The old Excel cinema by Ruth McDonnell.

Recreating lost landscapes

New volume of Lost Landmarks and Thresholds published

A new anthology of writings captures and celebrates cherished stories and memories, saving them for posterity.

The first instalment of ‘Lost Landmarks and Thresholds’ came out in late 2020. Volume II follows a similar format, but embellished with artworks and broadened with a few additional voices to accentuate the Cavan flavour. The work was edited by Cavan writer in residence, Anthony J Quinn.

“So many stories took form during my residency, and I was honoured to be trusted with them,” says the acclaimed Tyrone novelist.

In conjunction with Cavan Arts Office and the Older People’s Council, Anthony ran six creative writing workshops in 2021 with the aim of creating another book of stories.

“The project was aimed at the over sixty-fives, especially those who are experiencing isolation currently because of the Covid lockdown and social restrictions,” explained Anthony.


“The goal of the project was to recreate the landscape we grew up in, be it of Cavan, Tyrone, or further afield, its features and buildings, as well as stories about local customs, superstitions, family events, working life and local characters. As a writer and creative-writing tutor, I was on hand to help shape and bring to life these stories in the written form,” said Anthony, who is a full-time creative writing lecturer at Queen’s University.

Divided into four sections: Buildings, People, Landscapes and Thresholds, each is populated by bitesize yarns and images on which the reader can nibble or gorge on as they choose.

Two evocative charcoal drawings by Ruth McDonnell open and close the first section - depicting Bailieborough’s Excel Cinema (above), and the Premier Cinema in Cavan Town.

‘Many old picture houses are nowadays frequently shadows of their former selves; converted into carpet showrooms, chilly and reduced to half-life. The cinemas stood for glamour, their dim and sometimes luxurious interiors representing the possibility of at temporary and pleasurable release form sometimes humdrum lives,’ writes the Virginia artist who has exhibited at the RHA, Dublin.


Evelyn Brady, Veronica Pidgeon, Eugene Smith, Marie Quinn, Olga Maughan, Ann O'Donoghue, Deirdre Tighe, Brian McDermott, Charlotte Browne, John Rafferty, Jim McElgunn, Teresa Sullivan/Cahill, Bob Gilbert,


Ruth McDonnell, Freda Young, Martin Fullen, Jim Fee, Carmel O'Callaghan, Rosaleen Howard, Maria Bagnoli, Jim McPartlin.

It is available free through the County Cavan Library Network, Townhall, Cavan and the Customer Contact Point at Farnham Centre, Farnham St, Cavan.

Another pictorial highlight is the wonderful portrait (main pic) by West Cavan artist Jim Fee of the late folklorist and historian Phil Bernard McDonnell in the ‘People’ section.

However, the anthology is chiefly a vehicle for storytelling. The Celt particularly enjoyed Bob Gilbert’s ‘Strangers on The Mass Path’, a cherished memory of a childhood adventure with his grandfather amongst the hills of his Wexford youth.

Anthony believes storytelling helps us “find ways to be human and interact with outsiders”.

“Michael Harding calls stories ‘a peasant craft’, and claims that ‘the possibility of Europe was born in the antics of storytelling’.

“It was a delight to travel from my home in Tyrone across the border and discover that we belong to a web of crafted words, shared literary inheritance and enduring landscapes, a web that stretches into the past, but also into the future. I wanted to keep this connection alive and this time include writers from Tyrone and the North of Ireland.”

A portrait of Phil Bernard McDonnell by Jim Fee

Adds meaning

“The simplest and most resonant stories we have are about the landscape we grew up in, the features and landmarks, the buildings and people who populated it, as well as its boundaries and the journeys we took through that landscape.

“These landscapes carry personal symbolic meanings and help us share memories, evoke associations and stories, and make links with others. They create connections across time, place and people. Sharing memories and stories triggered by a familiar landscape helps give us a sense of psychological well-being and adds meaning to our lives.

“The aim of the Lost Landmarks project is to preserve and bring back to life these landscapes and its people in the form of stories and visual artworks,” Anthony says, adding he hopes it will encourage older people, especially those who haven’t written before, to share their stories with their families, neighbours and carers.

“We turn to storytelling for inspiration and enlightenment, and, in our stories, we look for explanations and hope for happy endings. Through stories, we connect with others and gain a sense of collective identity and relief. Immersing ourselves in the tradition of storytelling might be a good way for all of us, young and old, to get through these difficult days.”

‘Lost Landmarks and Thresholds’ Volume II is available for free from Johnston Central Library, Cavan Town.