By Anne Rhodes
It was the late 1970s, a damp summer was fading fast. It had been Spring when, feeling the pull of home, I had left London and, with the accumulated belongings of three years, landed in Dublin. Luckily, airline baggage limits were not as strict then and my large, bright green, womble, a gift when I lived in Wimbledon, didn’t even raise a smile at check-in.
It was great to be home but I found that some of my old friends had emigrated, some were married with mortgages, some with children and mortgages and I no longer enjoyed our old haunts as a solitary reveller. A new job brought lasting friendships but there were times when I silently longed for the fizz and crackle of my London life.
I can’t remember where I picked up the leaflet about the People’s College offering an eclectic array of evening courses for adults. I have never been able to resist picking up a leaflet, a habit I can trace back to visits to the Spring Show with schoolfriends when I always returned to our city home with colourful brochures advertising cattle feed or the latest Massey Ferguson tractors.
“Good firelighters,” Da usually approved as he twisted them into paper sticks and they did seem to ignite faster than yesterday’s Evening Herald.
So it was that I found myself one September evening hurrying past P J Carroll’s head office building at Grand Parade in Ranelagh where as children we had splashed in the elegant water features. I had enrolled in a Creative Writing Class at the nearby People’s College and it was with trepidation and a new notebook stuffed into my pocket that I threaded my way through the rush and push of students, all seeking their classrooms. Eventually I found myself in a bright room with a long table around which sat people of all ages with pens poised.
Over the following months we got to know each other as we filled our notebooks with gems of writing wisdom shared by our entertaining lecturer. We diligently completed our weekly tasks and became braver at reading and discussing our literary attempts. We were often given themes to follow and I recall that by the end of the term we were heartily sick of the Dublin bard, Zozimus.
When summer evenings signalled the end of our course we all promised to return in the Autumn. Most of us did and we had a new lecturer, Michael O’Toole from the Evening Press, equally wise and entertaining with, thankfully, no mention of the dreaded Zozimus. We often had guest speakers from varied writing backgrounds and we loved listening to them all.
We were devastated when one evening Michael announced that he could no longer commit to our evening class. Following the death of Terry O’Sullivan, he had taken over the famous Dubliner’s Diary page, reporting on the social life of the great and good around the city. He had, he said, persuaded a colleague to take over our class.
The following week we met the man who was to be such an influence on all our writing over the coming years. John J Dunne was an unassuming man, quietly spoken and a little shy. He soon warmed to the task, setting us writing exercises and leading the discussions on our readings.
All too soon the term ended and we adjourned to the pub across the bridge, The Barge. It was John J who suggested we continue to meet each week to read and talk about our writing. Monday night, he said, would be the pub’s quietest evening and the barman confirmed we could have a corner there on Mondays.
That was the beginning of The Inkwell which is still going to this very day. Early on we produced a booklet which I typed on my recently acquired electric typewriter and in later years we published six volumes of short stories.
Our numbers have varied over time with many interesting characters (and one dog) passing through, often recruited by John who continued to teach the creative writing class for many years. Once we were so popular that we considered a membership waiting list but now we are just six old friends.
We have had several homes over the years in pubs around the city, occasionally someone’s sitting room until we eventually settled in Glasnevin’s Brian Boru. During lockdown we took enthusiastically to Zoom where we have stayed so I now join my old friends – Rosa, Paddy, Breda, Garry and Anne-Marie – from my Yorkshire home every Monday night.
None of us have won the Booker Prize but we all write regularly, meet up when circumstances allow, always raising our glasses to past Inkwellers whose presence we still miss. And to John J who started it all. Inkwell Forever!