On entering the Mayor’s office with the Irish Ambassador to Spain, Justin Harmon, I thought of what Kate O’ Brien had started all those years ago when she first came to this walled city. For here, seated around the room, was the Mayor of Limerick, Jim Long beside Sheila Deegan of Limerick Arts, along with various representatives of enterprise and education. She would have enjoyed the moment.
At midday the local band opened proceedings on a street in front of the train station. There was a purple cloth fluttering in the breeze covering the sign Calle Kate O’ Brien and then the Mayor of Ávila stepped forward to say how Ávila was the motive for her predilection for Spain and the works of Saint Teresa, her favourite reading, and with the inauguration of a new street a debt is repaid to one of Ávila’s most distinguished ambassadors the world over.
The Mayor of Limerick, Jim Long, spoke eloquently and with emotion about how proud he felt to be here in Ávila representing Limerick and ‘one of our own’. The Irish Ambassador to Spain mentioned how appropriate it was to honour a writer who had a marked influence on our literature of the 20th century and to have a street with her name reflected an extraordinary attraction and passion which she felt for Spain and Ávila.
Then the moment arrived for the official unveiling of the street name and the band played the national anthems of Ireland and Spain, followed by a reading in Spanish and English of a poem Kate O’ Brien in Ávila from myself, written after my first visit in 1982.
KATE O’BRIEN IN ÁVILA
for Jaime Ramos
Here was the Spain she loved most.
The white light of her heart’s content,
among market faces rooted
in a Limerick childhood,
the Encarnación her Laurel Hill.
High within the walled embrace
of Teresa’s Castile,
its cathedral silence
touching her like fingertips
in a candlelight intimacy of friends.
During a walkabout I chatted to José Antonio Sierra, first director of the Cervantes Institute in Dublin and prime mover for making the inauguration of the Calle Kate O’ Brien possible. I agreed with José Antonio that the street outside the train station was the ideal street to bear the name of Kate O’ Brien, a much travelled lady, who arrived and left from here on numerous occasions. We both wondered what the taxi drivers would call it. Perhaps La Calle Miss Katie or La irlandesa?
During the course of the day plans for future cooperation were discussed regarding school exchanges, the Kate O’ Brien Weekend festival in Ávila and possible book translations. Interest in bringing these ideas forward is there in abundance from the respective Mayors and Arts Officers, The Embassy of Ireland in Spain and from Donough O’ Brien in Limerick.
What is needed now is something of Kate’s spirit to guide everybody concerned in their desire to forage links between Limerick and Ávila, the two places that shine most in her work.
John Liddy, Madrid, October 2, 2011.