A chance conversation over a pint of Guinness in the1970s led an Irishman on a literary odyssey to prove that the Burren, in County Clare inspired JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth in “The Lord of the Rings”.

Peter Curtin, the founder of the Burren Tolkien Society has spent over 30 years looking into this theory after just a short conversation with a refined lady.

He said “I was in Mrs Cullen’s Bar in Galway, sitting down on a Saturday afternoon having a pint. On my left hand side was an elegant lady called Mrs Crowe, drinking a glass of Guinness. She turned to me and said: ‘Where are you from?’ I said ‘Lisdoonvarna’.

“‘Oh,’ she said, ‘I’m Mrs Crowe and I was the housekeeper for Dr Martyn, who lived at Gregan’s Castle, in Ballyvaughan. Did you know that the imagery and imagination for the book “The Lord of the Rings” came from the Burren?’

“That was the end of the conversation but it stayed with me afterwards. A few years ago it came back into my head and I decided to investigate what this Mrs Crowe had told me.”

Last year Curtin founded the Burren Tolkien Society where he has posted new evidence which he claims proves Crowe’s claims.

While Tolkien has was working as an external examiner in University College Galway during the 1950s he spent some time in the Burren. An expert on the Burren, Dr Martyn, befriended Tolkien and had brought him on several occasions to visit Gregan’s Castle where he would have met Crowe.

Though most Tolkien scholars believe his inspiration came from the landscape of Birmingham and Yorkshire, in the North of England, Curtin is convinced that it was Ireland’s karst landscape that is depicted in his world famous books.

“I’m convinced that he was inspired by the Burren. When I think about what Mrs Crowe said, about the imagery and imagination, it struck a chord with me. She had no reason to spoof about this. She was in the kitchen with Tolkien, the professor and his wife. Dr Martyn would have talked to them about the Burren and we know that he came here on many occasions,” said Curtin.

“There is a real otherworldy feel to parts of the Burren, so it all fits,” he said. “I mean, they shot the recent movies based on “The Lord of the Rings” in New Zealand – I don’t think he was ever there in his life.”

Curtin’s ideas are intriguing and when you’re faced with photos of features in the Burren such as “Poll na Gollum” (The hole of Gollum) it isn’t hard to see that there might be some truth in his literary odyssey.

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