The Balmoral’s Poet-in-Residence: Marcas Mac an Tuairneir
02 March 2020
At the heart of historic Edinburgh, The Balmoral has collaborated with Gaelic poet Marcas Mac an Tuairneir to offer guests a romantic literary experience. As Poet-in-Residence, Marcas was inspired by the hotel’s rich history and place in Scottish culture to pen a heartfelt Love Letter to The Balmoral. Now, as part of a special package, guests may commission him for a bespoke Gaelic poem. A passionate champion of Scotland’s founding language and the winner of numerous awards, few are more qualified than Marcas to wax lyrical for our guests. Here, we find out more about the person behind the poetry.
Did you always know you wanted to be a poet?
“I knew I wanted to be creative. The first poetry I remember was Mum showing a me Liz Lochhead’s pamphlet (complete with a picture of the poet on the cover and her Suzi Quatro hairstyle). Then Mrs Johnson, my primary school teacher, read us Keats’ ‘To Autumn’ and I was hooked. Years later, I revisited a haiku I wrote about a poppy and it took second place in the National William Blake Poetry competition. Both these wise women have a lot to answer for regarding my creative development.”
Was Gaelic spoken in your household?
“No. I grew up as part of the Irish diaspora community in Yorkshire and I studied Gaelic at university in Aberdeen – it’s the best decision I ever made. Learning Gaelic expanded and enriched my own Celtic identity.”
Is it in danger of being lost?
“Yes, Gaelic is in a precarious situation. We need community support for those raising their children with the language and to provide opportunities for adult speakers to use Gaelic whenever they can. We have the building blocks of a revival in place, with a lot of recognition at local and national level, but the 2020s will be about bridging the gap between this legislation and communities – the former needs to adequately serve the latter.”
Between Gaelic and English, which is the more passionate language?
“Both are passionate and beautiful and precious in their own ways, though English doesn’t need support in the same way Gaelic does. Both have given me the opportunity to be creative. Essentially, bilingualism gives you two unique windows on the world. Switching between languages is like putting different lenses into your glasses. What the senses interpret of the world is directly shaped by the language through which we experience it. For any creative working across linguistic and cultural boundaries, this is a rich experience, full of commonalities, contrasts and tensions to explore.
There are certain Gaelic words and phrases which cannot be adequately translated into English. A favourite of mine is ‘turadh’ – it’s a dry spell, but it can only occur if you expect it to be raining again soon. Tied into this is one of my favourite words in English – ‘petrichor’ – which is of Greek origin, meaning the scent of rain.”
What drew you to become Poet-in-Residence at The Balmoral?
“I was recommended by Professor Rob Dunbar, one of Gaeldom’s greatest scholars and champions, when the hotel approached him. I was flattered to be offered such an opportunity. There are many aspects of the role I enjoy: Getting to explore this beautiful, labyrinthine, historic building, which is at the heart of Edinburgh’s culture and heritage; getting to know the kind and generous people who work here. I’m looking forward to meeting the guests and patrons with whom I’ll be working, too; finding out a little of their stories with a view to framing this for posterity in some poetry. It’s an exciting trajectory, seeing the commercial sector engage with the arts in this way, which offers unique challenges and opportunities to creatives like myself. Rocco Forte Hotels is carrying the baton forward and I hope other organisations follow suit.”
You’ve written a Love Letter to The Balmoral. What’s your favourite line from it?
“My favourite image is that of the guest allowing their dreams to unfurl across the pillow. My first inspiration was the iconic revolving doors, which continue to turn in a universal welcome, to whoever crosses the threshold, wherever they’re from and whatever brings them to Edinburgh.”
How do you go about creating bespoke poetry for others?
“Conversation is key. Extending a warm welcome and building a relationship based on inclusivity and mutual interest is important to the process. Everyone has a story to tell and everyone’s experience shapes their way of seeing the world. There’s a universality to that and I just love finding out what brought a person here. So, a typical consultation involves a warm handshake, a coffee and a conversation and we take it from there.”
Have you ever written a romantic poem for a significant other?
“Yes! I have published a few, too. Although now I only plan to write such personal works for someone very special. Dating a poet can be a dangerous thing, perhaps. Break a poet’s heart and your infamy will last the ages through verse. The patrons I work with needn’t worry about this, though. My work with them is about celebrating those special moments and creating something personal and bespoke that will last the ages for them, becoming part of their own family story.”
How do you spend your free time in Edinburgh?
“I don’t have a lot of spare time, but one of my favourite roles is as Gaelic tutor and tenor with Lothian Gaelic Choir. We meet every Thursday to sing together and with such regular meetings, you soon develop a bond closer than family.
I’m also a board member of the Scottish Poetry Library, a wonderful place to visit. It’s my special place if I need peace and relaxation, or to turn off my own worldview and look for guidance in the poetry of others. I’d heartily recommend a visit and it’s close by, in Crichton’s Close off the Royal Mile.”
What are the most romantic things to do in Edinburgh?
“Edinburgh is built on romance. A summer evening walking down Cockburn Street admiring the boutiques and stopping at one of the bistros. Or a crisp autumn day in the New Town, popping into the Botanic Gardens for fresh air and green space. I’ve seen a couple of proposals at the Castle too and I’m certain there’ve been some at The Balmoral. How could you not be moved by all that majesty and glamour? For me, the most romantic place is the Scottish Parliament, with poetry etched onto its walls in all of Scotland’s native languages.”
For more information about poetry packages, please email firstname.lastname@example.org