Antinous. All this behaviour is in direct contradiction to the Greek heroes believe in the importance of welcoming and caring for strangers.

Book 23: Euryclea tells Penelope that Odysseus is back but Penelope struggles to believe her and remains that way even after she sees Odysseus with her own eyes.  The couple move from the palace to their farm.  In an attempt to test Odysseus she asks Euryclea to move their bridal bed but Odysseus tells her that their bed is immovable, explaining how it is built from the trunk of an olive tree around which the house had been constructed.  This intimate knowledge convinces Penelope that this is indeed her husband.

The Odyssey readings finish in the Amazing Grace Country of the Inishowen Peninsula, just across the border from Derry-Londonderry.  It’s so described because this is where the composer of Amazing Grace, John Newton, found refuge after his ship was almost wrecked in a horrendous storm. The experience inspired not just the hymn but his decision to become a Minister.  We’ve chosen it as the final venue because the theme, of safe return, echoes the final book of the Odyssey and Odysseus’ return to Penelope.  Nearby is the rocky Inch Island, replete with wild mussels and oysters.  The waves are gently lapping in this final beach with the heart of the Lughnasa FrielFest, Derry-Londonderry, only a few miles across the border.

Opera and gospel spiritual singer Ruby Philogene MBE will close the final episode and series fo readings on Lisfannon Beach with singing the hymn Amazing Grace to celebrate Odysseus’s safe return home.