After The Dust Has Settled…

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.” – JD Salinger

Beautiful ListowelIt’s just over a month now since the sun slowly set over Listowel Writers’ Week and as we bid a fond farewell to friends old and new, wished, like JD Salinger, that we could pick up the phone and call Colum McCann or Thomas Keneally or Nadeem Aslam and meet for a coffee or a pint to discuss life, the universe and everything!

 Alas, it’s not to be… and with a touch of melancholy, we pack away our books and our dreams only to look forward to the time when we will all be together again. Playwright Bernard Farrell described the very real, but somewhat ephemeral magic of Listowel very succinctly when he said:

“I’ve always found the atmosphere to be magical.  I once compared it to the mythical Brigadoon (the musical) – the town that appears out of the mists, where joy and companionship and good conversation abounds and then, just as it appeared, it disappears again, and is not seen again for a hundred years.  I feel that Listowel has a strong measure of that magical attractiveness, without the downside of having to wait another hundred years for it to appear again.”

Well said Bernard. I think that just about sums us up! But behind what may appear to be effortless fun, joy, conviviality and meaningful cultural interaction, much hard work, thought and planning goes on throughout the year to make the festival what it is.

By all accounts the staff and voluntary team thoroughly enjoyed putting together the 2013 festival programme, and from the feedback we’ve received, believe it to have been our best festival yet.  Here’s a snapshot of comments from our visiting authors and festival goers:

“It’s amazing… A wonderful atmosphere.” – Amy and Emily Cahill.

“Most enjoyable as always, and a warm welcome as always.” – Honor Donohue.

“I’ve read about the Listowel Festival but to experience the festival is something else. A uniqueness, individually and lack of pretentiousness like no other!  In Listowel, being literary is ordinary… there is nothing hi-faluting about it.” – P.J. Cunningham

“The air in the beautiful Listowel is filled with the magic and music of words, poetry and song. As Shakespeare says ‘parting is such sweet sorrow,’ but how glorious it has been to meet with strangers and part as friends, and to to be part of such an inspirational and fantastic festival. Mile buíochas!”– Geraldine Meade.

“Listowel is my favourite literary festival so far.” – Rebecca Miller.

“Listowel is the festival of eloquence and encounter, on a scale which overshadows its competitors.” – Thomas Keneally.

“Highlight of the week – Paddy Moloney playing an air on his uilleann pipes –  heartbreaking. – Steve Wade.

“Ireland for writers is a place of pilgrimage… home of Beckett, Yeats, Joyce, Heaney – no matter what your taste is in literature you will find someone here who is the very best.” – Nadeem Aslam.

“The Listowel Writers’ Week Festival is the best ‘R’ and ‘R’ available in Ireland, Europe and the world for writers. Long may it thrive, long may it flourish.” – Carlo Gebler.

“That was a lot more enjoyable than I expected!” – Gene Kerrigan.

“A wartmly creative atmosphere reigns – this is a charming and stimulating literary festival, sparkling and convivial.” – Diane Fahy.

We don’t believe in keeping still or being complacent however, and are ever conscious of the shifts in literature and the wider cultural landscape. We aim to not only keep abreast of these shifts but to continue to seek opportunities to enhance cultural ties via literature and the arts both in Ireland and across the globe.

Our commitment to you is to continue to bring together the very best from the literary and wider arts world. And not only the big name authors, but the emerging writers, those literary lights who have not yet hit the big time but are on the cusp of being ‘discovered,’ wherever they may be in the world.

This year we were astounded at the success of The Italian Event, which took place in The Seanchaí Centre on Friday 31May, when we literally had to turn people away at the door because of lack of space. Likewise, the Irish/Korean Essay Competition, which we sponsored in association with the Embassy of Ireland, Korea, the Emerald Cultural Institute, Dublin and Ethiad Airways, was a great success.  The winning entry, from Min Kyeong Cho was published in our Winners’ Anthology 2013 and is available to purchase from the Listowel Writers’ Week office.

With these cross-cultural successes in mind, we have some very exciting developments in the pipeline for 2014, and which will be announced over the coming weeks and months.

Operation Education, the brainchild of Joanna Keane O’Flynn, one of our Directors, was also a resounding success. This new initiative aims to create an entertaining and stimulating second-level programme of events, and this year involved seven schools.  As part of this initiative, Listowel Writers’ Week is heading up Ireland’s first National Interactive Book Club, which will be launched by Minister for the Arts, Heritage the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan, in September 2013.

BrendanMeanwhile, at the annual ‘after-party’ of Listowel Writers’ Week 2013 in John B Kean’s Bar on the Sunday night, I bumped into Irish Famine aficionados Brendan Egan and his brother from Dublin (pictured left).  Sipping on a pint of Guinness, Brendan said they’d had a fabulous few days at the festival and when quizzed as to what the highlight of their week was, the brothers were in no doubt that for them, it was the Irish Famine events which took place on the Friday.

Here’s a précis of Brendan’s thoughts on the Friday morning walk, Walk in the Shadow of the Famine and the Friday evening Gathering event, Mapping the Irish Famine.

“In pleasant sunshine well over 100 people gathered outside the Listowel Arms Hotel for the morning walk (pictured below). This took the organisers by surprise and their 30 copies of explanatory notes were quickly snapped up.  As children on our annual holidays in Kerry, the Listowel Arms Hotel was generally not on our itinerary, but now, 50 years later, we stood in the square and were about to be enlightened regarding a historic event of which we had no oral memory. Complete with loudspeaker, organisers John Pierse and Michael Guerin began to tell a story which was to implant in our minds the harrowing history of the famine in Listowel, which, we were told, brought devastation to the area particularly in the years 1850 to 1852.

“We proceeded up to the Convent Road where past pupil Kay Caball recalled famine times and her own childhood days attending school. She recounted the great work of the Famine WalkPresentation nuns in raising funds to provide whatever food they could for the improvised children. Indeed, as a legacy of the famine over a hundred years later, she was given an egg and half a bottle of stout when going to school, as it was feared she needed extra sustenance, being a gangly young lass.

 “The group filled the church of the Presentation Convent. Visiting the convent particularly resonated with us as our mother had attended here in the 1940’s. We had passed the convent many times and this was the first occasion we had the opportunity to visit.

“Michael Guerin told us that the church formed part of the famine workhouse where between 5 and 6,000 died. When the workhouse became overcrowded the Board of Guardians hired auxiliary houses to provide shelter. Many others died in fields, huts and on the roadside. Interestingly copious amounts of salt were used as a food additive. At breakfast time my father always thought it a good idea to add salt to our porridge. I now know where this idea originated.

“The morning walk concluded with a visit to the Teampall Bán Burial Ground where between 1850 and 1852 it is estimated 2,665 are buried. Little is known regarding their names. To-date only three have been identified, Muirin the dancer, Buckley the fiddler and Paddy (the Gaisce) Maloney.

“Since the famine, approximately 800 other paupers and a significant number of unbaptised babies were buried until the graveyard closed in about 1940. A number of initiatives have recently taken place in association with the Tidy Towns Committee to ensure the burial ground is a fitting memorial to those who lie therein. The committee also hopes to publish a book on “Teampall Bán and the famine in North Kerry in 2013.

In conclusion a prayer was said and poetry recited in remembrance of the deceased.  

“In the evening we attended The Gathering event Mapping the Irish Famine facilitated by Mike Lynch in the Plaza. The academics from UCC William J. Smyth and Mike Murphy explained how they came to write the “Atlas of the Great Irish Famine”.

“Mike Murphy was particularly illuminating regarding the hurdles that needed to be overcome in computer graphics to ensure the success of the project.  It was also fascinating to hear Kay Caball inform us regarding the project undertaken to send out girls of marital age to fulfil a growing need in Australia of a lack of suitable partners.

 “Having been used to a meagre diet, many of the girls found it difficult to adjust to the rich abundance of food that was now available. Their lack of work experience and inability to converse in the English language were also a considerable hindrance to settling in their new homeland. Thomas Keneally backed up her story with some interesting comments. Many of the questions from the floor added to the overall enjoyment of the occasion, which my brother and I discussed at length in John B. Keane’s afterwards.”

“It’s lovely to receive personal accounts such as Brendan’s above, so if you have a particular story to tell, we’d love to hear it.  You can email it to me at jackie@writersweek.ie.

“So, without further ado, it’s onwards and upwards with our planning, programming and plotting for 2014.  Meetings have already taken place to review 2013 and to look at areas such as ticketing.  2013 was the first year we introduced online booking and we are looking at ways where we might be able to improve on it.

So watch this space.  We’ll be keeping you up-to-date with developments as they unfold.  Meanwhile, for those of you in Ireland, enjoy the fabulous heatwave while it lasts!